We moored the Bona to the south of the harbour entrance in a well protected cove sheltered from the brisk south-easter that had propelled us up the coast. Shallow water here even on the high tide and clear enough to see shell litter on the bottom. Ed, the skipper, was first over the side and he swam leisurely to the beach where he waited for the rest of us to join him, knapsacks and boots held aloft, his included. Ed never asked, he expected us to do it for him and as a reward showed us an oyster colony living on an ancient jumble of boulders half-submerged around the corner from our landing.
A high ridge barricaded us from the beaches to the east but after an hour or two we bested it and were able to take a break and look down onto the many coves and hideaways of this tranquil waterway, the only sounds being from ululating currawongs, the machine-gun chatter of kookaburras in the lower canopy and the lonely bark of a dog coming from a settler’s cleared land in the distance.
Damper, salted ham, pickles and two oranges each, water from our pannikins then back to it. We knew where were headed and it would take the better part of the afternoon to get there.
We had been told before leaving on this trek that we should be watchful for snakes; brown, black and mottled and all deadly while not forgetting the earth mounds that hid thousands of over-large, fast-moving bull-ants able to pierce denim to get to flesh. Swarms of mosquitoes in the shade under the forest canopy, bush ticks used to feasting on the local wildlife. Long-legged spiders waiting to alight on your hand as you held steady on a tree limb while navigating a downward slope. Bloated leeches found horribly engorged in the most intimate parts of your body when their bite became apparent. Nesting magpies gliding down from their roosts with bad intent, rancorous at seeing strange forms of life in their domain. Low-hanging wasp nests, malevolently abuzz, awaiting the slightest disturbance from someone passing underneath.
Ed kindly imparted all this to us on the way up the coast, himself having been bitten and attacked by every form of life living in this particular stretch of coastal bushland.
We followed no southward track, though felt we were being watched all the way by unseen eyes who had known this path for centuries, nevertheless we plodded on feeling the knapsacks burn on our shoulders, the sloughing of blistered skin on our heels, the itching bites of mosquitoes too quick to be swatted away and every now and then a single one-word warning from Ed, always in the lead and unlike us after four hours of slogging, always aware.
The last obstacle was a hundred acre coastal swamp to be crossed before we could climb another ridge where, we hoped, our destination and overnight camping site would be revealed.
The Bona motor yacht was owned and skippered by my adoptive grandfather and it accompanied more than one of the Sydney to Hobart yacht races early in the nineteenth century and despite its low lines managed many Bass Strait crossings without serious mishap.
Ed Reid was an instructor at the Hawkesbury River Outward Bound School and who taught me, amongst others, that the bush held as many dangers as the city.
Vista pic is Lovett Bay. Beach pic is Warriewood, home for 25 years.