Wandering along the West Australian south coast,
wintery elements jostled for control. Our walk was motivated by a break in bleak
storms and driving rain that had plagued this holiday. But the weather, can’t be
changed, so we didn’t let it get us down. We were surprised to see a group of
people also drifting about, in what seemed like small circles, gesticulating,
and seeming to talk to themselves. A man came up to us and said, "these people
are having therapy, so would you mind not disturbing them".
"What’s therapy?" the child asks, once we were out of earshot.
"It’s when you do something to make yourself feel better. Like ice and a bandage
for a sprain, like drinking hot honey and lemon for a sore throat or a tablet
from the doctor. But what do you think can be therapy if the sickness is inside
"I don’t know."
"Well, you could sit on the beach in winter, listen to wind and waves. Many
people believe, because the ocean is always moving, you can watch and somehow
feel you belong, its shifting makes you feel better."
We both stare out at the waves, trying to focus on a small part of the crowd of
"white horse" tops.
"See if you can follow where a piece of water moves to?’"
But as soon as we find one patch of water, everything changed places and the
spot we began with has moved, disbanded and spread out, rolled over and under,
and become another piece of water somewhere else. The man who asked us to move
away is still casting pre-occupied glances in our direction, as if we will
somehow upset beach-side biorhythms.
She has asked me a "what does it mean" question that I think requires more.
"Some people use music; or write it down, or give themself a good talking to;
these are all other types of therapy."
The pimple-like periwinkles cling to wave lashed rocks.
"What are those?" The child asks, as if she has finished with any therapy and
now wants to move onto something more immediate.
"Shellfish, clinging to the rock. Another way to have therapy-for-your-mind is
to watch others solve problems, like in films or plays; or you could pretend." I
squeeze as much of me as is possible into a lump shape on the rock. "See! I ‘m a
"Yeah, and I could pretend to be a wave crashing!" Her arms spread wide and
bouncy dance as a compliment.
"Then your sickness, in your mind, might be that you feel too many rules are
keeping you too controlled, holding you back, so you imagine to be something
which cannot be held still. The waves; they’re always crashing, always moving,
no person can control them."
"Or a seagull, flying."
"Another free, wild thing which won’t be held back. There is a book about a
seagull, Jonathon Livingstone Seagull, we all read it, when I was young.
He was tired of flying like a seagull, and wanted to soar like an albatross or
"What’s an albatross?"
"It’s a beautiful bird which seems to sail on the air, hardly ever fluttering or
moving a feather."
"Like those ones we saw, that just hang in the air?"
"No they were hawks; they hover, like a helicopter."
We have walked to Elephant Rocks; giant, pachyderm-shaped lumps of granite,
frozen in time, as they crashed through coastal shrubs on their way to the
elephant’s bathing beach.
"I’m going to climb to the top, and ride an elephant." Off she runs.
Her action might be fired by the need to be the “king of the castle”. By the
time she returns, disappointed, as these rock-phants do not kneel to allow a
climber to take purchase, I am exploring some basalt ledges. This rock has a
different texture, alien to the flat, smooth, elephantine granite. The
glittering, black terraces step down to the water, with cracks and lumps forming
millions of gnome like heads.
"I’ve found a throne," the sitting mother says.
Mother finds another throne, after testing two unsatisfactory niches.
"This is your throne, your majesty, and these are your people." The sweep of an
arm indicates the bowed heads of rock knobbles.
"You can call me – Your Highness."
"Your people, Your Highness, they’re here to ask you for some bread, they are
starving. See their backs are bending and they’re bowing and cowering. 'Give us
some bread!' They are shouting. These are the first people, they are the land,
and the land is them, you must give them ration books."
"No that will make them beggars, I will give them bread." She throws them
I find another seat, facing the other way.
"You’re facing the wrong way," the child yells.
True, I face the land, not the sea. "I’m not facing the wrong way. Only a
different way! Anyway who is driving this train?"
She laughs and runs away.
Tides of Eternity
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