Here & Now with S Sorrensen - Dec 10

Russell Island, Qld, Sunday 5.30am:

There’s something forlornly sad about the call of the curlew.

It cuts through the pre-dawn like the cry of a baby waking from a bad dream. Its mournful three notes seem to mark a passing. Maybe the curlew knows what I already suspect as expense accounts gather in Copenhagen. Maybe it’s noting this gathering of my extended family on this mosquito-infested island to celebrate the matriarch’s birthday.

The tide has quickly receded exposing a long stretch of mud prickled with mangrove spikes. Speckled brown waterbirds dart quickly to and fro across the mudflats snatching any crab silly enough to poke its head up to see what’s really going on. (But somebody has to.)

Out on the water is an old tinny. In it are two young men – my son and his brother.

Just when the first pre-dawn light started to compete with the Gold Coast’s nocturnal glow to the south, the boys decided to go fishing. Hell, why not? It’s their mother’s birthday. And the house comes with a rusty tinny. And a paddle.

And at that stage the tide was lapping at the concrete ramp which runs from the backyard into the sea.

Now the ramp runs out across exposed mud and stops some distance from the water. Big tides around here.

All this I see from the verandah where I sit.

For an hour or more the boys floated about amongst the two catamarans, the elegant motorsailer and the houseboat. I heard snippets of conversation and cackles of laughter bounce across the water. Apart from that, and the buzz of mosquitoes and the curlew’s plaintive cry, all was quiet.

The boys’ mother, their sister, my girlfriend and I sat in the silence watching them. I felt melancholy. Like the tide, life is forever changing. I remember the kids when they were kids. I remember their mum when we were kids. And the curlew makes me nervous about the future.

The boys have had enough. Maybe it has something to do with the constant bailing that’s been going on. (The tinny is well rusted.)

They’re paddling back to shore. Or, more truthfully, one paddles while the other bails using only his cupped hands.

The tinny reaches water’s edge which is now a long way from the end of the boat ramp. The elder boy, captain by birthright, jumps out of the tinny and onto the mud.

Did I say ‘onto’? I mean ‘into’.

He immediately sinks up to his knees. His surprised exclamation is almost as loud as his brother’s laugh. Being captain he orders the younger out of the boat as well. He too sinks like hope in Copenhagen.

There’s laughter coming from the sea. And now there’s plenty of laughter coming from the verandah too.

“Shhh,” says the sister, worried about disturbing the neighbours.

The boys flail about in the mud, pulling and pushing the tinny. The mud sucks at their bodies as they slowly inch the tinny towards the ramp. It makes loud, strange noises as it scrapes over the mangrove spikes. The boys laugh, argue and throw mud at each other.

“Leave it! Leave it!” shouts the mother between laughing fits. (Being a wise woman she knows the tide will come back in and the boat can be rescued then.)

“Quiet Mum!” yells the sister.

With the tinny stuck on a mangrove spike, the boys looking like Moreton Bay mudmen and their mother laughing so hard tears run down her cheeks, the sun bravely pokes its head above the island to my left and lays a golden shimmer across the warming water.

The future is here.

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