sand castle

Living on the sea’s edge

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sand castle

Like so many Australians, my life is lived on the sea’s edge. In Hobart I live a stone’s throw from the beach I see from my window. I like to see the sea; its presence anchors me and allows for a sense of spaciousness. As long as I can see the sea, I don’t feel closed in. Yet to sail upon its waters out of sight of land I dislike intensely.

With the vast majority of Australians living on the sea’s edge, it shapes our identity. The beach is a vessel for all our idyllic childhood days: sun, sand, surf. Seaside holidays, windswept saltcrusted skin. We invest much nostalgia in this vision of the beach. Think of Bondi – that classic Ozzie scenario of bronzed bodies, white sand and rolling waves. The beach to us connotes leisure and pleasure. We love our Billabong and Ripcurl surf culture. So different to the harsh outback, the red centre, the desert flats, the inland waterless regions away from the sea.

The ocean frightens yet draws me. Its power, immensity and potential to engulf haunt my dreams in the form of unstoppable tsunamis. Living on the sea’s edge always holds that possibility, and I am always conscious of it.

It could be said that my dreams embody the archetypal symbolism of ocean as representing the unconscious mind. We like to skim the surface in our canoes and yachts, but down below are unfathomable depths, dark and mysterious. The impenetrable deeps frighten us.

Interestingly I was born in a landlocked country. Zimbabwe was a place of sunshine, heat and dust. Those who lived there longed for holidays by the sea. This involved journeying for two days by road or train. Many former Zimbabwean children recall the raptures of arriving at the coast to hurl themselves bodily and joyfully into the waves.

At the age of three my family moved to the Cape Peninsular – the Cape of Good Hope, Cape of Storms. The blustery, warm, mountainous and beach-rimmed city of Cape Town nurtured my childhood. I have vivid memories of swimming at Fish Hoek beach, leaping into green warm waves, lolling in the gentle swell beyond the breakers with my father and sister for company. Washing sand from my feet and out of my cozzie. Collecting shells and searching rock pools for sea urchins and starfish.

My mother spent much of her own childhood beneath the ramparts of Table Mountain in view of the sea, and has never lost her taste for the wild waves typical of Cape Town’s beaches. She’s also never lost her fear of sharks. Great whites circle the peninsula and occasionally people are taken. Such events are rare but encapsulate our dread of fearful things arising from the deep.

When we moved to inland Grahamstown later in my life, I missed the sea. I felt cut off.

Now we live in Tasmania, an island edged by the ebbs and flows, the tides and currents, the ceaseless motion of the sea. As is the larger continent of Australia.

The sea presents us with the reality of constant change. Its aspect alters with the weather. Cloud and wind, light and dark, sun and moon – all reflect on its surface. Yet its enormity also seems unchangable. It is always there. Perhaps this constant presence is a comfort and a reminder of something larger than ourselves and our daily moods. The shore offers us the many delights of rockpools, sandcastles, fishing, shell-collecting, sunbathing and swimming – a hedonistic rim to the larger, scarier entity that stretches farther than the eye can see.


Author: Merridy Pugh
Merridy Pugh is an editor and writer based in Hobart. She loves books, sun and tropical fish.

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