Posted on October 5, 2012
Since we moved to Geelong, I keep getting this sense of déjà vu, I am reminded of a few years spent in Ballina in Northern New South Wales in my early 20’s. I lived with my then boyfriend Nathan in a decrepit sub-divided Queenslander on top of a hill in East Ballina (Bally-Na, is how they pronounce it, liltingly, in Ireland). Our views from three sides were postcard perfect, and those views on a blue-skied day were enough to soften most troubles. We sat, high above Shaws Bay and the rock walls- North and South- between the opening of the Richmond River and the Pacific at the front, and the mercurial estuarine waters of North Creek at the side and the back.
Hanging out the washing, or the wet sheets of my handmade paper on the swirling hills hoist was a pleasure in those days. I swayed in a floaty purple dress in the benign breeze, above those blue vistas, and wondered at joy that could be had so cheaply and simply. I spent my childhood in a Victorian Mallee town, where the views, yellow wheat, flat roads and dirt, animated here and there with spindly whirly winds in the far distance- were an arid, dusty affair, parched with drought always, and though I moved to Ballina from leafy Elwood, still, even the feel of plane trees and the glassy, cold bay there could not compare to the feeling of sunny contentment to be found in that other time and place.
In those days, I walked a lot, as I always have, having never driven a car. I walked along by the beach to the library, or to shop for small things in the town centre. I wrote poems every day. Nathan fished when he wasn’t at uni, and I sometimes went with him, enjoying a quiet blood lust, the bravado of which never extended as far as baiting my own hooks or removing the fish from the barbs. I loved the quiet beauty of the wait, on the rocks of North Wall, the old pier on the river or the banks of the tidal lake and the sandbar. We sometimes saw dolphins glide by, or sting rays fluttering elegantly in through narrow tidal channels, and more often still, we saw the joyful leaping and flopping of the mullet in Shaws Bay. This inland-bred girl never lost a sense of wonder and gratitude for those visions.
Nathan studied and cooked and I wrote letters on the back step, read or hung paper in the sun. There wasn’t a lot to do socially for young uni students in Ballina in the mid nineties. We had very little money, sometimes we would run out of money for food, like plenty of students but we made it through ok. As for love, well, I know that it was there, but it is something that I can scarcely discern now, like the feeling of a cut that has become a silvery scar over the course of time. It is when I think of the curve of his hip from behind, lying on the futon, strangely feminine on his definitely masculine form, that I can properly conjure the ghost of tenderness in my recollection of that love.
Now I am in twenty years older, with all of those days gone in between, and Nathan long gone with them, and I have moved to Geelong West with my husband and my baby boy. I have lived many of those years back in Elwood, and I have loved her plane trees in all of the seasons, and that cold, glassy bay from afar. I have spent some years in Bondi, and adored her sunny, open, glittering face too. Mostly I have lived by the sea, somewhere, but it is only this move,after the birth of Boodi, that brings me back to those years of my youth, like time doubling back and looping in on itself. I walk with a pram now, meandering as long as my son keeps sleeping, and though the breeze here is not so mild yet, and the sweeping blue is not wild ocean, river or estuary, but another bay, and it has been as many years since I held a fishing rod as since those days of old, still, walking these paths by the water, passing the people painted bollards all of the way, takes me back there, to those sweet, aimless days of Bally-Na.
My contentment is more centred, the weight of this sleeping child in my arms, my husbands kiss on my brow in the mornings, a pretty workers cottage with iron lace and climbing roses, jasmine, herbs and lemons in the backyard in lieu of grand vistas, but I remember those days when everything lay before me and all so far away.