The Beach, So Slowly

Copyright: SBS and NITV

It was a beautiful idea and a simple one – to get back in touch with country, exchanging the high life and liquids that inflame the mind for ocean water that pacifies.  After all, where the land gives way to the sea is a good place to send demons on their way and to let go the black dog and watch it run.

Which is why Warwick Thornton went remote and found himself a Kimberley beach.

 Before covid, iso and social distancing had entered both our vocabulary and our experience Warwick Thornton, with the help of mob from a Dampier Peninsula community, built a rough tin shack out of found materials and settled down to an introspective life of slow cooking and idle conversation  with three affable chooks and two black dogs, one metaphorical and one physical.  Being a film director and a Kaytetye man from an incredibly creative family, he brought to the experience a unique twist.  With his filmmaker son, Dylan River behind the camera they carved from this experience six episodes that NITV and SBS have aired back to back to create a slow TV movie for our times.  It’s like no other Australian movie I can recall watching.

The Dampier Peninsula is north of Broome, thousands of kilometres away from any community large enough to be called a city and the beach is expansive with wide tidal flats and mangrove creeks, backed by bush and red earth and above all this the big and hot blue Kimberley sky.

The vastness is beautifully captured, often contrasted with the tiny details that can pivot a person into big ideas and deep contemplation, especially on this cusp of time when we are emerging from our own versions of isolation and from one world into a new one brought into being by a virus.

In our own tiny cottage on a stretch of spectacular Gumbaynggirr coast we too are undertaking an experiment in connecting to a simpler life of sand and sea, but over ‘iso’ there’s been a more direct connection to this movie and a more grounded way of living. Our daughter, who works for NITV, has been making daily phone calls to the media, texting them and emailing them from a rough office attached to our cottage during this period of sheltering at home, talking to those involved in its production and arranging interviews for the press with Warwick and Dylan. No train, no pounding Sydney’s pavements for the moment. No pubs and no cafes. These days her breaks have been beach walks while our life of swimming and cycling, walking, snorkelling and kayaking has gone on largely uninterrupted by the virus vicissitudes common to those in cities.  Every so often we’ve heard snatches of discussion from behind closed doors – and over the weeks our interest in her favourite project mounted.  

Last Friday night we settled down in front of the screen, a champagne at hand to cheer The Beach’s arrival into the world.  Outside the waves smashed the beaches in the darkness and the occasional plover called out to family across the night sky.  

Even before the movie began there was the unexpected footage of a shorter piece of slow tv – NITV’s Bamay, enabling viewers to explore interwoven stretches of Australian coastline (including Tasmania) from an aerial perspective. It’s the kind of coastal meandering you could put on repeat and watch endlessly.

I quickly found I did not want to talk at all while The Beach unfolded and I watched another person’s slow, quiet exploration of a beach on the far side of the continent.  I had once lived in this region of Australia, but the coastline was unfamiliar.  I wanted silence.  I wanted to sink into the experience completely. 

Watching Warwick idling with his chooks, observing the fall of light into the shack interior, I thought of Thoreau living in his hut on Walden Pond, of the self-discovery of those on a path of personal or spiritual growth through less common means, sometimes by choice and sometimes not.  Those in prisons, those meditators in mountain caves, castaways and hermits, nature writers like MatthiesonLopaz and Dilliard and all of those who sail away in little boats or do long, lone walks or cycle across countries and continents and who I follow through blogs and podcasts (like Tough Girl and Ocean Sailing and YouTube channels (like Sailing La VagabondeSailing Magic Carpet and heaps of others besides). 

There are so many ways to meet yourself away from the boom and blast of cities and the polluted political tides that stand in opposition to the hopes so many of us have entertained in isolation that something as murderous as a virus could be the harbinger of a kinder, better world, turning away from greed and towards climate change mitigation so that hopeful memes (true or not) of dolphins swimming through Venetian canals and mountains visible in smogless skies could be our lived reality.

As Warwick Thornton drove his old rust bucket along the sand and sought his meals in warm Indian Ocean waters, I thought about the coastline I wander here and wondered if there was a way to shape shift an old neglected blog into something new and a little more expansive.