I know I have appropriated someone else’s title. It seemed appropriate, and if I had been able to remember the author’s name I would have attributed it.
First, a bit of scene setting:
We live in the middle of a tourist area that the tourism marketers call maybe a little pretentiously “The Great SouthEast”. Located in the SouthEast of the state it certainly is; ‘Great’ is maybe best left to visitors to decide for themselves. It has a lot to offer though: Sandy surf beaches, fishing, sailing and boating of all kinds. For those with more than a day or so spare there is the rainforested mountain district behind the beach strip well worth visiting, and called, unsurprisingly, the ‘Hinterland”.
I drove down a road into the past last week. It was a bitumen road, sealed and signposted. I travelled only about 50 kilometers but I reached a place I hadn’t seen in decades.
The Hinterland was where I headed with my camera on a tiny adventure. My tiny adventures last between one and four hours and are little gems I enjoy now and then. So, out of the suburbs and away from the city I drove. The road twisted a lot. It could have been wider, but had a good surface and useful warning signs so I allowed the VW Golf its head. Strictly legal, within the speed limits of course, but a fun time nonetheless. You can maybe see that my idea of risk taking is a fairly tame one. I’m a bit of a scaredy cat and avoid unnecessary risks. I always have done, but more about that later. Something tells me though my wife would not have been so happy had she been with me. Lots of motorcyclists love this road for the adrenaline rush it offers. Lots of roadside crosses adorned with flowers testify to the risks awaiting those who push the envelope too far.
Leaving tall eucalypt forests behind the road wound through the Numinbah Valley before it climbed (more twists and turns) towards the Border Ranges. Half way up there was a roadside sign pointing to the Natural Bridge National Park and picnic area. I pulled in because I wanted to see the Natural Bridge rock formation and waterfall and maybe take a photo or two. We used to call it ‘Natural Arch’ when I was a boy, but who am I to quibble. Progress is unstoppable. Natural Bridge it now is!
Things had changed since I had last been here 30 years ago. Either that or memory had played a trick on me. Never mind. It is still breathtaking. The water still falls through an opening in a rock shelf into a shaded pool below. It wasn’t exactly as I remembered it, though and certainly not as I had stored it in memory along with one of my father’s stories.
Dad is 85 years old and his memory is a bit shaky now. He tells me a lot of stories, often twice or three times in a row. One he hasn’t told me since I was a boy is the one about the time he went out to Natural Arch with his Surf Club mates to undergo an initiation ritual as part of the club joining protocol. He would have been about 18 or so at the time. Dad wasn’t always a reliable truth teller, often embellishing stories to entertain people or to set them up so I don’t really know how much credence to give this story, but it remains one of my strongest memories of Dad and my boyhood. He told his impressionable son that he and his mates needed to dive through the opening into the pool below to prove their courage. He said this was a normal requirement for those wanting to be full members of the Surf Club and thereby allowed them to strut around the beach on weekends, impress young girls, and occasionally save swimmers in difficulty. All right, I added the last bit. Dad didn’t say that, but maybe I have inherited his ability to embellish.
I mention this story because I realize now the strong effect it on a young boy who worshipped his father and who knew, at the same time, that diving through that hole would have been a step too far for him. He knew he could never pass that test. I have lived my life being careful and avoiding risks, especially foolish risks. Dad did not. He searched for them and embraced them. Right now I don’t know which of us was the wiser or the better off for the choices they made.
I don’t know whether Dad was telling the whole truth to his son and its now too late to ask him. In a way it doesn’t really matter. For me, Dad was larger than life and could do things I knew I could never do. Maybe some sons would have tried all their lives to match their fathers. I did not. I loved him (and still do). I knew that I had inherited some of his talents but his sporting and physical prowess were not among them. His sense of humour? Yes. His ability to turn on the charm? Sometimes. But standing there at the base of the waterfall at Natural Arch last week I knew it didn’t matter whether Dad actually did make that dive or not. What mattered to me last week was that dad had wanted to impress his son. What a wonderful realization that was. What a long time it had taken for me to see it.
The past is indeed another country. Sometimes best left alone, but sometimes it has little gems that reward the fossicker