Exposed, empty, open, remote and wild; this is the rugged coastline of the lower Fleurieu Peninsula. It is the country I have come to call home.
It was a dark and stormy night. Powerful, gusty winds pressed in from the North West against the walls of my tent. I had already been out once to re-pitch the narrower end of the tent directly into the wind. The 100 mm or more of soft pine needle litter underneath was comfy but offered little for the lightweight pegs to grip into. Back inside things flapped and leaned but held. In the dark above the woods the waving canopy creaked along with the winds roar. Flashes of lightening momentarily lit up the tents interior casting the wood’s mute shadow into my little shelter. Some time during my disturbed night the rain fell and in between I snatched bits of sleep. By morning the grey and wet had started to shift, only the wind remained resolute.
By the time we started walking the threat of rain had mostly passed and the sky was now a promising blue. The strip of the coast we were going to cover was one of the few sections that I had not yet walked. I had been near to it inland but not on the actual headland. I had seen it from the water, in fact my companions on this walk had only the week before been kayaking on the waters just below where we now walked. When seen from both land and sea a rounder picture of the coastline is formed and it is possible to hold both in the mind. One day I’d like to see it from the air.
Since my capsize some months ago on a kayak trip just South from here I remain uneasy about being in anything but easy conditions on the water. These feelings were not allayed when I learned that capsizing was part of my friends kayaking adventure last week. It gets tricky when the elements are misaligned, where wind, waves and swell are at odds to one another. What’s required at such times is absolute concentration, to better hold position, to be alert and ready to respond to the jostle. Rounding the Head above the sheer cliffs we looked down and could see the conflicting motion of wave, wind and current. I felt glad to have my feet on firm ground.
Walking on land, at least in the types of walking I do their is no such rough and tumble. There is challenge from time to time when the conditions are precarious or harsh but the ground is usually reliable and not intent on bullying like a feisty wind and sea can do. My attitude to adventure remains conservative, and I shy from apparent discomfort preferring ease and certainty.
I love walking in this part of the world though it took me a while to realise the rugged beauty that is essentially in my backyard. Ever since I started exploring this region I feel like each time I go onto it I am drawn further in, deepening my connection to place. Over the years I have threaded a trail along, over and around nearly all of this coastline and in so doing stitched a cloak that wraps around me. It’s comforting and ultimately is why I have come to feel this place is my home.
This particular headland and coastline is lonely and remote. Human activity was once here but now seems to have withdrawn inland. Here and there are abandoned signs of industry and labour (Herculean considering how far materials have been carried and the effort to bond them together or fix into the ground.) One industry does remain however; wind turbines, standing like slender sentinels; heads to the wind their graceful blades turning. Opinions are divided on them. I admit being ill-informed but I like the idea, and I like how they look. Every now and then we heard one; an eerie mechanical groan calling out over the empty hills.
The coastline itself is rocky and therefore a deterrent to those wishing to gain access from the water. On the beach driftwood and plastic detritus lay unused, unclaimed, and fading in form and colour at the weather’s wearing hand. Atop the cliffs there are no clear vehicle tracks and no officially sanctioned walking trail. It’s my guess there’s rarely anyone here at all. It belongs to the roos’ and sheep, the birds and the insects they feed on. And there were plenty of those in sight. Of note, Skylarks and a lone Sea Eagle. Walking off a windy hill and into a creek bed countless Monarch butterflies lilted and dipped in the still air. On the shoreline inch long crickets leapt upwards to be swept along in the winds current crashing against our bodies.
After stopping at a lone tree for a while we turned our backs to the sea and walked up a long gradual spur inland to a high point. We then followed the contours slowly down to a small creek crossing. The intimate world of the creek was the antithesis of the wide exposed bareness of hill and sea. Further inland we came to scrub and entering it lost the long views we had enjoyed all day. Now we were surrounded, bared down on and entangled in the scrubs’ snagging arms. We pushed this way and that until we emerged out onto a dirt track. We followed it for only a short distance before heading down a creek, part of a wide valley which led us back to our starting point of that morning.We were tired but buoyed by our efforts. We had been out for nine hours and covered 20 kilometers. Most of all I felt satisfied at having finally walked this stretch of coast.
People have different responses to landscape. For some this country’s bareness, the evidence of clearing, the way it is trodden and eroded by herd or flock leads to sense of sadness. Whether this be the person’s sadness or whether they sense it is within the land itself I am unsure. I don’t have those feelings. Can land be sad? Does it feel and express emotion? It is said that nature can be in varying degrees of health. What’s this based on? Perhaps on the state of its eco-system be it in a perceived state of decline or flourish; perhaps based on comparisons with similar areas elsewhere or to a previous condition it was in years before?
I wonder if healthy or unhealthy, this emotion or another are no more than labels given by people to satisfy the human need to classify and assess? What if nature just is? Everything changes over time, worked on by the influencing elements of it’s environment. Nothing stays the same. Things change, come and go one is not necessarily better than the other, just different. Nature’s condition is just a reflection of it’s current state and ‘value’ is located entirely within the person. This is not for me an argument to treat the natural world with disregard, or to abuse its resources. Its greatest value to us may be in its honouring.
For me this part of the coast is exposed, empty, open, remote and wild and I am both in awe of, and charmed by it. When I am striding across it looking out here and there with no particular thought and I let it sort of wash through me I realise that in it I feel secure.