short story | MEG MADDEN



Driving across to Mt Camel Beach from Adelaide I have to keep taking my sunglasses off; I can’t come to terms with the light. The bright glare through the dusty country haze is always a romantic sight for me.

Mt Camel Beach sits in the dunes that stretch between Elliston and Venus Bay, themselves quiet nowheres on the far west coast of South Australia. The drive out here is part of the charm - all seven hours to the Eyre Peninsula. There is something about effort over ease that calms me, the space between my home and this beach, and the work that goes into getting here makes it all the more special. We are packed to the gills with food and cheap wine, books and stories as we catch up after months apart. Four old and dear friends and a few days of isolated beauty ahead.

Camel Beach House sits against the rough dunes and low saltbush of Lake Newland National Park, a kind of miracle of simple architectural beauty. The timber of the deck and the rusted casing of the house seem to take in the weather, the same way they take in the warmth. The worn colours of the house are part of the scene, part of the land that wraps around it. The ground is hot underfoot even after the sun has set, holding onto the glory of the lengthening October days as we unpack. We pour a drink and sit out the back in the orange glow of the day, talking over each other and taking it all in.

The path down to the water from the house is steep and built from beach debris, half-parts of things that have washed up to this quiet place. Chris and I swim. We are delighted by the cold October water and our own courage, nothing between here and Antarctica. The waves are as salty and fresh as I’ve ever tasted and I brace myself and gasp for air between them. The aftermath is like a washing machine, foamy white goodness and moments of still before the next set.

We see ospreys and sea eagles and dolphins by the hundred, playing at the glossy surface of the waves much deeper than we braved. Chris runs down to the water after dinner one night, his beer spilling in the sand because he’s certain that he’s seen a sea lion close to the shore. It’s his birthday and we laugh that it must be good luck.

The next day we walk south-east after breakfast, the cliffs soaring behind us as the sand turns to stone underfoot. Smaller rocks, then rough masses, eaten away by the salt of the ocean and the southern heat. Is that how it works, I wonder? The geology of this place? I try to remember Seamus Heaney, the lines from Lovers on Aran that I later scribble roughly in my notebook:

Did sea define the land or land sea?

Each drew new meaning from the waves' collision.

Sea broke on land to full identity.

Our eyes are down, finding smooth patches to step between, navigating the fingers of rock and tidal pools, the inlets and deep crevices that cut into the land. It’s the colours that most astound me. I love the golden ochre, but never have I seen the deep peach and rosy pink of this coast. We walk further and it is intersected by splashes of soft purple and grey, marbled together like a watercolour, intricate mineral patterns against lines of rough charcoal. We’re gone for hours, the high sun tiring us out.

We are struck by the constant changes in texture, in shape. Sharp lines of horizontal rock cutting into the cliff and a smooth, neatly round stone nestled in the shadows. Pulled in by some wave some time, knocked about till just the moment it locks against the contours of the coast. We marvel at how it all works, how thousands of years have conspired to make it just so for us on this late Monday afternoon.

It rains on our last day, soft grey light and dappled patches of wet we don’t want to leave behind. A storm is a whole other kind of beauty, as fragrant and sweet as you hear it rolling in than any bright day. The rain is patchy, like it hasn’t made up its mind if it wants to give in to the clouds and they roll against the strong offshore wind so that silver light bursts through every little while.

We are quiet on the drive home.