By Anita Krishan
‘Magical Australia’ intones the advertisement. There is no denying the fact. This island nation houses a population equivalent to that of the metro city of Delhi with an area twice the size of India. With a density of 2.66 persons per square kilometer as compared to India’s 343.68, the topography is lined by rugged coastal shores, innumerable harbours and coves, magical beaches and the 2300 kilometres of the rich and diverse Great Barrier Reef that can even be seen from outer space. The scene is stretched across cast bush lands and wilderness, exotic animal species, vibrant cities, carefree people; it is rightly credited for being an incredible land.
In a small suburban area of Sydney, called Manly, I find it all encompassed as a miniature representation of Australia.
This is my fifth visit to Manly, to my daughter who has been living here for the past seven years. Even though I begin to follow the trails I have undertaken so often, yet the experiences seem novel each time.
Manly is a paradise located in the north of Sydney, with the vast coast of the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Sydney Harbour on the other. Sandy beaches, a rugged and rocky coastline, lush Australian bush, barbeque facilities provided by the council inside the forest reserves . . . and all within walking distance. Less than 40,000 people reside in this hamlet straight out of paradise.
I love visiting the North-Head, which is barely a ten-minute drive away. The North Fort was built in the 1930’s to protect Sydney from air-and-sea based attacks. This lookout point had played a pivotal role as enemy defence during World War II. The North Fort is now the Royal Australian Artillery, a restricted area, but I did not detect any restrictions.
Peeping over steep rocky walls overhanging the seemingly infinite Pacific Ocean, observing the foamy waves smack against the jutting rocks, and catching the resounding sound stretching through the silence- these are experiences I cosset in my memory. The setting sun dazzles the waters with the aura of shifting colours. As soon as the night meets the day, the noisy screeches of the cockatoos, the rosellas and magpies fall silent and small scurrying animals make their warranted appearance. Complete clans of brown hares, bandicoots, possums go scurrying around- though I missed spotting Australia’s inimitable kangaroo or a wallaby. Down in the waters, a colony of bluebottle jellyfish becomes visible in the fading light. Once the sun completely disappears behind the vast strip, where water meets the sky; the twinkling city lights offer an impressive view of the Sydney Harbour and the city skyline.
On a cool sunny day of the Australian summer, I pack my picnic basket, ready for ‘The Manly Scenic Walk’. It is 9.5 Km walk that ends at‘Spit Bridge’. Ofcourse, I’m not going to go all the way. My destination is ‘Forty Baskets’ for lunch and then a short walk further, till my feet allow.
Walking through this exotic landscape of ever-changing scenery is simply blissful. I inhale the wafts of fragrance exuded from the clumps of banks as, tea trees, bottle brushes, heath-myrtles. I remove my footwear to walk on the golden sands of the cove, but soon spiky rocks that need to be crossed make it mandatory to slip them right back on. It is a low tide; I halt by the tidal pools to see tiny clams stuck to the rocks as if with adhesive. The crustaceans hiding under their marvellously designed tough shells make a hurried shy appearance before dashing right back into their hiding place. At Forty Baskets, as soon as I open my basket, uninvited guests hover around. A few colourful rosellas burst into happy chirping at the sight of my food. A cockatoo sits a distance away and slowly and patiently tries to decrease the distance between us. But two Kookaburras that come to sit on a tree are the most daring. They swoop down time and again to steal my food.
My enthusiasm prods me to go further on the walk. I stop at the ‘Arabanoo’ lookout for an amazing view of Sydney Harbour. Finally, I stop at a marina where scores of exclusive private boats are anchored.By now, my feet are advising a return journey.
On a comparatively warm day, I head for Shelly Beach with my snorkelling equipment for underwater exploration. It is a protected ‘Marine Water Reserve’,a part of the Cabbage Tree Bay Eco Sculpture Park, about a fifteen-minute walk from the Manly beach. I take the narrow road,too constricted for vehicles to pass and a haven for joggers and cyclists. The roadhugs the shoreline of the Pacific at the Manly beach and goes all the way lining the Shelly alcove,presenting a stunning scene of the blue waters. A darter, having had a number of dives and its fill of fish, sits on a jutting rock with its wings spread out to dry, looking like one of the sculptures on the rocky edges of the road. At the beach,two eastern water dragons are sunning on the rocks and dart back into the water at the sight of an approaching human, swimming confidently with their long tails acting as perfect rudders.
I head into the water cautiously; occasional shark attacks have been reported here. Nevertheless, the blue water is overwhelmingly beckoning. There is another world under the water. Among the dancing seaweeds and small corals I spot a few sea urchins, a cuttlefish, a small puffer fish, a large blue groper, yellow and black stripey, and a flathead almost invisible in the gravel till it suddenly moves. After the refreshing dip, a visit to the ‘Great Fish and Chips’ restaurant is absolutely obligatory. To compensate for overindulgence, I skip up the stone stepsgearing for a walk through Cabbage Tree Bay. At a lookout point, I wonder at a few ships and boats that have come to a complete standstill. And then I can’t believe my luck. A little distance away, towards the Sydney Harbour,I spot not one, but five whales spurting water jets through their blowholes. Even from a distance I can judge the massive size of a whale’s tail as it sticks out of the water. These are humpbacks that make headlines in that evening’s TV news as impressive and welcome visitors.
A visit to the Oceanworld, Manly’s well-stocked aquarium, presents more seascapes, especially the amazing life that exists in Australia’s exclusive coral reefs.I press my face to the glass wall that separates me from the ocean creatures and spot a gigantic stingray among the redoubtable sharks, sea cows, octopuses, cuttlefishes,lion fishes, and seahorses. This particular stingray fascinates me due to its humungous size. It spots me too,and returns my stare through its large bulbous eyes. It heads straight at me till it’s touching the glass screen. It calmly stares at me. Both of us remain in that position for the next few minutes . . . trying to make an association, a strange bond between a human and an oceanic creature. Then the ray slowly backs out and moves away. Those few moments were mesmerizing and intriguing. Though the stingray was not in an aggressive mood, its curiosity was rather imposing; and for me, the glass wall was an assurance of safety from its deadly sting.
The homosapiens of Manly fascinate me the most. They are the most carefree lot. I see them running barefoot on the streets after the day’s work is over, with surfboards clutched tightly under their arms, and heading for the ocean. Over the weekends, I watch them walking up or down the beach in their swimwear, with towels hanging from their shoulders and the least care of the world on their minds.
It is a Wednesday, when, on this particular cold, cloudy and windy day, warnings arebroadcast over the TV. The waves are expected to be very rough and the surfers and swimmers are warned not to venture into the ocean. Why would there be surfers on a weekday, I deliberate?
I head for the beach to photograph the forceful waves. I am in for a shock as I perceive hundreds of human heads bobbing up and down the dangerous waves. The swimmers and surfers have taken the day off to challenge the violent waves. With concern, I spot a man bleeding from a nasty cut on his head. He rushes out of the water with his surfboard held loosely in his right arm. He is heading in the right direction, towards the Manly Life Saving Club, for the first aid perhaps. He scurries for twenty meters and then dives right back into the water and rides an enormous wave on his surfboard. I gape at him open mouthed.Wow, that is the Australian spirit!
No doubt Manly has produced many Olympic champions, and athletes of an international level. I see hordes of them practicing their surfing skills, canoeing, playing beach volleyball, or simply building stamina through some serious running.
It is time for me to return to my home country. I head for shopping at Corso to pick up souvenirs to take back with me. It is a very busy marketplace with about 200 retail shops.The surf shops, restaurants and cafes outnumber all the other types of commercial joints.On weekends, when Manly Ferries bring hordes of tourists to this famous resort, it becomes a hub of bustle.
I can’t pass by Yogurt land without guzzling a large cup of yogurt available in exotic combinations. I choose French vanilla bean, hazelnut and tiramisu. I haven’t ever had yummier yogurt,and moreover,I can wolf it down without worrying about the calories. I visit Billabong, the dollar shop, and a few others, which have perpetual signs of ‘Closing Down Sale’ hanging at the entrance.Environment friendly clothing at Braintree Hemp is an absolutely must. I pick a few articles from Aboriginal Dreamtime Fine Art Gallery selling select items like didgeridoos, emu sounds, paintings, scarves and vases in indigenous aboriginal designs.
As I climb up through the hushed silence of the deserted road to reach home at Herbert Street, I have sadness in my heart. My daughter is relocating from Manly, owing to her career; and I wonder when I would be visiting this dreamland again, if at all.
Nevertheless, the blissful memories are all mine.
Anita Krishan chose superannuation, after a tenure of 25 years as a teacher of English, to confer time to her passion of writing. She is a published author of the fictional and autobiographical works: ‘Tears of Jhelum’ and ‘Running up the Hill’. Also an ardent poet, educationist, and environmentalist, her humanitarian side is well revealed in her literary works. She has extensively travelled around the world. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Life Sciences, and another in Education, and a Masters in English Literature.