Swimming In Ink at the 2015 Willy Lit Fest

SwimmingIn Ink

Greetings dear Reader,

It’s nearly time for the annual Williamstown Literary Festival.

This year I’ll be busy on two fronts.

On Friday evening 12 June I’m chairing Swimming In Ink at Seaworks, featuring novelists Jock Serong, Favel Parrett and Enza Gandolfo. If you love the sea and love reading about the sea, you’ll have a very enoyable evening.

Lots more details at Willy Lit Fest. Early bird tickets available until midnight Sunday 24 May. Hope to see you there.

On Saturday evening 13 June I’m hosting Stereo Stories Live at the Williamstown Town Hall. If you love stories and live music you’ll have a delightful night.

Lots more details at Willy Lit Fest. Early bird tickets available until midnight Sunday 24 May. Hope to see you there.

The novice

At the end of the innings I slip off my black flippers and emerge from the water, waist-deep in the shallows of the sanctuary.

At the end of the innings I slide off my snorkel and make my way to the shore.

At the end of the innings I take off my black gloves, head across the sand as the saltwater drains from my wetsuit.

It is in this last act, removing the gloves – with flippers tucked under one arm, snorkel dangling from a wrist – that I come closest to ever acting like a cricketer. Like a batsman, I’m removing protective equipment while walking away from the playing field.

And, as often as not, I may glance eastward toward the little cricket ground a few hundred metres away where, 20 odd years ago, I tried to be a cricketer. At the tender age of 30. A fifth X1, suburban, no-shade-anywhere, melted-Tim-Tams-for-afternoon-tea park cricketer. A getting-baked-under-the-hot-sun-I-should-have-more-sense-at-my-age park cricketer.

I was a no-spin slow bowler whom the skipper would summon from the deep when we needed to buy a wicket. Put all the fielders on the boundary, a few nearly in the water, and let the batsman take the bait. The deed done after all of two nervous overs, I’d be back fielding in the middle of nowhere, chuffed with my wicket but also looking out at that water.

Jawbone Marine Sanctuary, Williamstown

The solitude of cricket leaves you plenty of time to ponder the big questions. Can I actually bowl? Can I actually bat? What, really, am I doing out here, in the heat? What lies beneath the surface of cricket, of life, of that water just over there? What moves and swims and darts and glides in the octopus’ garden?

After two summers of ineptitude I put away the pads, the gloves, the white hat, the unmarked bat, the hopes. Put them in the garage, let the dust settle on the dreams. Contented myself with playing cricket in the backyard and the driveway with my children.

But the cricket ground and the marine sanctuary were only a few minutes on the bike from home, on a bike path that skirts this seaside suburb. One summer after another I would pause my pedalling, watch the bowler running in, and then gaze across to the water, to the rocks and the pelicans, to a handful of people in the water. Snorkelling. Diving. Seeing things I’d never seen before.

Despite not being a strong swimmer, I bought a wetsuit. Flippers. Snorkel and goggle. Gloves. Earplugs.

Then I waited. For a 30 degree day. For clear skies. For calm waters.

I pack my gear into my bike’s panniers, and pedal past the little cricket ground to this suburban marine sanctuary. Three-storey townhouses overlook the small beach from about 400 metres back. Refinery towers breathe fire about two kilometres to the west.

I leave my bike by the fence, walk the narrow gravel path, treading loudly to keep snakes at bay.

Beach sign

You can never be sure how clear the water will be, if clear at all. It’s like trying to read pitch conditions and bowlers from afar. You don’t know what you’re in for until you’re out there in the middle.

Still, there’s enjoyment – even satisfaction – in the anticipation: in tugging on the wetsuit, zipping it up; in popping in the earplugs, putting on the snorkel. You carry your gloves and your flippers out to a waist-deep rock.

You gaze up at the sky. Glance back at the shore. Out to the horizon. You’re still surprised that this is what summer really means to you now. After all, this was never part of your childhood, of school days, of holidays. This was never on the back pages. Or on the telly. This was never, ever, on the radio, day after day after day. You knew you’d never be, say, Jacques Kallis. And yet, here you are at Jawbone Marine Sanctuary in Williamstown being, in your own little way, Jacques Cousteau.

The solitude of snorkelling leaves you plenty of time to ponder the big questions. Am I breathing? Am I floating? Can I see, not just below me, but around me, in front of me? Is the tide of life going out or coming in?

There’s just you and the deep cool sea. (Well, four or five metres deep at the most.) Just you and the sun and the salt. Just you and the zebra fish, the banjo sharks, the starfish, the seagrasses, the rocks, the stingrays…

Just you and your breathing.

Just you and the best innings of summer.

rocks and snorkelling gear

Jellyish video by John Pahlow

Taking flight

The Big Issue has just published Taking flight.

It’s a story about racing pigeons and swimming nuns.

About technology and memory.

About marathons and the sun.

About flying and snorkelling.

It’s a story about the sea and the desert.

It’s a story about talking to a mate at the Williamstown beach.


The Big Issue is available from street vendors: edition 474 (26 December 2014 to  8 January 2015)

Close to the sea

Man at beach

Photo by Karen van Wyngaarden

He wakes up at dawn. Puts on his togs. Pulls on his Willy Dolphins windcheater. Slips on his thongs. Drapes a towel around his neck. Collects swimming cap and goggles.

Walks out the door. Down the laneway, across the Esplanade. Less than a minute.

He pulls off his windcheater. Slips off his thongs. Takes off his towel. Places them by the steps where Roundy used to leave his shorts and t-shirt and runners.

Into the water. Not out to the buoys. Not in the shallows. In-between. Dee enough. Strong swimmer. Knows this water. Knows this beach. The sand, the rocks, the fish. The past. The present. The temperature.

A man close to the sea.

The Pink Dressing Gown Edition

Comedians Damian Callinan and Mickey D visited Willy beach on Wednesday morning 18 June, as part of their intensive research into their Road Trip show. They arrived in style, wearing pink (salmon?) dressing gowns. After introductions to the Willy Dolphins, Damian plunged into the shallows with much grace and flair. Mickey D, despite Andrew Featherston’s encouragement, barely dipped his toes into the mildly cold water. (14 degrees.)

That evening Damian and Mickey D presented Road Trip at the Williamstown Mechanics’ Institute to an audience of locals who enjoyed having a good laugh at themselves. As well as their beach adventure, the duo visited Blunt’s Boatshed, the Titanic and the Altona market, picnicked by the Altona refineries,  dobbed goals from the boundary at the Morris St ground, challenged Geoff van Wyngaarden to a quiz about the suburb, and asked  shoppers about the Nelson Place development (“How about a giant coffee shop down there? There aren’t enough coffee shops in Willy. Or hairdressers.”).


Damian and Mickey D’s Road Trip National Tour

Week 15 – sea change

Week 15 Saturday 8 September to Friday 14 September 2012

The sea changes.

From grey to green to blue. Even brown.

From stillness to ripples to waves.

The sea changes.

Wind, rain, sky, moon.

Grey in the morning. Blue in the afternoon. Black in the evening.

The very popular  ABC drama Sea Change was partly filmed here at Williamstown beach. The exterior of the life-saving club was the exterior of the Pearl Bay courthouse (where Sigrid Thornton presided as magistrate).

The Williamstown Swimming and Life-Saving Club celebrates its 90th year in October. The clubrooms above are a little younger, built in 1934.

The sea changes.

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