What beauty surrounds me, even while sitting under an overcast sky wearing a jumper over my summer dress and a strong westerly spitting rain onto my laptop. My bare legs catch the breeze, sending my feet into a gritty quick-step against the ribbed decking under the table. No matter how many times I dip my feet into the bucket of water by the door, my feet are never truly sand free with grains collecting in between my toes and up my shins and calves. Not that I mind.
Waves roll in and crash to the shore as I sip on a glass of local Riesling. I’m embarrassed to say that it’s not quite two thirty in the afternoon, but I I’m on holidays and savouring a glass of wine at this time of day is okay I think.
Two of the boys are fishing from kayaks and the other is fishing off the rocks. The beach belongs to us as the only house perched into the bottom of the hill with the beach at our front door step.
‘Mum!’ comes a deep call. I look up to one son waving me over.
I stride from the deck down a few steps onto the sand.
‘I caught a flat-head,’ says one of the boys. ‘But it’s too small and I can’t take the hook out. Can you?’
I take his rubber thong and rest it over the poisonous spines of the fish to protect myself as well as steady the fish so I can ease the hook from its mouth. Poor fish. The hook barely moves. After some gentle tugging though, the hook loosens to release. The flat-head doesn’t move to begin with and I hope with all my might that it soon will. And it does. Albeit a little dazed, the fish swims out to sea with all my encouragement coaxing it from behind.
After twenty years, my brother’s hook was finally released this week. It’s been edging off for a while now and sometimes, it’s been yanked at with no movement at all. That’s typical of mental illness though, it’s unpredictability to improve or deteriorate. He has been cared for at home all those years and it has been only the last few months where he has steadily improved. This week saw one last tug that released him from that hooked grip. He secured a bed in a transition house where he will be supported to learn to live independently. He’s probably floundering in his own sea at the moment as the little flat-head did when it was first unhooked, as he tries to find his way. Unlike the little flat-head though, he has support all around him to help him and it’s that support that will be the difference between sinking or swimming.
A bite at a piece of softened chocolate and sip at my wine brings me back to the water. I gaze across the bay to the distant mountains sitting quietly in various hues of grey while savouring the sweetness of the chocolate and crispness of the wine that complement one another perfectly. Being on a deserted beach adds another dimension of deliciousness.
A few days at this place by the beach is a stark contrast to our visit to Queenstown days earlier. Queenstown is a struggling mining town that boomed in the late 1800s and early 1900s with gold, silver and copper unearthed from the surrounding hills and mountains. In 1896, Mount Lyell was touted as the greatest copper mine in the world. Investors, led by BHP, became very rich.
The key to the huge mining success at Mount Lyell back then was pyritic smelting, a process that utilised the heat generated by burning sulphur and iron in the pyrite, which was used in place of coke to fuel the furnaces. The first time the furnace was lit, the workers could hardly keep up with the flow! The image of billowing smokestacks became a symbol of pride and progress.
Fast-forward a quarter of a century and that hook of greed had snared tight. The smoke from those smoke stacks released toxic sulphur dioxide that clogged the air and left the surrounding landscape covered with a poisonous yellow dust. A blanket of yellow fog could be seen from miles away and workers needed to carry hurricane lamps in daylight hours to see. Work horses too suffered, as they bled from their noses. The sulphur killed what hadn’t been chopped down from the surrounding forests and the slopes of Mount Lyell and Mount Owen became devoid of vegetation. Instead of grass, the football oval was covered in gravel and those investors, they left with pockets bulging.
Today, almost one hundred years since the pyritic process ceased, those hills still lay bare. Some mining occurs but the town struggles, caught in a tangle of the huge legacy of what was. Seeing that was saddening and I felt angry at the greed of humanity. Having breakfast in a local café one morning though, amongst wonderful, open and chatty locals, gave me a glimpse into a community that breathed an air of resilience that only diversity can give. People seemed to exude as an aureolic halo as they went about their day. If reports are true that the Tasmanian government has plans to explore a range of opportunities that will bring life back to the town, then Queenstown could have a second chance at life. They too have all my encouragement gently supporting them.
Second chances are wonderful things, especially when they involve an underlying strength that stems from the polarisation of life – beauty and devastation, strength and vulnerability, care and indifference, greed and generosity.
Just as sunshine beamed down this morning and an overcast sky adds a tinge of grey to everything around me, baby flathead will always be set free. The greed for more will always be, as will the resilience in all of us grow. It’s what makes the world go around.