What is it about a place that makes us always want to go back? Is it the way we feel or the way the light captured a moment like a flash on a camera? Is it the way nostalgia possesses us and makes us certain that things used to always be better? Is your place a physical location or is it a state of mind, or a glimpse of time that you want to return to?
In my mind, I can hear the eerie whistle of the wind in the sail masts of boats. I can see the silver gulls circling before they glide downwards to land. I can feel the wrinkles in my grandfather’s hand as he holds my own small untouched hand of youth. I can see the ducks waddle down the path towards us and greet us with soft quacks. They gather around us and stretch their necks upwards so they can reach us. Food. They want the food. But there’s a few that just want our attention; to be talked to, to be picked up, to be gently touched on the tops of their delicate heads.
They follow us to the gate and I say goodbye individually to each one. They each have names. Silly childlike names like Lunchbox and Ducky. We walk down to the pier. I lean over the rail and stare into the emerald coloured water. I’d just seen Jaws. I wondered if there was a Great White Shark in that emerald depth. I thought it would be neat if there were.
Flash forward twenty years and I know there is. The same six-metre Great White Shark has been spotted numerous times at a few places over the years. I ran into a surfie buddy a few weeks ago and he said he saw him at a spot called Forrest Caves.
‘Awesome!’ I said.
‘Nah,’ he replied, shaking his head. ‘Not awesome. I shit meself! Never paddled so quick into the bloody beach!’
But we admire that shark all the same. We’ve even called him Hugo for fun. He comes by Forrest Caves and Flynns Reef looking for food (or a girlfriend; who knows). He’s even been spotted off a pier in the bay, thirteen kilometres from Seal Rocks. He’s pretty cool. He’s just a local islander hanging out; a part of our place that we love.
We need to look out for big guys like Hugo. He is a protected species but it doesn’t stop him taking a bit of a munch out of somebody. Two days ago, up north in Byron Bay a swimmer was tragically killed by a shark smaller than our Hugo. As a surfer, I accept I’m fair game. If Hugo or his buddies ever decided to take a chomp of me, I wouldn’t blame him. They’re a predator. They’re not malicious. Humans are uncomfortable whenever we’re suddenly not at the top of the food chain. These are animals that need to be protected, not culled or hunted or even demonised.
Try and remember that they’re a part of this place we also call home. They are part of this special place we hold onto: the Earth. Let’s look after it.