vastness as a companion
Crescent Head, July 1959, 5.40 pm.
Pasta with seafood and tomato sauce.
There was an old wooden picnic shed sat prominent on the grass verge that overlooked the final fast breaking section before the wave softly trailed away past the lagoon entrance. The hut squatted open-sided to the sea and every slatboard that comprised its walls and ceiling was covered in an honest graffiti written by the earliest surfers who had come by this place long ago to run these long waves to their end. Nought left for us but the undersides of the tables and benches.
Gnarly old boys intent on gouging their names and origins into the hard pine as they burnt their nighttime dinner of lamb chops and chuck steak, all of them oblivious to the beauty of the moonlight reflection that suggested itself back from the softly pearled boulders that swept away undersea from the creek entrance to the distant point.
The shed is long gone now, thrown onto a municipal burnpile. Another priceless relic of our meagre history lost.
This boy though was different, his board was shorter by at least two feet, he was alone on foot and rumoured to have walked down the coast from Hat Head – and to the fury of the settled visitors he could not be beaten on the onside all day. Just a snowy headed kid without reputation but with a consummate wave riding skill that provided him with lazy moments of grace where others bolted their moves.
How he swept past them on the bigger waves and then arced back with powerful changes of direction, his speed undiminished. His last wave took him way beyond the creek mouth and amongst the beach fishermens’ lines where he lingered a while.
Later that evening the boy took a table at the end of the hut, alone, and despite their boozed up carousing the Bilgola mob could not but help watch as he prepared his modest dinner over a couple of army issue kero pots.
Just a half dozen tomatoes, a couple of garlic cloves, and a half-tin of anchovies crushed down into a pan greased with a good knob of butter, all of it crushed down good, and cooked slow and easy. A little ground black pepper dusted all over, a little brown sugar to take away the bite. Then a good cup of cream as the sauce simmered.
That done the boy retrieved the two good-sized whiting he had been given by one of the beach fishermen earlier, both of them kept alive in one of the tide pools a little way off.
A couple of young local girls wandered past as he slit away the fish from their bones, all crouched and intent over his task; a youth slipstreamed lean by thousands of hours in the sea – and he looked up at them when they stopped and he asked if they would like to share his dinner. One of the girls boiled salted water for the pasta and the youngest helped him dice up the fish and add it to the sauce as they talked of this and that, and he laughed softly as she spoke of chooks and kelpies and thieving magpies.
He was gone long before dawn, last seen heading down the dark track to Point Plomer. A swag and a surfboard, don’t see them paired up too often.
Years later the woman would sit on the verandah of her home waiting for the southerly weatherchange to barge away the heavy airs of a late summer day, and she sometimes wondered where he was, that quiet boy, and whether he had grown as old as the face in her mirror.
Though perhaps not, maybe he was still on the coast somewhere, in some lonesome place with only the vastness as his companion.