Theme Thursday stays with the elements, but shall I? Read on oh ye of little faith!
I remember when we were newcomers to this wide brown land. We spent our first school term in Sydney’s Manly. No that’s not a statement although Sydney is indeed manly. Manly is a seaside suburb accessible by ferry and road.
We lived in this backward and tacky little touristy town and it’s 1930’s style dark brick, damp, badly furnished flat with far to much 50's laminate and aluminium and chipped cups which drove my mother insane. She was, if not anything, a woman of impeccable taste and quality. The flat was company paid temporary accommodation until the new immigrants could get their bearings and purchase a home.
I loved it. The first three months in Australia were full of wonders such as coconut oil sunscreen, rubber thongs, Vegemite and frozen tetra-pack Sunnyboys! People ate out of lunchboxes and ordered their lunch on Friday. Hot meat pies on even hotter days and sweltering in the old music room, learning the lyrics to "Old Father Thames" whilst the blowflies bashed at the window pane and the fans whirled like dervishes. This country was amazing!
I would have been almost 12 at the time and going down to the beach with mum and the siblings at about 3:30pm after school was a guilty pleasure that an English schoolgirl could only dream about – especially a month before Christmas!
Now Manly, is a popular tourist spot and home of the Manly Ferry, the Manly Surf Club and the famous Manly Aquarium, Chocolate by the Bald Man and Gelatissimo , the Manly Wharf Hotel and a number of other visitor-worthy landmarks . It has a large and open ocean beach connected via the originally named “Esplanade” to what is now the Ferry Terminal and Manly Wharf. The wharf is now hive of activity with the ferry terminal, bars and shops and bustle but back then it was basically a jetty on one end of a fenced, shark protected harbour beach. The sort of beach suitable for toddlers and tots without the danger of rollers or sharks or men in budgie smugglers baring their buttocks whilst pushing out timber surf boats. Not unusual for the pasty pommies to dally on the beach for half an hour after school.
There was mum of course in a ridiculously unfashionable pink floppy hat and legs so pale they’d blind you by glancing at them but she had a nice figure for a woman of 34! Then there was nine-year-old Hippybro before he was a hippy, donning a nice pair of terry toweling ‘trunks’, 7 year old Babybro with a ridiculous marine flat top style crew-cut just left a little too long at the sides. Then 2 year old babysis in frilly knickers and a pretty little 'parlour maid' style hat plonking about the sand.
One afternoon, not long after our arrival in Australia, there we were, enjoying a warm afternoon, beautiful view, sparkling water and plenty of playmates and people. Then the beach population begins to thin. Ever so slowly at first then noticeably, people began packing up as if some secret sign has been issued that we cannot interpret.
Transistor radios are duly turned off, umbrellas gently folded, towels shaken, toddlers called from the pool and people began to leave. There was no drama, no urgency. Surprised at the exodus and still enjoying the beach. We remained. We happily continued to play and splash in our ignorant seclusion.
Then it hit . . .the swell came through the heads with a roar, the wind sand blasted our pale pommy skins as we madly tried to pick up thongs and towels, buckets and spades and flying hats from the sand. My poor old not very mechanical mum struggled with the inside out beach umbrella but without an ice cube’s chance in hell of ever righting and folding it before it took flight across the road, her running and trying to hang onto her hat and hold down her skirt at the same time, shrieking like a banshee and disappearing across the road after the errant brolly!
Rain pelted from the previously unnoticed clouds so hard that it left big dimply splotches upon the sand and began to even out the footprints and indentations left by the smarter beach goers. So with my mother chasing the umbrella and squealing at the top of her voice. I was left to scoop up the baby and what we could find of our playthings, rally the boys and hastily make a retreat to the shelter of our nasty flat. As fast as it came, it went. Leaving the air cooler, the road steaming and the beach deserted.
Clearly what Australians had heard on their transistor radios, that we had not . . .was notification that a Southerly Buster was on it’s way. That slice of cool blustery tempest that usually lasts about half an hour before calming and leaving us with miraculously lower temperatures. The temps can drop as many as 20 degrees in an hour after a southerly. After a band of stinking days, it brings cool relief and we actually hang out to hear weather forecasters say the words " . . and tonight, a cool change at about 5 o'clock!"
And all of a sudden, Rosalie Gascoine's picture makes sense . . .
These days, we look for the signs. A menacing skyline many miles away, the transition from blue to menacing cumulous nimbus and threatening thunderhead, the conspicuous absence of birds and cricket songs and the wedging of large labradors between computer desk and couch. That quiet stillness and almost phosphoric smell that can be detected just before the first lightening strike.
Well either that or we just watch the channel 9 news weather!