Sandy Bay’s wild side
A selection of photographs from Sandy Bay’s hidden shoreline.
Private access, southern end of Blinking Billy Beach 3
A selection of photographs from Sandy Bay’s hidden shoreline.
Private access, southern end of Blinking Billy Beach 3
The walk continued…
At the end of the beach I had to hop onto rocks and make my way between the river and a concrete wall. Around the corner a wooden boatshed looked as though it might end my walk but I found a way around it and although my walk felt seamless this is where I regard the Blinking Billy Beach 3 section as beginning. Just look at this picture. Who’d think there was a city here?
The same subjects preoccupied me as I walked along – the geology, the history, the structures – and, specifically, locating myself on this piece of shoreline. I kept changing my mind as to where I was in relation to the road above me but I wanted to do this walk without the help of Google Maps so that I had a real sense of (urban) adventuring into the unknown.
In wild weather this would be a windswept stretch of rocky coastline with views north to town, south into Storm Bay and across the river to more loveliness along the southern section of the eastern shore. On the day of my walk these lonely stretches felt pensive, secret and self-contained, and I felt myself more likely to encounter a nineteenth century smuggler along here than back at Red Chapel Beach or Blinking Billy Point. At the same time I felt as though the shoreline was as aware of me as I was of it.
I figured I was out of Geography Bay and this new perspective of the river renewed my feeling of exhilaration in the landscape and perplexity about ourselves – that we Westerners have been here since the beginning of the 1800s and yet, so close to the city centre, the nomenclature is still so sparse as to be mostly non-existent and so slippery where it is there at all. Many of us know more about London, Paris and places overseas than we do the intimate nooks and crannies of the river, the mountain and the great rifted catchment.
A few months after this walk I had a debate with a friend over just this issue. He’s a man that does real adventuring and exploring – the further off the beaten tracks of this world and out of communication the better. He is against nomenclature. He wants the earth’s places (mountains, rivers) left untainted by names but is prepared to compromise on a latitude/longitude co-ordinate.
I feel differently. As I walked along this stretch of coast wondering about the original aboriginal names for the places and features I was passing – names that over 30,000 years just have to have been rich, dense and redolent with mythology – it struck me like an epiphany, the extremely serious and overlooked disconnection we have with the earth. A shrieking Disconnection. A Disconnection so profound we’re trashing the planet beyond redemption and losing ourselves. No names – no recognition. No relationship. No honouring. No sense of gratitude. I looked at the magnificent, powerful river that I love so much, as much a goddess as the Ganges, and wished ‘sacred’ had not become a disparaged word because if anything felt sacred it was the animation I perceived in this river and its shoreline, so dynamic and timeless despite our culture turned beautiful parasite glued to its side. At the most profound level this existential disconnection is manifesting in more damaged psyches as each generation becomes less connected to the earth because how do you honour yourself if you can’t relate to and stand in awe of the greater entity you’re part of? As I wandered along the rocks, pausing to ponder their origins, diversity and beauty, I felt so utterly enthralled at the profligate beauty about me and a real grief that so many other compelling distractions have made it difficult for us to immerse ourselves in a landscape unfettered by human notions of time as was the case before our cultural evolution careered us away from hunting and gathering.
I had begun to pay more attention to my thoughts and less to the landscape when a sloping and strangely familiar boulder blocked my route.
About two feet of estuary rose and fell about its base. I didn’t want to take off my shoes and wade, the river’s temperature making it somewhat untouchable. On the other hand, my first strategy for climbing up the boulder’s side was hampered by the fact that a few weeks before I had dislocated and fractured my little finger while working on the boat with our mechanic, who I think of as being to engines what Leonard Cohen is to music.
I put my hands on the sloping rock. ‘I know you, Boulder.’ We had not met for a Very Long Time. Looking up I noticed a huge house with enormous windows. Now that was new to me.
When we were a whole lot younger we had come to look at a house – a beach shack really – at the bottom of Mitah Crescent. The owners walked us through their cacti and succulent garden down to a large boulder. The river lapped around its base but they assured us there was sand when the tide went out. We desired that boulder and that river access but knew that once we had paid for the property we would not be able to afford renovations for a while to come and so we sadly and stupidly decided not to make an offer.
I leaned my back against the boulder for a while, thinking that on this walk I’d barely noticed the Eastern Shore – I was so busy ‘paying attention’ (my current mantra) to the rocks about my feet and the all enveloping personality of the shore. My iPhone was losing power rapidly because of happy snapping and jubilant voice memos. I looked back along the way I’d come. I tested my finger’s capacity to help draw my weight up the side of the boulder. Not looking good.
My options were limited – I could fall, climbing that boulder. But if so, there was reason to hope that I’d be spotted sooner rather than later by the big windowed houses above me because at this point of the walk they had drawn closer and lower to the shore and so I took my chances, shifted my weight from disabled finger to used-to-being-bruised knee. Trying to be discrete, because I could not definitely recall whether the boulder was a right of way, I crept across it, slithered down over the boat shed’s jetty and found myself in an intimate and beautiful sandy cove. If the tide had been out when we’d viewed that house, we would both have lost our heads and hearts.
More rocks, more pebbles, the occasional rivulet and astonishing discoveries. I sometimes thought that paying too much attention to where I was about to place my feet I was missing out on rivulets, but in fact the way you find a Hobart rivulet is to use your nose. As they emerge dishevelled and emaciated from their concrete prisons they bring with them a distinct smell: stale old detergent. Yep. The cleaner we are, the dirtier we make the environment.
Then I encountered another boulder and, with an awkward gap, a double set of rails leading from boat sheds to the water. I slithered down to the base of the boulder and timed my scramble for a gap in the waves – and made it under the structure.
I was about to leave Sandy Bay and enter the suburb of Taroona. but a little way around the next corner I found some more appealing structures and to my surprise, a sphinx like rock gazing out to sea. It’s waypoints like this that would undoubtedly have carried names earlier in the Holocene and I paused, feeling the loss of the language that once sung this landscape into being, the loss of a way of being in the landscape and interpreting the subtle nuances our less sophisticated gaze misses. I work with people who have dementia. In a more holistic way I think we have robbed the landscape of its earlier identity and a significant part of its memory.
And it was along this stretch of shore that I nagging awareness came to the fore – one huge river, but only a handful of avian wanderers.
Where the hell were the birds?
Next blog entry: Photographs – Blinking Billy to the Sandy Bay border
I woke with a huge sense of anticipation about this next walk, keen to get going, but the aroma of coffee filled the kitchen, scrambled eggs were on offer and the woodheater warmed the house. The flame robin in the garden seemed an auspicious omen and so I breakfasted at home in preference to stopping by a Long Beach cafe.
I saw yachts sailing before a light northerly breeze as I approached my starting point. The sky was a milky dome of cloud and the landscape was quiet and dreamy. It stayed that way all day and the mountain was hidden from view except for occasional glimpses of forested flank through small gaps in the clouds.
There were plovers on the beach and a lone cormorant fishing as I set off down the path from Long Beach and soon I was swinging around Blinking Billy Point into Geography Bay, the old lighthouse on my right pressed up against the houses, past the old search light and the Charles Darwin Cliffs and down on to Blinking Billy Beach, the small waves breaking on the pebbles and little sand evident because the winter river had drowned the beach.
I had not always known this was the case. I thought it’s disappearance indicated climate change, but the Salty Seadog had once told me it went submarine in winter. On rough, wintry days the beach makes music, the cobbles rolling in the waves. The Salty Seadog writes music and plays music so I guess it’s her kind of beach.
I’d walked this coastline by the time I discovered Lena Lencek’s book The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth (2009) as an audio recording on Scribd, my new favourite app. She’d spent her childhood in Trieste, enjoying the Adriatic coast and then her family moved to the USA and she got to know vastly different kinds of beaches. Listening to this book at night, speakers in my ears, I learned about pocket beaches, and the landscape I was walking fell into place.
A pocket beach is normally a fairly thin, crescent shaped beach nestled between rocky headlands. It’s possible to find strings of them along coastlines – beach, headland, beach – and although they are sedimentary (the sand, shell and pebbles laid down in beautiful layers by water) the headlands, and the rocky platforms at their feet, isolate the beaches from each other, and that means they can be subjected to different types of beach making and breaking processes, like the angle of waves and higher tides in winter which often cause them to disappear. (And if, like me, you’d forgotten that tides are higher in winter, it’s because the sun, like the moon, has an influence on tides and in winter we’re tilted further away from the sun and so it’s gravitational pull is much slacker and the tides aren’t drawn back quite as much.)
I was so excited by this concept of pocket beaches that I just had to enlighten the geologist. ‘I’m sure Blinking Billy is a pocket beach,’ I enthused.
He looked at me bemused. ‘We’re surrounded by pocket beaches,’ he said. ‘There are heaps of pocket beaches along the Derwent. Name any one. Chances are it’s a pocket beach.’ And thus began a second lesson in all things pocket beach and Derwent River. I listened, but at the same time I was hatching a plan to subvert the concept – each beach in my pocket. I ordered vials off Etsi and began to gather each beach’s signature, it’s fingerprint in these tiny bottles. Because this is the thing – the sand on each beach is different and after all, one day these beaches will really drown.
It’s a short walk from one end of the first Blinking Billy beach to the other but a little longer when the sand is submerged and you’re walking on cobbles. At the far end I made a voice memo: ‘I’m about to go where I have never been before’. That was because I’ve always been here with dogs, and I’ve always stopped obediently at the sign commanding no dogs to go any further because of seabird habitat.
I may never have been here but I knew that Darwin had. He’d sailed into Hobart on the Beagle in 1836 and been pretty unimpressed with the town initially but this changed as walked about. He headed up the mountain, guided by the Sandy Bay Rivulet (my first recorded walk), he walked along the river’s eastern shore where I’m currently spending a bit of time and he walked this coastline too. I felt he was a suitable companion in spirit because he had the observant eye I lack and was able to make sense of the Derwent’s complex geology in a way I could not. He’d named kunanyi/Mt Wellington Table Mountain, after another mountain I have lived beneath and his grandfather Erasmus and my sister both made Lichfield their home. If he was up for a little idle chatter, conversation should flow. And there were moments on this walk when the landscape felt so timeless I felt I could well have encountered him contemplating pebbles and stones on some of the wilder sections.
Such was his observant eye that on his fifth day here he found volcanic rocks near Blinking Billy Point on his walk from Battery Point to Sandy Bay and realized that the cliff revealed two lava flows and that volcanic rocks lay strewn about. ‘Hah!’ was his reaction (or something like this). ‘I’m standing in the eroded heart of an ancient volcano!’ He figured this out way back then yet many locals are unaware of this even today.
I’d stumbled into the heart of the volcano often and unknowingly, oblivious to the story the Charles Darwin cliffs were telling, more concerned about the smelly water that seems to be deposited straight onto the concrete path from a house above the cliffs and so the fact that Hobart is situated on the remnants of a volcano was news to me when, after this walk, I tried to make sense of it all. The reef extending out to the John Garrow Light is an old lava flow and fault lines abound through this area.
I rounded the point at the end of the beach. There, before my eyes, was another beach – Blinking Billy Beach 2, according to Short or Half Moon Bay, according to Leaman (1999). In the distance, a man in a red jumper was throwing sticks for his dog. I navigated a bit more reef and cobbles then stepped on to the sand.
A cockatoo flew overhead, yelling for its mob. And then again more pebbles and then another sandy stretch and another six private stairways down onto the beach. I noticed a rivulet. This is poor little Folder Rivulet, according to Andrew Short, emerging out of its drain into sunlight, unloved and disregarded, too tiny to matter. (I watched this little rivulet being bulldozed unceremoniously into its drain, back in the day. It looked so wrong it hurt. And recently I returned to its valley to try to discover how much of it can still be seen above ground. Not much.) We communed, the rivulet and I, and then I took photos of beautiful conglomerate rocks and and made another voice memo:
I’m on another sandy cove with some interesting old beach structures. It’s quite a long sandy cove with a rocky reef in the centre of it. As I walked along the second stretch of sand a white speed boat came up river and the yacht I’d thought was leading the race (they rounded the buoy at Nutgrove all bunched up) has proceeded on down the river with its spinnaker up… this is such a lovely walk.’
And it was true; I felt elated, thrown back into childhood recollections of The Famous Five and their explorations which we tried to mimic on holidays on South Africa’s eastern seaboard. I felt invigorated by a sense of adventure and discovery and on this beach there were so many new discoveries – new perspectives of the river and tiny, exquisite details.
Here’s the southern end of the beach, and the man and the dog had already disappeared around the corner.
The reef at this end of the beach held my attention for quite some time. The rocks were interesting, human debris, although depressing, also managed to look artistic and I began to do a little bit of amateur geological sleuthing perplexed by rocks that didn’t always seem to belong together – sedimentary, conglomerate and igneous, worn red bricks, smashed and violently weathered rock, unconsolidated slopes, conglomerates of modern material – and delicate combinations of life forms were represented here or lay ahead of me.
When I reached the next point there was a yellow unconsolidated cliff, a wall someone had built beneath it, and a rosy coloured boulder near an intrusion.
I was seriously losing track of where I was in relation to Blinking Billy beach numbers as devised by Andrew Short (see The Book Shelf) and I hadn’t got very far at all. I was lost in thoughts to do with defining beaches – how much sand do you need before you have a cove? How much before you have a beach? Were the long stretches of boulders and pebbles actually beaches at all or just the bits in between?
And did it even matter where beaches began and ended scientifically, subjectively or according to the whimsy of the tides when I was engrossed in the landscape, entranced by the huge views and fabulous details – utterly blown away by the wild grandeur so totally divorced, below the cliffs from the houses in some other more banal, irrelevant world up top?
This coastline is divine but also tragic because it’s along here that the mouheenener once walked with confidence, and after their lands had been taken that traumatised families would have retreated.
To be continued…
Leaman, David. 1999. Walk into history in Southern Tasmania. Lehman Geophysics, Hobart
Royal Society of Tasmania, Charles Darwin in Hobart Town, edited by Margaret Davies, Hobart, Royal Society of Tasmania, 2009.