After an intense week of learning on the new job, I awoke this morning with utter joy. I have three whole days off AND today coincided with one of Merryl’s weekday morning workshops which meant I got to play mosaics in her beautiful studio for almost 3 hours. Ah the bliss of it all!
I’m working on my second piece and it’s rather large. The board is 1.2 metres by 90 centimetres. That’s a lot of wee tiles and pieces of glass to cut, shape and glue. Good thing I’m utterly bewitched and Merryl’s studio is filled with warmth, colour, creativity and lovely, lovely women who sit about the long work benches and chatter whilst they work. Did I mention it’s bliss? Oh it is.
This scene is one from my head. I made it up as a cross stitch a few years back – “The Whale and her Girl” – but this version is slightly different. Instead of the girl standing on the hilltop with her telescope, she’s inside her home looking out a large picture window. Before her is my dream view. A sun rising all goldy pink and orange against the sparkly sapphire sea. A hilltop to her left, covered in Norfolk pines and crowned with a sturdy white lighthouse, resplendent in its royal blue trim. An old fashioned ship, festooned with billowing white sails, bobs amongst the roll of the waves. A glistening seal lolls about on a rock.
But even whilst it’s an imagined view, each of the elements speaks to my sentimental heart.
The sapphire sea? It’s the east coast of Australia – the waters of the glorious Pacific Ocean which I’ve lived on for most of my life – stretching from Rainbow Bay on the southern tip of the Gold Coast, Queensland all the way to Eden at far end of New South Wales, the southern boundary of the lovely Bega Valley which we will soon be calling home.
And the sun? Well it’s no surprise to you folks that I’m a huge fan of the sun, its light and warmth. I didn’t have a clue about the reality of Seasonal Affective Disorder until I came to Melbourne. Now, I cannot wait to get back to east coast, where the sun will rise over the sea each morning – and at the same time as me.
The Norfolk pines? I haven’t a clue who decided that the beaches of east coast Australia all needed to be edged in Norfolk Pines, but by golly, what a fabulous decision that was! All the beaches of my childhood are trimmed with these lovely giants – Coolangatta, Rainbow Bay, Harrington, Crowdy, Clarkes Beach at Byron … I only have to see a stand of Norfolk Pines and I am instantly at home. I shall plant a row of them on our farm and when I’m old and wobbly of memory, they shall be my good friends.
:: Harrington ::
The lighthouse? Well it’s my simple version of James Barnett’s favourite design. He was the Colonial Architect for colonial New South wales in the late 1800s and was responsible for the 3 lighthouses that are so very dear to me – Byron Bay, Crowdy Head and Green Cape. His lighthouses all have the same look – strikingly white against the blue of their ocean backdrops with royal blue trim.
Every summer as a child and then teenager, we holidayed at Byron and the fortnight was not complete until we’d trekked all the way round the beaches – Clarkes, The Pass, Wategos, Kings and finally up to the lighthouse which in those days had no safety fences, but did have goats grazing on the hillsides, and we’d take flattened cardboard boxes with us, so as to slide down the grassy front cliff face into the legs of our fathers who stood on the edge, stopping us from hurtling off and onto the jagged rocks below. It was thrilling!
Crowdy Head was down the road from my grandparents’ cottage at Harrington. You couldn’t swim at Harrington – the Manning River enters the ocean there creating wicked rips and enticing ferocious sharks. Instead, we would pile into Nanny’s hot station wagon and drive along the sandy track through the bush scrub to Crowdy. It was so humid and sticky along that road. There was never a breeze to be felt and the cicadas positively screamed through our open windows.
Then, just when we thought we would never get there, we’d pop out of the bush and there was the magical Crowdy Bay curving round in front of us, the lighthouse perched up on the cliff to our right. We’d have a lovely long swim, ride the waves in on our boogie boards, dig in the sand, poke around the rocks. Sometimes we’d call into the Fishing Co-op. Often we’d drive up to check out the lighthouse and I’d recount my Famous Five induced fantasy which involved living in this lighthouse and defeating smugglers, and then back we’d go to Nanny’s. By the time we got there, we were just as hot and frazzled as before we started.
Green Cape Lighthouse is a much more recent addition to my family story – I only visited it for the first time a few years back. It was such a long drive in from the highway – a terribly remote spot south of Eden – but when we finally saw it standing proud on the edge of the fiercest of coasts, I recognised it straight away as one of James Barnett’s children. The wonderful white. The smooth dome of the attached cottage – just like Crowdy. The splendid blue trim. Oh yes, this was one of my lighthouses.
But even better, I had my dear old Grandad by my side as we explored this beautiful lighthouse and its surrounds. He was a little bit frail – we just didn’t realise how frail an old body could become! – but he was so determined to soak up every moment of that day. He read all the signs describing the history of the lighthouse and its keepers. He walked along every perfectly maintained path, slowly round each building taking in every detail, all the way down to the cliff’s edge so he could truly appreciate just what that light was protecting the ships from.
And he chatted to me non-stop. Grandad was such a great talker. We marvelled at the remoteness and how much effort must have been required to bring in all the supplies. We chuckled over the tennis court, built by the government so that the lighthouse keepers and their familes could be the social beacons of the south. We harrumphed over the ugliness of the modern light and its ghastly skeletal structure that has replaced the grand original. We were saddened by the memorial to those who lost their lives aboard the Ly-ee-moon steamer.
When we finally arrived home Grandad settled by the window, looking out across the sea, with my laptop, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening reading the stories collected by the lighthouse keepers and their families who served at Green Cape, and filled us in on every detail.
Oh I loved my Grandad so much. We had such a special bond, he and I. Maybe it had its roots in the very fact of being the eldest granddaughter (thereby sharing the most time with him of any of the other grandchildren) and living so close to him for most of my life. But we shared so much more as well. We both loved adventuring, exploring, history, and the stories of people and their places. Best of all, we loved sharing each others company.
So Green Cape lighthouse – it will always tug at my heart. I will look at this mosaic and smile, remembering all the fun, adventure and romantic notions James Barnett’s lighthouses have given me. But most of all, I will think of Grandad and imagine him there beside me.
The billowing sailing ship – Master and Commander to be sure. I adore those books – and really liked the film too. In fact, you know that last scene, when Jack and Steven are in the captain’s cabin playing a duet, whilst the sailors, marines and officers beat to quarters – that’s from the String Quartet in C Major by Boccherini – “La Musica Notturne della strade de Madrid”. And it’s the joyful music that my dear Grandad walked me down the aisle to when Julian and I were married. I can’t decide which was luckier – to have married Julian, or be presented at my wedding by the finest gentleman I’ve ever known ;-)
My romantic heart does love a dashing naval commander and his intriguing nature-loving sidekick – such a fabulous addition to the high seas. Mind you, you’d never catch me out there aboard ANY boat. I can appreciate their loveliness just fine from the solid shore right here.
As for the seal – well she’s a regular feature of the Fishpond (that’s what the little harbour is called) in Merimbula. Every day when Mum goes walking with her friend Jo and Lucy, the little seal pops up onto the rocks near the bridge, lolling about all sleek and glistening. Lucy stops and pushes her head under the railings for a better look and Mum and Jo chat to the seal. She’s apparently an attentive listener but has dreadful teeth and is a bit smelly :-) I look forward to meeting her and just love that Merimbula has resident seals! It truly is such a magical place and very soon will be part of my backyard too. Oh my goodness!
I do find that every time I turn my hand to making, what I’m really doing is telling part of my story, expressing part of who I am, in yet another way. Sentimental but true.
When we are in our farm cottage – it’s settlement next Friday, can you believe that! – I hope to hang this mosaic on the east facing kitchen wall that is without a window. This will be my window – looking east across the Mumbulla mountains to the ocean, with a view that will warm my heart and set off a flurry of story telling every time I catch a glimpse of it.
Ah I can’t wait to get back to Merryl’s for more cutting, shaping and glueing! With the whale, the hill, the Norfolk Pines and the lighthouse finished, I think I shall get stuck into the ocean itself with that rising sun. Oooooh I’ve gone tingly all over just thinking about all the lovely colour.