Many birds travel stunning distances when the seasons call. Bird migration has been the subject of much study and many stories. Some fanciful, some exaggerated, some true. Many birds are defined by their migration journeys.
Many people travel lesser distances when the seasons call. Holidays have been the subject of much study and many stories. Some fanciful, some exaggerated, some true. Many people are defined by their holiday destinations.
In the past, people wanted to know where the birds went, what it meant when they came back and what hands guided them across the vastness of the world. Humans invented stories to account for these movements. Some fanciful, some exaggerated, some true. Storytelling as explanation may be hardwired into the brain, indeed storytelling may have given us our brain. Our storytelling brain gave us Swifts that live in the winter mud of ponds, geese that lived inside barnacles and the Bible.
It seems some stories have more tenacity than others!
Early humans probably lived in one place and then moved on. Hunt, gather, move. Movement was built into their lives, their brains also hardwired to take them elsewhere, to keep them in motion. In these journeys they would have seen things that were different from their most recent patch. They moved on to find pastures new, pastures less touched by human hands. They were eco-tourists. Just like us. Except they tended to eat what they found rather than write blogs about it. Today the urge to be elsewhere seems just as strong. Summer and Holiday fit together very nicely. The urge to be elsewhere may be older than we think.
Stories and movement – what else does a holiday really need?
One of my summer migrations takes me to Wilsons Promontory. Four hours from Melbourne, west and south. A National Park. A National Treasure. The Prom. I camped there in the first month I lived in Australia. Carrying way too much stuff, still tuned to the British summer, still expecting fog to descend and rain to fall. The Prom caught me that weekend and it has me still.
The Prom owes its existence to two things – Granite and Sand. The first formed from ancient, deep earth fire, the second by the slow erosion of the first. Where they burst though the surface the granite rocks are rounded and dome shaped. They bulge through the landscape like huge eggs or giant loaves of bread. They glitter in the sun with crystals, large and rough, which draw the hand. They invite contact and dreams of climbing. Erosion flakes the crystals away and they fall to become rounded and smooth. Paths are covered in ball bearings. It pays to take your time and watch your step.
Islands stud the sea around the Prom. From the air the coats looks like adolescence’s chin. Pocked marked and studded. Islands link the sea to the sky. They break the curve of the Earth into straight sections and hold fast to illusions of flatness. Without them you would see the curve of the Earth.
Jutting South into Bass Strait the Prom looks like a straightened fish hook, or a crooked and arthritic finger. It seems to be beckoning to Tasmania, the land that it lost, to come home. This is a flooded landscape, a modern landscape, a post glacial landscape. People used to walk to Tasmania through these hills and the islands would have been mountain tops. But the ice melted and the sea rose. This is a story that has occurred in human times. Not ancient times, not mythic times. We would do well to remember this.
Granite, sand and sea are the physical bones of the The Prom and they meld into one on the beaches that are held in the sheltering arms of harder rocks. Bays, large and small, are cut into the body of The Prom, and they are named in ways that summon pictures and hold memory. You can have a picnic at Whiskey Bay or a whiskey at Picnic Bay as mood or circumstance dictate. You can shuffle along Squeaky Beach, squeaking in the dry, regular sand. You can play with Oberon, King of the Fairies, in his bay, or play with smaller magical folk at Little Oberon Bay. You can meet your own Waterloo, large or small. Further on you can seek Refuge in a cove and walk where Sealers plied their bloody trade. But most people stay with Norman. Norman Bay is the focal point of The Prom for most visitors. Close to the camp site, close to the car parks, close to the security of the company and life guards. In winter you can have this stretch of beach to yourself, in summer it is crowded.
Golden granite and sand, seas that can change from blue to green and be all colours in between and the grey green of eucalypts are the main shades in the colour palette that draws The Prom. In the summer the all these can be brought up to startling intensity or sucked down into pale pastel shades by the mood of the sun and the time of the day. Noon and its clear flat light sucks the colour from the land, sunrise and sunset brings it out. In summer, the seeker of scenes is best to be up early or to bed late.
Passing through the parks gates on the journey to Tidal River, The Prom’s epicentre, is like stepping back in time. On one side of the gate is farmland, the other uncleared bushland. In a matter of a few meters the landscape changes from present to past. From manicured to maintained. On the outside of the park, farmland presses against the road, on the inside the bush presses hard against it.
Although reduced by fire, the bush dominates the drive in. At times suicidal wildlife waits in ambush; this is a road better not driven at night. Signs warn of animals, others remind you to drive on the left hand side. If the ‘roos don’t get you, the hire cars will.
A hill stands between the entrance to the park and many of its best secrets. Snaking through burnt bush the road climbs to the hills peak and The Prom explodes into view. From a vision limited by roadside trees the view opens to sweep away the claustrophobic dive in. Islands. Sea. Granite boulders. Bays of golden sand. They are all revealed here by a single bend of the road. All you need is for there to be a tall ship riding at anchor and the view would be film set perfect – and I know someone who has seen this.
In many ways this scene does not prepare you for what is to come at Tidal River. This is a honey pot, and crowd, a campsite, a car park. It is also a necessity, even if I don’t like it.
Norman Bay is close by, and many people camp here. Camp site by lottery. Neighbours by chance. Impressive homes of canvas and nylon are built, some with all mod cons, so with none. For many (just like me) this time of year means The Prom, although I choose to stay outside the park. Each camp site pushes against the other and at times it looks like a refugee camp for displaced families from Melbourne’s eastern suburbs – boats, surfboards, deck chairs and even fridges. Four-wheel drives, camper vans. Young children, looking dirty and happy. Teenagers hanging around, wishing they well elsewhere and loving every minute of the day.
Where there are teenagers there will be romance. But the tents push close to each other and every rustle and movement is a public event. Camping like this must be a form of aural contraception. Rustles in the bushes must strike fear into the hearts of parents.
To escape the crowds you must walk, not far, but walk you must. The slippery paths lead away from Tidal River and into a less human place, to overlooks and headlands. With only H for company I walk to Pillar Point. Not far. Far enough if you’re seven says H! We have the point to ourselves and can see many other sharing Norman Bay. Lizards, quick and flashy are common. Parrots light up the bush. New Holland Honey Eaters add a spark of yellow, with the harsh calls and pugilist nature. Fighting for space, fighting for food, displaying for mates.
Far out to sea I see an eagle. A second later it is a swallow calling as it flashes over my head.
The Prom is summer is about distance and space. The wildlife disperses to less hectic places. Campsites replace wombats. Children play where winter parrots mine for food. Although a late evening Egret surprises and delights and Sooty Oystercatchers still probe the sand. Flighty, but still there.