the lady who lived by the abyss.
Frank and Marie Browne lived on the edge of an abyss.
Their home was at the end of Lancaster Road, they had no children, just two dogs – Honey and Dixie – both golden labradors. Honey the son of Dixie. Good dogs, always happy to see you walking up the shared drive to the curved house a little further along . Wayne’s place. His room looked all the way over the Pacific to South America and he practiced playing the trumpet in there. There wasn’t a lot he did badly but that was one of them. He couldn’t sing either.
Wayne woke up one night after a rumble shook the house and the next morning looked over the cliff edge and saw an apartment sized rock sitting half into the water. Down there. Wasn’t there the day before. Later that week his father had an engineer check the rockface that held up the family home.
No worries he said, dead solid.
Gwen, that was his mum. Absolute glamour. His father Hugh was a big man with a grin that said ‘ I know all about you young sprout.’ Hugh was to be admired, not in the least because of the way he handled the rockspider who upset the order of things at Palm Beach inabout 1961. But that’s Wayne’s story.
Wayne and I started surfing together at Bondi, the bastard would paddle or swim out into all sorts of mayhem. We’d be looking out of the bus window at the sea on the way down to the beach and Wayne would say, ‘ never mind the shape, look at the size!’
They used to have a dance at the Bondi Surf Club on weekends, about the same time we were buying old cars and going up to Narrabeen to surf. Racks were hard to find in that century and on this one night a fellow parked his unit with racks attached outside the club. Well, we organised about six of us to walk past the car in an irregular and repetitive fashion. First guy undid the wingnuts on one side, second guy took the wingnuts, third guy slipped of the washers. Ditto the other side. Then the eighty-fifth guy lifted one rack .. and on .. and on ..
Mr. Karma came and visited us not long after and we had all our boards stolen off the same racks outside of the Avalon theatre. Never did get on with those Avalon blokes, even after forty years. They’re like cops, you can never believe the smile.
– back to Wayne ..
The bloke was a danger to society. Plus he got all the beautiful girls. Like Carol, and you know how it is when the georgeous girl has a not so georgeous girlfriend? So say hi to Wendy. My girl. She had a lot of black hair, on a lot of places. Babe was furry.
Those cliffs <
over ^ up there .. up and down them like a rat on a rope he was, and me being the right mug right behind him. Another fellow caught a small shark down there one Sunday and hauled it all the way to the top, then he chucked it back over. Made a lovely big red explosion they say, especially rewarding for the blokes still fishing down there and who didn’t know it was coming.
Though it did make for good burley on the tide.
Frank Browne got into a little strife with the politicians in his day, being a journalist, and they jailed him for a few months. Menzies didn’t like him much and neither did Calwell. When he was released he started to wear a gun. A small revolver tucked into his waistband. He came to see my father one weekend and stood on the front lawn shouting up at us at the top of the steps, everytime he swung his arms around we could see the gun. The old boy wasn’t too worried about his histrionics though, he’d killed a lot of men in the war that Browne had been declared unfit to join.
Marie, his wife, was often alone in the clifftop house, and almost always inside. Gardening alongside a three hundred foot sheer drop wasn’t something she did. A quiet woman though with a great fondness for the piano and a glass or two in the afternoons. She would wave at us through the window as we loitered on her fences, brown and barefoot. She became a little shaky as the years passed, unsure on her feet outside of the house. A very gentle woman though, always had a biscuit and a kind word.
We would sit there discussing which cliff, which rope, which fishing rockbase, which airy void we would monkey around on today. All of us all of fourteen. We liked the blackfish best, the striped Luderick that bred and fed around the rock platforms down at the end of the ropes and ladders. Years later I showed my mother where we went down and she didn’t know whether to belt me or hug me, she never knew, thought we were killing starlings with air-guns.
Coprosma grew in wild in pockets on the clifftop, here and there, dense and thick and it would hide the sharp drop-off edges. Sometimes the plant would cascade over the top and birds would find a home in there, rock pidgeons mostly. There was a small gap at the edge of the Browne’s place all overgrown with coprosma and Mrs Browne would throw her papers and bottles over the top of it from time to time. Did so for years. There was no fence.
She must have slipped over the edge one day, or one night. Trod through a hole, tripped.
Her backdoor was open and the radio was still on, Ken Howard doing the calling. She liked the races. Horses, trotters or dogs. A bottle of gin and a glass on the kitchen table,
Marie (Mary) Browne’s body was found by Percy Farmer a few days later at the base of Rosa Gully, about a mile north of Lancaster Road.