Wednesday, October 29, 2014

ROADTRIP 8: Afternoon at Hungry Head

When I was nine years old, I nearly drowned in a rip at Hungry Head beach. Suddenly swept out far beyond the clutch of families swimming by the shore, the sandy floor no longer within reach of my toes. A surf lifesaver spotted me and brought me back to safety, a little panicked but no worse for the experience.

If my family had stayed in Urunga I would have joined the Nippers and Mermaids, the junior surf lifesaving program and progressed from there. My father, grandfather and great-grandmother all had bronze medallion life-saving medals and there can’t be many fourth-generation holders of such.

The beach experience was not to continue – we left Urunga a few months later - and while I completed all the requirements for the bronze medallion at high school in the Temora town  swimming pool, half the class – the half without teachers’ own children in it – were not formally examined as so never had the opportunity to get the medal.

This afternoon was my first return to this beach since I was that nine year old. There were maybe two or three other people around while we waded through the lagoon behind the beach or kicked along the shore.
Afterward we had a little wander around the few streets of Urunga’s small collection of shops. The bank my father had opened was gone, as was the tiny fibro house we lived in for our ten month stay. The library where I discovered the Moomin books had moved up the street, so the only other building with significance to me that still stood was the primary school. It was largely as I remembered it, but the tall trees along the bottom end of the school where I used to exit from were all gone. During spring magpies would nest in these trees, and fiercely defend their young by attacking anyone walking through that school gate. Many of us would crawl commando-style for the last twenty yards with our hard school cases over our heads.

I really enjoyed my brief time at that school. It was small enough for teachers to have split classes of adjacent years in one room, so you picked up a bit from the older kids. It was the last place where we used real ink in desktop ink wells to write our lessons.  The best memory I have of the magpie-guarded gate was my father waiting for me at the end of my first school year there. I had come equal top of the class, and he had a big present for me, a deluxe Readers Digest volume The World Around Us which I kept I think until I left Seattle thirty years later.

Leaving Urunga was perhaps more poignant than any other leaving I had as a child. It was the third school I’d left in three years, and it underlined a lack of permanence in my life. As soon as you started making good friends, off we’d go. I didn’t make strong friendships again until I was at university. Undoubtedly these experiences made it easy for me to go off travelling for such long periods in my recent life.
Our dinner plan was to go to a restaurant/cafe down by the bridge seen here, but it turned out to be closed, for the night or permanently I couldn’t tell. We didn’t feel like driving to Bellingen again so settled for a pub dinner, unfortunately rather lacklustre.

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