And on Tuesday 4 January (2022) my sister and I reached the end of our soul-enriching holiday together. Time for one last walk before a leisurely brunch, pack up, and her ninety minutes drive back to Sydney.
Sometimes when my sister comes for a weekend stay, we take a walk along The Blue Mile. This much-loved section of our coastline has spectacular views, shared pathways and parks, eating places, public art and local history signage. Without stopping, it takes about forty minutes to do the total length, but most people cluster from the Golf Course to the lighthouses at Wollongong Harbour, which I showed off a couple of blog posts ago. As COVID concerns deepened, way back in early 2020, I became reluctant to mingle with so many people, and started walking on the beach instead. I’ve become practiced at tracking the tides, as it is easier at low tide. But since that only happens twice a day, and not always at convenient times, I finally remembered a different walk. That is the one I took my sister on today. It is called the Tom Thumb Lagoon.
In Australia, Tom Thumb has a meaning that has nothing to with English or American little people. It is the name of the tiny – teeny – boat that English friends George Bass and Matthew Flinders set out in to explore a river in 1796 (first landing in New South Wales was 1788). They were blown off course, into the open sea, and you can guess where they ended up.
The Tom Thumb lagoon was once a magnificent wetlands, but became severely degraded from industrial use and run off. In fact, the busy Port Kembla port, home to the shipping activity of the steel works, bulk carriers, and car ship imports, was once a part of this waterway. However, restoration efforts have been made, and as you can see from the below photo, there is a haven of green space sandwiched between development. Sandwiched is the operative word. On the right of the photo is the sewerage treatment works. North and out of shot is the golf course. To the west, left of the photo, various light industries such as automotive parts suppliers, etc. South on the left is a rail line used by coal waggons accessing the wharf. South on the right you can see the roofs of cars that have been off-loaded from car carrying vessel (PCC’s). Out of shot on the south is the wharf, port equipment, grain silos, and coal handling terminals.
But guess what? Within its boundaries, the reserve is untamed green space harbouring birdlife such as a white-faced grey heron, magpies, wattle birds, and others I forget right now. The frogs and cicadas can be deafening. My sister said she hadn’t heard cicadas for years – well this day fixed that. On one of my previous walks, wattle had burst into bloom. Here’s the actual photo from the day I scrambled down a hill and found it at the bottom. Most of the year it is such a scraggly, untended bush you’d walk past it without a second glance.
We’ve had a wet summer, and when I’d walked there a week or two before, one section was overgrown. It had been mowed meantime. But it has been raining often since then, and when I walked there yesterday – 18 days after my walk with Sis – the grass was knee-high again. To be honest, I have never given snakes a thought when I do this walk, but I really should, as my sister’s shriek reminded me when she mistook fallen timber for one.
I took so many photos on yesterday’s walk that it warrants a separate blog post to tell the pictorial story. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you all with one last video that my sister took from our ocean-side balcony. This was taken at dusk the evening before as we sat out there sipping our brandies and dry.
A little family history for clarification…I was raised in a western Sydney suburb with my Aussie mum and brother. My sister was raised in a western Sydney suburb with our Dad and her mum, both Italian. The two suburbs were about 20klm/12 mile apart but we didn’t know of each other’s existence, until I went to Italy looking for my Dad and learned he was living in Sydney. I returned from Europe in December 1981 and that’s when I was absorbed into the family. I was 26 and my sister 19. There’s another sister and brother and I am the eldest.
Our Dad has been gone almost thirty years, and when his health was declining he told me he thought I would split away after his death, but that was never my intention. So here we are, Sis, siblings and me, forty years of shared history: the marriages, the kids, the breakups, the houses, the jobs, the family celebrations; but this was the first time we have had the luxury of eight glorious uninterrupted days togethers, she and I – and Bill whenever he was home from golf 🙂
Speaking of which, the front door just slammed. This is where I ask how it went, and he says, ‘I had a good front nine, and a lousy back nine.’ To which I remark, ‘Well, why don’t you just play the front nine twice?’ (Thank you, thank you – I’ll bow out now).