The path down to the water from the house is steep and built from beach debris, half-parts of things that have washed up to this quiet place. Chris and I swim. We are delighted by the cold October water and our own courage, nothing between here and Antarctica. The waves are as salty and fresh as I’ve ever tasted and I brace myself and gasp for air between them. The aftermath is like a washing machine, foamy white goodness and moments of still before the next set.
Deep in Yorkes with this one. Every day a mess of morning coffees on the deck, hats and drives down to Innes, sandy orange quarters and salty crisps on the beach after a swim, naps, cold beers as the sun sets and cooking dinner with all of my favourites. The days become one, but I think this was from Sunday. Daisy is like a fish, she loves the sea.
My friend Laura Wills, continuing to amaze me and make beautiful the world. Wheels in Flight was a sand drawing on Port Willunga beach, at the edge of the tide, commissioned by the local council.
Wish I'd been there to take it all in before the sea did.
Last Tuesday morning was windy and overcast. Not cold, but grey and not quite tempting enough for a morning swim. I tried for some yoga on the deck but was hounded after about half an hour by four small girls. Daisy clung to my legs and crawled under my hips in downward dog, hanging upside down, all blonde hair and baby soft skin, roughened by days in the sand. I get her to stretch her arms up to the sky and then bend down and touch her little toes, then we 'creep, creep, creep our hands forward with our bottom in the air' and there you have downward dog. We kneel down with our hands in prayer at heart centre and she says 'namaste' with me, though it sounds move like 'namma-day' which makes me smile. When they all left for the park, and the house was quiet and the breeze cool through the open doors, I made tea with honey and had a second breakfast of the last of the raspberry crumble. Thinking I better get out and soak up the day, I walked from the jetty past the headland and along the length of the next beach by myself, moments of cloudbusting grey and glimpses of bright silvery sun. I found cuttlefish and shells, driftwood and seaweed, but what I really wanted was coal. Sophie found some coal our first day at the beach, washed up, apparently, from a shipwreck in 1909 that killed 60-odd crewmen. Locals still find occasional pieces on the shore, more than a hundred years later which is about the best thing I've heard in months.
The others swam in the afternoon, when the sun came out and the temperature kicked up, but I stayed at home in the quiet. It was nice not to have to put suncream on, and pour through page after page of Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. I can't really write about it here, hard to know what to say of such a beautifully written, intelligent, heartbreaking and moving book. Only that reading it on holiday, where I can spend hours with it, not a few pages here and there before bed, was wonderful. It's reading your way into another world and it's impossible not to immerse yourself in it.
By Wednesday, the last day of the year, the sun high and ready for adventure, we drove into Innes with Brown's Beach in mind. I love the drive, the low-lying scrub, salt lakes and dusty roads, and only twenty minutes away. I hadn't been to Brown's before, not since I was younger, so was overwhelmed by how stunning it was - without hesitation the most beautiful beach I've ever been to. I suppose it depends what your thing is, but the sprawling national park, the slow walk down the hill, the long stretch of coast, the rock pools and softest sand, and clear, plunging blue water was a kind of perfection. I'd barely put my hat on when Ehren found two starfish on the rocks. Gloriously indulgent dips in the cool water, handstands in the sand, shell-seeking, salt and vinegar crisps under the beach tent, a little frisbee, not too many tantrums, some laying out in the shade with my sister for a whole ten minutes while the smalls were occupied with something else - it was a pretty perfect way to end the year.
We got home in the late afternoon and I put on a slow roast lamb while we played Scrabble and ate what cheese was left. We walked down to the beach for sparklers at sunset, the last of the light and the locals cleaning squid in the shallow water. The girls scootered home and went down to bed like a tonne of bricks, all the saltwater and running done with. We opened a bottle of soave , and later a Sicilian grillo I had brought, and had big piles of potatoes and salad with the lamb for dinner, and a bottle or two of Croser. We talked and laughed, worried and reminisced and wondered, and I brushed my teeth at 11:50 so I could go straight to sleep once it struck midnight and I'd said my happy's and hugged it all out. It was all just right.
Most of the rest of the time was spent beach-ing and walking, riding bikes, a pub lunch for the best fish and chips with cold like a dream pints of Coopers Pale Ale, and a bit of midnight fishing for the boys. The old house was a lovely mess of towels, clothes, small sandals, books and coloured pencils. I spent a lot of time on the couch, weaving or reading - I love the books you find at holiday rentals. They had some local histories, a Japanese cultural guide, short stories by DH Lawrence and the complete poems of Robert Lowell. I nearly cried when I read Water:
It was a Maine lobster town - Each morning boatloads of hands pushed off for granite quarries on the islands,
and left dozens of bleak white frame houses stuck like oyster shells on a hill of rock,
and below us, the sea lapped the raw little match-stick mazes of a weir where the fish for bait were trapped.
Remember? We sat on a slab of rock. From the distance in time, it seems the colour or iris, rotting and turning purpler,
but it was only the usual tray rock turning the usual green when drenched by the sea.
The sea drenched the rock at our feet all day, and kept tearing away flake after flake.
One night you dreamed you were a mermaid clinging to a wharf-pile, and trying to pull off the barnacles with your hands. We wished our two souls might return like gulls to the rock. In the end, the water was too cold for us.
Just a few pages in and only the third I read from the collection, but I stopped there. It doesn't get any better than that.LAST YEAR AT YORKE'S.
I've been getting homesick lately, readying for some downtime and a few weeks in the Hills with friends and family. This time in a week or so I'll be heading out to Poet's Ode, a new(ish) boutique in Hahndorf, which is a small town just past where I grew up in Stirling. Only 20 or so minutes from Adelaide, the Hills feel like another world. It's wonderful to see people doing things like this - opening beautifully curated and well-intentioned little places. I can't wait to have a look and hopefully get a few last-minute Christmas presents from a local, small business, that just happens to be amazing!
* Image by Sybella Court
Waking up at my folks house in Stirling on Sunday morning was lovely. It's always lovely. The guest room gets the most glorious morning light, filtered through hydrangeas. My mother put the kettle on for me at 7 because she was up and my father was up so we should all be up. Coffee and a banana for the road because my dad and I were going for a walk - a Hills walk is a proper walk, not to be taken lightly. We did a round trip of about 9 KMs in the end, a loop past the old railway, my old high school, a couple of rogue kangaroos, a lot of wattle, down through Aldgate and back up to Stirling and a few fields full of wandering dew (though I thought it was honeysuckle, to be honest). I took this picture near our old house, where I grew up. The thing about the Hills in spring is you feel like you're in an English village - everything is so picturesque and mild and floral. Bulbs sprouting up on the side of the road and so many oak trees and beech trees and blackberry thickets. We had a late breakky with mum in Dulwich before I had to fly out. Eggs with smoked salmon and fresh juice and maybe it was the hollandaise sauce or the sun but the whole thing me left wondering all the way home why it is I don't live in Adelaide…
I wrote a while back about taking some time away, after Christmas. My year wasn’t my best, and having a week by the beach with friends has been just what I needed. We headed out on the road on the 8th, stopping in Ardrossan for the bakery and a late lunch of Cornish pasties and potato pies in the park. I love seaside country towns. Things seem so slow and wide and easy. Before we hit the road again I bought an acoustic Bob Dylan album, very early folk stuff, for a dollar at the hospital charity shop and have hardly stopped listening to it since: You’re No Good, Man of Constant Sorrow, Pretty Peggy-O.
We have a house here at the bottom of Yorke’s, near the cliffs and plains of Innes National Park at Marion Bay – a town with just one pub, a bait shop, and a few blocks of beach shacks. So far, my days have been heavy with pots of coffee, reading on the deck, dusty walks to the beach and cold saltwater. I have had morning naps and afternoon naps, Scrabble games and carrot cake brought from home. The house we have is pale timber, built on stilts for the cool air and the view. In the evenings, I can feel it pulled from side to side as the tide comes in just a few blocks away and the wind lifts. It near rattles and shakes. There is shade underneath where we park the dusty cars, and the railings of the balcony are a mess of wet bathing suits and beach towels at all hours of the day. There are nine of us here, and for my nieces and my friends’ young daughters, the beach is everything. They bury themselves in the sand and catch their breath ducking waves, squealing with delight, exhausting themselves in the sun so much that their eyes are red and tired by 7 and they battle the idea of bedtime with the last of their will. I haven’t washed my hair all week and it is a very salty, curly tangle, already lighter from the sun.We’ve eaten watermelon in the afternoon at the beach, each bite sprinkled with sand and calling to the bees and March flies. The water here is glorious. It is the kind of clear that takes your breath away, and on yesterday’s walk to the lighthouse at Cape Spencer it crashed wildly against the cliffs below, here at the bottom of the world. Innes is untouched beauty, national park hiding occasional dirt tracks and low, lush green scrub – we have seen snakes, lizards and emus and oh, so many birds. From the pier the boys tried to catch snapper, and watched local kids spear-fishing squid and stingray.
We have blackberry ciders with lunch, and drink gin and tonics with fresh lime on the deck at twilight, or sometimes well before. I’ve been reading a lot – trying to catch up on a year spent mostly working and blissing out with HBO – books and journals and the local paper. I read a brilliant piece about class by Tim Winton, in December’s Monthly (The C Word: Some Thoughts About Class) and an inspiring piece about UK gardener and writer Alys Fowler in the last Dumbo Feather (Alys Fowler is a Punk Rock Gardener) that will have me digging my hands in dirt all through 2014. It also had a lovely interview with my crush, Ira Glass, and most beautiful was a profile on dancer and chorographer Martha Graham by Ruby J Murray – the first line being one of the best I’ve known: ‘once you’ve seen her dancing, you understand how she died twice’. I finished one novel two days in and am about to start local Adelaide Hills writer Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. Everyone I know has loved it, has been engrossed and enthralled and I can’t wait. And if I get through all that, I’ll be one of the many reading Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch.
Having my nieces here has been a kind of bliss, missing them all year as I do. They have grown and changed and talk the day away and play imaginary games. They’re strong and brave swimmers and dedicated sandcastle engineers. Daisy feels older, she turned three back in September and is big enough to open doors on her own and happy enough to sit with me on the recliner chair on the deck in the late afternoon, singing Beatles songs and pretending to be a fishy. She is sharp as a tack and always hungry. I’m fairly certain she spent an hour baking with me just for the few minutes at the end where I let her lick the bowl. Harriet is six and tall, all arms and legs and first to lead the way with me, wandering through the scrub, clearing a path through the dunes and wildflowers to the deserted beach. She is kind, as ever, with the littles. We have found starfish at the beach, and just this morning, joined in with a few local kids having a crab race just below the rocks. We dug out tracks and finish lines and I had my word on the medium sized one (who lost each and every race).
We head home tomorrow. It will be nice not to have to smear suncream all over this pale Irish skin morning and afternoon, a production line of bodies and hats as we all ready to head to the beach. We’ve eaten like kings and got through most of the food we brought, so I’m hoping for a last supper of fish and chips near the wharf to round out the week beautifully.
I had some good Sydney-friends come to stay while I was home in Adelaide. It was nice to be a tourist again in my own town (even if everything was closed*), and nice to show off all the things I love about South Australia. One of the places I most wanted to take them was McLaren Vale. I love going anyway, and I knew it would be their kind of scene. I just prefer it to the Barossa - it feels more relaxed, more 'all hands on deck' and far less established and touristy. I like how down to earth everyone is. We spoke directly with wine makers and drove along the coast out of Aldinga because there isn't much better than that dry, gold, grassy coast and the sparkly blue gulf. We stopped at K1 in Kuitpo - the nicest drive-way this side of Provence and a lovely Arneis - and then tried Hither and Yon in Willunga. Their reds were fairly heady, pretty rich for my taste, but the wine maker was lovely and I was pretty taken by their cellar door. A nice change to sit around a table with a few hipsters just driven down from Sydney and laugh and taste their range. It felt easy and really homely, which I liked. And because it's a favourite we stopped at Samuel's Gorge for a taste before heading to Coriole for Here's To Now. Coriole is a pretty special place. I love their family wines but mostly I love their sunsets. I've had some wonderful times there, some of the best, from long lunches with friends to giggly tastings and new years dinner parties (circus-like, as it happens). Here's To Now was a brilliantly timed way to show off some of my favourite country to my friends along with a range of local bands (quite a few friends represented among them) and some yummy food (thanks to those playful Happy Motel boys). It was one of those nights where Adelaide plays itself beautifully, everyone smiles and dances and cheers on the night and I managed the hour night-ride home without hitting a kangaroo (gosh but I came close, and he was huge - I saw him early and slowed right down so we were fine but such an amazing creature).IMAGES: Hither and Yon moments / Samuel's Gorge nature shots / 'when life is like a painting' and a Coriole sunset
* For the record, I don't mind that Adelaide is the kind of quiet town where all the nice restaurants and bars close down in the new year and take well-earned breaks, or close on Mondays just because it's a day of rest (or something) - I actually respect and appreciate that hospitality folks are professionals too, and maybe they like beach holidays and sleep ins. It's wonderful. It's just MIGHTY inconvenient when you're only home a wee while and all the places you want to try are closed. Sad face.