IT’S Labour Day weekend in four states and territories of this contrary country that hugs close its singular holidays, and the swimming season officially begins.
The sun is uncurling in a blare of seasonal change and bring it on, bring it on as we walk a little taller, lighter, as the air loosens and a spring is in the step. Spines are unfolded, backs are unhunched. The summer-trumpeting jasmine has been and gone but the mulberry trees are unfurling into plump-fruited life; kids are salivating, climbing, squealing. There’s the promise of gardenias and frangipanis — stop, soon, smell deep. Flannelette sheets have been replaced with cotton, heaters have been tucked away, electric blankets stripped off. The Nippers gear is got; the new boardies and rashies and bikinis for little bodies ready to be honeyed up — or not. And now the long slip and slide into the lazy days of heat, cricket on the box, singlets and shorts.
Ahead, the gallop into Christmas. Summer parties, linened legs, strawberries when they should be, ditto mangoes and nectarines and plums, all tasting of summer, of full-throttled light. From now on, inching into the shock of cold water, sucking in your belly; then what the heck, the sudden, audacious plunge. Sausages spitting on their barbies then wrapped in a lick of white bread, the briny swirl of the sea in the oyster shell, ice-trays empty too much, a cold tinny, a crisp white.
Why does it take so long now, years, endless years, to get a child swimming; why the endless cautiousness and focus on technique? In our day you were thrown into the deep end with a bark to sink or swim — and swim we did, fast. Oh the sparkle on the water! The roar of cicada and surf. Bluebottle stings: where’s the vinegar? Shark sirens. A radio’s summer songs. Air laden with salt; sunned-up tiredness; languid long nights and fat sleeps with just a sheet.
Summers of old: the Mr Whippy vans playing Greensleeves. Cartwheeling umbrellas along sand — watch the spike! Slip slap slop, shark teeth on leather, Hawaiian shorts and sarongs; lost talk like far out and dead set. Baby oil slathers, skin flakes peeling off. The ouch of the shower’s hot water on the burn, the necessary ouch, then Oil of Ulan, days and days of it. The innards of tractor tyres spinning in pools, the backyard thwack of totem tennis. Lunchtimes against hot brick walls with legs long and straight to the light, tan marks with ankle socks, a slash of zinc.
Panel vans with dubious spray paintings, furry dice. Sand in the battered savs. In the Devon and tomato sauce sangers. In cossies and your hair and the sheets. My brother, inexplicably blond, sucking hair gone chlorine-green and now my own inexplicably blonde scamp sucking salt from her own locks. Sheets of sunlight and fresh air, breathing them in deep. Running squealing through tent tunnels on the Hills Hoist; sprinklers under the trampoline, dishwashing liquid on top; drinking summer up. The wince-dance on asphalt. Bindis sneaky in grass. Flies lazy in eyes, the march of ant lines in cupboards, seagulls at the chips. The whine of the blasted mossie — Slap!Bare feet and burying dad in the sand, skin sticking to car seats.
The wonder of rock pools, their miraculous stillness, the gifts that keep on giving. Anemones and pipis, Neptune’s Necklace and crabs. In a seashell’s curl, the mystery roar of other worlds. Greedy waves tumbling us again and again, mouthfuls of spitty sand and surf. Learning to tame the ocean with sturdy backs against the water’s great wall of bash; bobbing blissfully in the swell; zooming to land triumphant on the boogie board. Then the day turns in and the light softens and soon, soon, the plump sleep of happy exhaustion; bodies, despite best efforts, browned up. Summer’s promise is unfurling us all on this lazy weekend, giggling us loose. Bring it on, bring it on …"