the hermit at point upright
From the south Point Upright looks like a raised eyebrow, hooded and imperious as it levels a steady gaze at the untrustworthy south and the tempestuous gales it has always hurled up and towards the lower tropics. As if in eternal envy of their more peaceful climates.
Thousands of thousands of years of raging gales and shuddering seas have bashed and littered this upright anvil, sometimes to the height of sixty feet, where can be found the bleached remains of smashed boats and the men who drowned in them. Here a slab of iron that was once part of a boiler, now wedged irretrievably between two massive boulders that were loosened the same night the ship foundered on the lee shore there under the unending power of a 150 knot easterly gale.
There a glint of white bone caught by the light of an autumn sunrise, held fast by clay and rock. Shadowed by a mourning flannel flower. Close by on the clifftop are two burial mounds, faintly visible.
Ned came to the south after being demobbed in 1946. Let loose after three years in Changi. Twenty-five years old and his tongue delivered from the complexities of speech by the Japanese who had become wearisome of his constant and disrespectful banter. The horror of that ordeal and the loss of both his parents during the war found him standing at East Lynne looking east along the Mount Agony Track on June 13th 1947.
Looking east, looking towards the sea with its endless miles of coastline. Above him stood forests of ancient eucalyptus standing about like temple columns, silent places. Guarded by time. Planted by an intellect too ancient to comprehend. Planted and prepared.
Faint paths led him east, walking tracks where black shadows flickered amongst black shadows. They left him alone, this silent man on his resolute path to the sea.
Ned took two days to travel the five miles to the coast and what is now a dusty and well-used road leading to Depot Beach was a lonely trek through a cathedral of tall eucalypt and a choir of silence and birdcall.
His cave faced north-east.
He had wedged a small piece of string underneath a mossy seep at the back of a cave and this small drip led into an earthenware pot that was his water, his fisherman’s tap. An overhang protected the cave entrance from any rockfall and a wide sunny ledge connected the cave to the cliff base and the dangerous low-tide track that led to the sanctity of North Durras beach.
Ned lived here for about 30 years, alone.
Occasionally he would wander the long beaches south and find some companionship in the small Durras Lake settlements where he would exchange a bag of broken abalone shells for nylon fishing lines and metal hooks. The women there cared for him as much as he would let them, he had gentle ways.
There was a photo of Ned pasted onto the the back of the door of the East Lynne cafe with all the come-lately braggarts and their clumsily held catches.
Ned there in black and white and standing at attention, blackly bearded and unsmiling under a wide felt hat with an upturned brim. Empty handed. Behind him the glitter of a Tasman wilderness.
A compact little man, bare-chested and barefoot and defiantly aware of the stealth of his long silent image as he stands under one of the biggest spotted gums left unmolested by the old time loggers.
A couple of National Park Rangers wrote to say that they had visited Ned’s cave about a year go, after a hard scrabble around the point at low tide. Of Ned there was no sign but they said that someone had sealed up the entrance of his cave with an interlocking matrix of stone blocks that defied them entrance. Though they didn’t try too hard. They were local men whose fathers knew the old man.
Not wanting to disturb the place any further they retreated to the cliff base after pulling a few loose boulders down onto the connecting ledge, making it permanently impassable, then they walked the long miles back to the carpark.