It is the stillness of a lake that gives a sense of calm that the restless ocean cannot provide. A stillness that can mirror the world. Actually though, my life began on the edge of a swamp, the now protected Shortland Wetlands, at the time a hindrance of muck for creeping suburbia. Our yard backed directly onto the bulrushes, and at night the animal inhabitants would venture out to startle us kids and send us shrieking back into our brightly light boxes.
During the day we would brave the walk across the pipeline over the rushes, being careful not to slip, watching for red belly black snakes. The disused sheds on the other side we were certain were haunted and even touching their walls with a stick would lead to death. The thrilling adventure of the swamp fed our imagination, but our home was wrought with terror and fear. One night our courageous mother packed us into the car and we left the swamp for good to arrive on the shores of Lake Macquarie at Warner’s Bay. The dilapidated house with 58 trees was a hard found rental sanctuary for a woman alone with two children, at a time when divorce, regardless of the reason, was still scandalous. The lake spread out before our door, separated only by The Esplanade, a fancy name for a busy road. We were safe and I was 7 years old.
Warner’s Bay was then a motley patch of small shops, horse paddocks, remnant bush. A wine bar. A dance hall. Quickly the shores became a space of discovery, a large octopus, purple in my recollection, slipping into the murk. Tales of eels in the creeks large enough to take a Labrador. Fishing and jumping off the jetty where the sand tipped by the council once a year would cover the shards. Bathing the horses at stinky corner and letting them roll on the rough foreshore seaweed. The water was always there before me until I left and continues to this day in my minds eye.
It is a stretch of years from then till now, as I sit here and write this on the jetty of a pristine lake tucked against the Bavarian Alps. The pike hunt, we feed the friendly red tails, holding old bread between our toes until they rustle up the courage to slurp it away, and I retain my courage to keep my foot in the water. The expanse of the water becomes the space of the imagination as I sit at its edge and peer into the depths. I learnt this long ago on that other lake, that other life, so impressionable, fragile, damaged and shy. I take strength from the water to this day, its cold, weighty presence inviting me to risk its depths, to be courageous, to slip in, to accept its silence and its calm.
September 2020. Ostersee, Iffeldorf, Germany.
Written for the exhibition “Present Company” curated by Meryl Ryan, Museum of Art and Culture, Awabakal Country, Booragul, Australia