basihyal

I lead a pretty urban existence these days. Streets and pavements, cars and trains, libraries and bookshops . . . it’s easy to forget that not so very long ago I had the sea almost on my doorstep and great bush-covered bluffs to the north, the west and the south. Most days I would wander the length of the strand and back again and there was a period when I was up on the bluffs and scarps almost every afternoon. That part of the country is as much maritime as it is terrestrial, on every side you’d see expanses of blue water, sometimes far below, sometimes so near it felt like you could reach out and touch it. And as I got to know the wilderness better I started to find the imagery with which it is inscribed. On the way out to Flathead Beach, for instance, in the lee of a boulder that looks like the blunt head of sperm whale, there is a figure of a man pecked into the flat sandstone surface of a shelf of rock. He has a fish in one armpit and another in his groin and from these, in two directions, long lines have been cut, clearly pointing (I think) towards fishing grounds. In the cave up on the bluff above I found more pictures of fish pecked into the rock; on the great tessellated shield behind the village, when we were picnicking one day we came across an image of a sunfish, mysteriously inscribed towards the back of the shield, from which you could barely see the sea: or was that the point, that to take sunfish you would have to go far out? One day, traversing the Hope Range, wandering along the shelving rocks overlooking the mouth of the Hawkesbury River, I reached a place where whales, sharks and human figures were intertwined in a complex pattern along the grey stone. All of these rock carvings (there are more than I have mentioned) have something illusive, perhaps delusive, about them, in that on some days, in certain lights, they can seem vividly alive and on others not to be there at all: as if they have the ability to retreat into the rock. That last one, for instance, I never located again although I feel sure I returned several times to the shelf upon which I had seen it. All this has flooded back into mind because of a curious dream I had last night. A voice in the dream was narrating the traditional division of the meat of sharks taken for eating and emphasizing that the tongue of a certain variety was forbidden to all except – well, I never quite understood who was allowed to eat shark’s tongues but as the voice faded there before me I saw, as if stretched out upon a white cloth like a bed sheet or a length of canvas, lay the bodies of about a dozen sharks of several different kinds, including local species of wobbegong, basking sharks. These had the semi-circular protruding orange tongue that was a forbidden food; but as I bent down to take a closer look the tongues were withdrawn, even though it was clear the sharks were dead. Needless to say – or perhaps not – these dozen or so fish were disposed before me in a manner that clearly recalled that lost shelf of sandstone on the Hope Range. Now the dreamscape shifted and I was myself up on one of those vast crumbling bluffs with the sea of three sides; but instead of a wilderness of dry sclerophyll forest I was among high fields of preternaturally green grass, while in the distance, upon the horizon, I could see antique brick colonial buildings, with smokestacks, silhouetted against the sky. The field I was upon suddenly tilted and then I was clinging to an almost vertical fall of land, with the bush-lined sea far below; my elder son, who is staying with me at present, was there too, a little further down the vertiginous slope than I was. It was our task to make our way along this slope to where the sharks lay; he did not seem in the least bit perturbed by this nearly impossible manoeuvre, while I was in a state of barely suppressed panic, especially when I looked down and saw the white waves fringing the turquoise sea many thousands of feet below. So  I woke myself up; and in the aftermath, in the middle of the night, lay awake for an  hour or two traversing those high bluffs and shelves of stone, as if travelling in another time, to another world perhaps, in which what was written upon the land was also read and understood by those who lived there.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s