There are six adults and six children under nine. It is a military style operation to get there; to make sure we all have our beach gear, Italian coffee maker, global knife, parmesan grater.This year we didn’t take the eggshell foam mattress to put atop the hard bed with its slippy vinyl cover. Later we regret that, when we wake stiff and feeling our middle age. It is a half hour ferry ride across choppy water. There are the women at the accomodation office to get past. Each year the scrutiny of the Rottnest Island Board gets more intense. Soon they’ll be retinal screening.
There are three boys who are between eight and nine years old. Two are blonde (one has never washed his hair) and one is dark. The dark haired boy is the elder, freckled and takes the lead. They become specks on the beach. What can they be talking about as they amble, the three of them, towards a large sand dune with a boogie board to send down the slope. They love to ride their bikes and go to the shops unattended by an adult. This is the first year that they have seemed mature enough to do it. They must buy white sugar for the morning pancakes. They get sugar cubes by mistake and I am reminded of sucking a sugar cube, feeling it dissolve between tongue and roof of mouth.
Soon they are angling for a yoyo each. They are counting up their coins. They ask for paper and a pen so to do the maths. Hugo The Brave is the one to ask the adults for the extra cash required. At first it is four dollars then it is ten. No is the answer.
But there are rocks to climb, quokkas to count and the West End to reach and seals to see that loll like fat women on lilos. Their flippers poke from the water, warming themselves in the midday heat.
At Longreach the dunes are irridescently white. The weather is fine. So fine that the water is a relief. Its coolness can be a shock. Ears ache after a big swim. The bay’s seaweed is a deterrent. Pete and I swim out to the green buoy and beneath us swims a ray, bigger than our arm span. A Steve Irwin ray. We watch the water. Its rhythm and its beat.
The boys catch inedible fish from Fay’s bay, but on Baboo’s boat they manage to catch skippy to eat. On the jetty they catchbug eyed squid and, dropped on the boards, the squid gives a fluorescent light show. Into the inky bucket they bring back to the cottage Emma reaches and pulls out the squid. She prepares and shallow fries its sweet flesh and we all eat the entree the boys have caught.
Rottnest is about the beach and the sun and the hunger for large lunches. Masses of bacon for nine BLTs. Wine in the afternoon on the verandah watching the sky change colour. Sitting on the couch that has been manouevred outside with my feet up I read William Maxwell. Music is discussed endlessly. 1001 songs to hear before you die. The Rolling Stone mag is bought – a Beatles tribute. We can see the mainland in its haze of heat and smog.
We have a dinner at the pub and fend off the seagulls that threatened to steal the kids’ food. The littlies bring cups of seashells from the beach to tip on the verandah. To the right of the blip on the horizon that is Perth smoke can be seen. The next day we discover it is the Claremont council chambers that have been lost to fire. Riding back to Longreach Bay at night the boys must avoid the quokkas that poke from the road like furry rocks.
The boys take sand into their beds at night and scrunch up their sheets. They climb in and out of their bedroom window and leave wet board shorts on the floor. They wear the same t shirt for days and their skin begins to brown. Jack gets sunburnt under his eyes.
Camilla has the youngest children and she is curtailed by the timetabling of naps. The toddler and the baby fight over the beach equipment. Afterall it is new and shiny and the green beach watering can is a very fine thing. The bucket wars. The wear your hat war. Wars over sunscreen and wearing your rashy. There are treats handed out and eaten with a coating of fine white beach sand. Raff is three and desperate to be included in the games of the big boys. Hi guys, where are the boys? He does his bit in the construction of the beach pyramids and the lining of the river Nile with beach grass trees.
Pete, Graham and Troy use the skim ball till their middle-aged shoulders are aching. They switch to their non preferred arms and laugh at their girly throws. Beach cricket gets too competitive and the small boys have wandered off and left the Dads to it.
In William Maxwell’s So Long See you Tomorrow I read “My father was all but undone by my mother’s death” and I love the use of undone. The idea of the man unravelling, of him never being whole in the first place. In my head there is an image of the man, the heart of him threaded as if by a shoelace and then it is gone and he has spilled out.
Yoyos are bought. One is dodgey. Jack has the dodgey one. It pivots and fails to come up its string. Donk it hits the ground. They are for ever winding them up. Hugo’s is working and Jasper’s too. Graham can still Walk the dog and Round the world and Baby’s cradle. Remember Coke vs Fanta.
When Hugo, the nine year old, must go home to the big smoke of Sydney the two eight year olds are without their rudder. The two blonde boys are undone. They go into a slump, saying Rottnest is no longer fun without Hugo, and it takes them a day to rediscover their own spirit. Jack gets a new Yoyo. It works better. Monopoly deal around the table, but Pete feels the need to get outside and ride. Otherwise children could end up embedded with crazy bones.
Jo and Steven’s kids turn feral after dinner. There are four screaming children in a mosh pit on the floor by the sink. Louder than loud. Pete suggests no holidays with children under five. Tom Tom is forced to give beetroot a go and proceeds to vomit over the verandah rail. A bucket of water is sloshed across the concrete. Emma can’t stand it any longer. I’m done, she says, retreating to her cottage. Steve and Pete argue the virtues of the calender ap vs the To do list ap of their Iphones. Neither will back down.
The boats in the bay turn to signal a change in the breeze. Near the shop the sound of the large wind energy vane; whoosh whoosh. Monotonous and beautiful. Ducks on the ocean. The wind sings through the Rottnest island pines. A family stands outside their unit while a metre long Dugite snake slithers around their yard, tongue flicking. It slips around their bike wheels and through a helmet that lies on its side.