Sydney had a temperature. Bondi Beach waved, beckoning.
Ignoring thousands of pale bodies packed like grilling prawns on the sand, she feels the soothing cool water on hot skin and tastes the familiar saltiness of the Pacific.
Offshore the incredible chattering of the masses at play rises cicada-like.
Emerging, her senses are assaulted by foreign accents from young hawkers selling ice creams and the wafting scent of different sunscreens and… perfume?
That people wear perfume to the beach these days is a revelation!
Some things change, but there was still plenty of carmine fringed flesh baking in the blistering sun.
Ahead of Australia Day, celebrated annually on the 26th January, this short piece salutes modern beach culture on one of Sydney’s major metropolitan city beaches – Bondi Beach. It was inspired by a Facebook post one of my acquaintances made, reflecting on her experience of swimming at Bondi during one of the hotter days earlier this month. She has just moved to Sydney from Canberra, but when I first knew her she lived in the hinterland mountains of the Gold Coast, so the Pacific Ocean is not unfamiliar to her. It sparked a feeling of returning to something comforting and known.
The piece takes the perspective of seeking solace in a known experience of interacting with the natural marine environment, while noting the strange international / multi-cultural and changing trends that are occurring on the shore. It is almost a zone that she has to go through to escape and receive the soothing balm of cool ocean waters. A gateway.
In my mind, her experience reverberated with a stanza from A.D.Hope’s poem Australia:
And her five cities, like five teeming sores,
Each drains her: a vast parasite robber-state
Where second hand Europeans pollulate
Timidly on the edge of alien shores.
It certainly appears to be an alien shore.
Also included is a thread of recurrent reference to insects.
I have heard a marine biologist refer to prawns as the ‘cockroaches of the sea’ and the temperatures of late, apart from being suitable for plein air cooking, are overlaid with the mesh of drumming cicadas that can roll like auditory waves across one’s brain when they get going with a rise in temperature.
This is the noise of a people-colony, massed from suspended transit in the sun. reflecting on a narrow sandy ribbon between blue ocean and landscaped urban forms.
At the end I added the reference to carmine – a rich colouring derived from the cochineal insect. It was the last touch to complete the insect-laden image, and one that reminds my pale-skinned, seventh-generation self of the most uncomfortable, and all too common aspect of summer in Australia – that of being sunburnt!
Happy Australia Day!