Eternities : Blackwattle Bay

It must have been in one of the local histories I used to read so assiduously that I first came across mention of Tinpot Town. Down along the eastern shore of Blackwattle Bay there was a half moon of sand and clustered above it a line of shacks in which lived the beachcombers, the drifters and the wasters, the flotsam and the jetsam, sailors cast ashore without a ship, landsmen who’d lost their purchase upon the land, along with the few inevitable indigenes whose country this once was. Factories were being built over the tumbled rocks and bosky glades of the peninsula above; the springs already over-taxed if not actually polluted. Tinker’s Well was the name of the one to which the denizens of Tinpot Town climbed up for their water; a basin had been carved out of the sandstone, by whose hand no-one knows, to act as a reservoir. The co-incidence of names—Tinker, Tinpot—suggests one of the occupations the people on the beach practised and also their gypsy lives. I always see a few islanders among them, workers blackbirded out of the Solomons who escaped the sugar plantations and fled south; a would-be harpoonist who jumped a whaler at Levuka and them jumped off again at Sydney Town. Bare-foot women in floral print frocks with a jar of water held against the hip as they pick their way down the rocky path from the well; tow-headed kids with skinny brown legs and arms, lots of white scars, diving in the blue bay . . . except the bay probably wasn’t blue, effluents from the slaughterhouse at Blackwattle Swamp drained into it, also refuse from the Boiling Down Works and the local household waste . . . not so long ago a friend took me into the abandoned house of an Irish family who lived for generations in an old stone terrace at the head of the bay. The girls went for nuns or wives but the boys, all five of them, stayed on in the house, sea-gulling on the wharves, moonlighting on the waters. Their bay rum and eau-de-cologne bottles lined up along the mantel in front of the silvered mirror, their dancing shoes still in their boxes, their good clothes hanging in the wardrobe for the nights out romancing women they might have loved but never married. Eating out of the same dishes their parents and grandparents had, sleeping side by side year after year in single beds. All gone into viscous decay, the roof leaking, the walls yellow-brown with tobacco smoke, the arcane tools of their forefathers rusting in the shed, the foul grot out back just a hole in the ground with a special stone slot for the porno mags; and so the romance I imagine lingering on fabled evenings along the beach below becomes what perhaps it always was : sump-hole yearnings, blighted lives, miseries routinely doubled and re-doubled to infinities of despair alloyed only by the blessed knowledge that in the end death takes all.

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