the invitation to wategos
The Pass had been running consistently and strong all week and for company the visitors had a small group of locals, who mostly consisted of a few young truants and a bunch of Islander brothers and their cousins who traveled to and from town in a rusted brown Mercedes battlecruiser with only one door that opened, and on the Friday afternoon, after five days of agreeable sport, the visitors were invited around to the old home at Wategos for a few beers and an introduction to the local surfers.
Jimmy K delivered the invitation in the carpark late in the afternoon; he wandered up as we sat around the car watching the evening sun better define Mount Warning’s powerful imprint on the darkening sky to the north.
A slim and elusive man, Jimmy moved up to us like a shadow with his quietly spoken ways. We were flattered by the man’s generosity – though he did not wait for a reply and slipped away to his car – which growled up the gravel track to Lighthouse Road in the complete darkness.
The shower block stank of unsewered piss and all the taps were cold water. The puddled floor threatened every unwary step with ringworm and the solitary light bulb resisted every light switch. The toilet cubicles were spattered with human dung and every blasphemous epithet registered to mankind was painted onto the walls.
Relatively clean nonetheless, and after a quick beer run into town we drove back around the Pass and down into the solitude of Wategos. So quiet at night there with just half a dozen boarded up holiday homes spread over the lower slopes and the near vanished blink of light from Brunswick that signaled life to the north.
The low black rim of a plateau to the northwest flickered with a solitary dim spark of settlement, and all about the cape a cold black sea claimed timeless supremacy.
The old slatboard family home at Wategos that had been built directly across the road from the beach was gently subsiding into itself under the weight of the roof. Deserted for a generation, it was joined to the beach by a deep drift of sand that had blown across the road into the remnant vegetable garden.
In the gloom of twilight we could see a few darker shadows lounging around on the front verandah, only their cigarette ends moved as they watched us drive up and park amongst their cars. There were no lights on in the house, just a soft interior glow from an open fire in one of the rooms.
The Byron girl was standing in the doorway as we passed through into the house, leaning back against the door-jam, almost blocking our passage as she watched each one of us from under the fringe of her hair. We filed through. We were all barefoot.
Such a seriously wide-eyed young gatekeeper, wearing her older sister’s perfume, and down there in the unlit hallway stood Jimmy K with his luminous grin, happy to see us all pass the local muster.
A little while later we carried our beers out to the front and found that the Jimmy’s younger brother and his friends had slipped away down the beach to travel the couple of miles into town and the Railway Hotel. Opportunistic fighters and lovers, they loped away into the night as silent as wild dogs.
Filmmaker Bruce Brown toured through town with Phil Edwards in his cinemagraphic caravan, and after filming a few sessions at Wategos they left Byron ungarlanded, all that remained of the royal visit was one of Edward’s multi-stringered boards left lying on the front lawn of Mrs. Browns home at the top of the Pass.
The board was passed around many hands for a day or two before being judged as too flash, too heavy, too Californian.
The visitor’s bath was in a small shed at the back of the home almost overgrown with pumpkin vine, a sometime home for her fathers’ roosting chickens. The building leant some small way to the east, the one single-paned window standing so high under the eaves she had to stand on a old fruit box to be able to see him.
He was in the bath, overlapping full after some six trips to the wood-fired laundry tub, laying back, neck deep in the warm broth reliving some of the rides of the day, and his shoulders slowly unknotted, the deep sunburn saddling them gave up its fire.
It had been a day of even and uniform waves under an unblinking sun, in between sessions they climbed up onto a grassy rise overlooking the point and eaten the watermelons until their thirst was satisfied and great sticky smears of juice ran down their chests and dried there with the salt.
Some slept a while under the shade of an old tarp strung between the branches of a few scrubby tea-trees, the city boy though leant into the warm air that rose up the slope and he let his eyes wander up the long beach to the northern headland and the Byron Light, imagining the ancient, wandering families who passed by this way.
She loomed up in that grim little window, this country daughter, grinning at him the deliberately toothless smile of a lovely girl who had none left of her own, before she disappeared with a surprised squeak and sudden crash, and he sat up and listened to her laughing with delight as she ran back along the verandah and into the house. He heard the back door slam, and then a trebling of mirth from the kitchen.
Twenty minutes later she had them all back, and as the family sat around the big kitchen table for tea, he was bisected three ways by approving glances from the mother, the older sister, and the now toothsome peeper for the entire meal. The men in the family were otherwise engaged in trying to catch a coherent glimpse of the state of play of a televised rugby test match just visible through the door of the lounge room.
She made him buy her a gold ring, which she wore on her left hand second finger. She stowed every gift he ever gave her in a glass fronted hope chest in the living room of her home and as the day grew nearer there began a giving up of trust. Her mother became distant, knowing some truth, and a sadness grew in the home.
He wondered if he should embrace the temptation of joining an old Byron family and adopt the calm routine of a long family breakfast while the older brother loaded the boards onto the car and stowed the towels and watermelons into the boot while the mother prepared her Saturday scones and the father collected his eggs, and the big kitchen clicked in the heat of the breakfast ovenfire and a wireless by the opened window murmured the 2 LM country hit parade.
Having three kelpie pups rush in and softly collide with his feet as soon as the kitchen door was opened, then settle in a cluster of warm sleeping dog under the table until the expected mid-morning wind shift aroused the surfers in the family and scattered the dogs to the yard.
Or follow that ancient path that trails through the thousands of miles of coast, from the tropical north to the furtherest south, and travel along those distant arcs of windblown dune, bounded for their length by remote headlands and tannin stained rivermouths, the golden necklace of this land.
Farmhouses groan in their old timber at night, he thought, – as the girl nestled close, softly sleeping.
These old wooden rooms, with their bare wooden floors.
She’ll be colder with me gone tomorrow alright, he thought, – and the girl nestled closer, softly weeping.