Friday, February 10, 2017

Half Moon Bay

Back when I was a kid in Primary school I attended an excursion to the old mansion at Rippon Lea Estate where we got to wander the halls and explore the gardens created by a 19th century merchant quasi aristocrat.

Anyhoo on that typically overcast Melbourne day we also had a scheduled stop at a local beach...  The mysteriously named Half Moon Bay, Black Rock which suited my sense of adventure far more than looking at some crusty old building full of fancy people's stuff! It was a cold and blustery day as I recall, there was a bitter wind blowing from the South West white caps were smashing against the small promontory which sheltered the tiny bay, barely. 

Off shore something protruded roughly from the water, the sea crashing against it's side leaving still water in it's wake... It was a rusty old ship. As an eleven year old (I figure that's how old I was at the time) I became instantly intrigued. 

"What's that?" Several of us called out to the nearest teacher in the kind of disorganized frantic unison you'd expect from a gang prepared to commit an act of piracy and take the vessel by force if we must! 
The teacher had no idea really... "An old boat she said" kind of interested herself. I don't think there were any plaques visible at the time... I'm sure some existed back then but it was the 70s and defacing signs was like a national pastime. Thankfully the bus driver had taken many a school group to this spot and filled us in with the information we were after. 
"That." He said. "That is a 'breakwater.'" and then he proceeded to explain how a breakwater protects the beach from rough weather. Interesting but not exactly what we wanted to know.
"Yeh" someone said "But WHAT IS IT?"
The driver laughed and said "It's a ship!" Then proceeded to give us the history of the HMVS Cerberus, which I promptly forgot the finer details except the fact that it was a naval ship and it had had guns on it. 

We stopped there in the wind looking at the boat and exploring the reef to the left of the jetty for about 20 minutes after eating our sandwiches... (mine were soggy tuna fish and beetroot sandwiches again... The gladwrap held them together long enough for the contents to stew together into a soggy mess when it came time to eat!) As we left I looked back at the Cerberus and like General MacArthur swore that 'I will return!'.

Years went by and constrained from my natural urge to wander, both by the law and societal expectations of Parental Supervision, I was unable to return to Half Moon Bay, but it remained fixed in my memory. 

I think the next time I visited was in my teens, I had filled some kind of bottle with sweet sherry and port from my parents supply and absconded from school. Caught the train out to Sandringham and trekked the two and a half km to the beach I'd been longing to visit for so long. It was an electrifying sensation to travel so outside the school boundary. I was on a completely different train line... Passing through suburbs which looked so foreign and wealthy. I'd come from bogan heartland of Watsonia and here I was wandering the streets of Brighton and Sandringham... Tennis courts, private schools, red brick mansions and fancy cars like I'd never seen before. It was a mystifying two and a half km walk from Sandringham station to Half Moon bay, every step a defiance of the drudgery of school, schoolyard bullies, rules,  cops, idiots and the grey walls which always seemed to be closing in on me. 

The drink had been drunk, my imagination was firing, I was half cut on a sunny day, free from responsibilities. I was at the 'Away from it all' place I'd heard people talk about when they needed a holiday. I was there! Arrived... Free! 

On that occasion I just wandered the bluff, walked out on the pier, waded in the water with my shoes in my hands and my long pants rolled up to my knees. I couldn't stay long, the travel time was longer than I'd realized and I had to make sure I was on the right train to arrive back home in time for no one to notice I'd gone AWOL.

I soon found out that Black Rock is a renowned nudist beach! Oh Wow! That sure added to the mystique and my desire to be there. Walking the secluded beach around the bluff I would occasionally see people lying naked in the sun. Often they were bronzed older men wearing sandals (True! I saw them wearing their sandals!) Couples and yes sometimes the elusive hot looking young women in their 20s who were looking for that allover tan. 

After that initial liberating experience, Black Rock, Half Moon Bay was one of my key places of refuge and quiet rebellion. When I left school at the age of 16 and started working, before I had my license, I would catch the train out there from time to time on my own. Being there took me far away from my own natural habitat. I dreamed that one day I would break free from my mundane life and start a life of my own based on the freedom I felt on this beach. 

I didn't actually swim out to the Cerberus until I was a bit older, maybe seventeen when I eventually invited some work friends to join me there. By then my alcohol consumption had increased considerably. I'd been drinking heavily from the time I'd left school and I maintained a strong commitment to doing pretty much everything in a state of blissful and mindless intoxication. My philosophy was sound! Without alcohol I was an ineffectual talentless missfit, with it I was a mystic poet worrier and master of my own destiny... (I later discovered I was just a drunk). So with half a dozen cans of Dutch courage sloshing around in my guts I finally decided it was time to show off to my friends (including a particular girl I wanted to like me) that it was nothing for me to swim out to that old wreck we could see on the distant horizon... 

The first time I swam out to the Cerberus I nearly choked on my vomit! It's not that far out but I've never been a very strong swimmer and the exertion and increased load on my lungs really stirred up the beer in my guts... However on that day, I actually did it! I made it and was standing on the boat which had tempted me and taunted my timidity for so long. I had mastered this place! It was now mine. 

After conquering the challenge actually reaching the boat I visited there when I could during the summer months over the next four years. I joined the thrill seekers who would jump through a hole in the deck and swim in the lower decks beneath the water level a few times but life got busy with work and other priorities, Melbourne tends to have a shortage of good swimming days and once I got my license I found other places further afield to visit. 

Since moving to Darwin 20 years ago I've only managed to visit the Half Moon bay about three times, this week being one of them.

On Wednesday afternoon this week I jumped on a train, switched lines at Flinders Street and stepped off at Sandringham Station. It was 5 pm on a 35 degree day. The sky was deep blue, the sea was sparkling. I walked along the coast track to a beach access just before the bluff, stopped at a picnic table overlooking the Black Rock Yacht Club and found a bag of poetry chained to the table. I had arrived! I made my way down through the scrub and sand and waded my way around the rocks which still provide secluded sanctuary to naked sun bathers. The water was clear.

I found a reasonably secure place to leave my bag among a pile of gear belonging to a group of junior lifesavers who were practicing under the supervision of parents and devoted sea sprite instructors. Then I set out across the shallow sandbar to once again swim the gap between paddlers and the mildly choppy sea. It's not such a hard swim to the Cerberus but I'm not very fit so I broke the journey up with a bit of backstroke and dawdled along with a weak breaststroke. Soon I was standing on the slippery wooden deck of that old iron hull. There were teenagers goofing around on the 'out of bounds' half sunken vessel just as they have always done. Just like I had done. I was surprised to see so many girls though. Where were they when I was young? Fearless golden bodies taking foolish risks. 

I stood for a moment on the deck, feeling a little out of place and old... but also there was a stirring. The exercise of the past two weeks I've spent exploring and cycling around my old stomping grounds has awoken a youthful spirit! I watched the kids playing around but knew my age made me conspicuous. I looked again out to sea and then patted the rusted iron wall of the decrepit ship before diving back into the water and making my way at a conservative pace back to shore. 

"I Will Return!" 

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