This is the beach at the end of my street where I walk the dog each morning. It is a mid-winter day in Melbourne, Australia, a freakishly beautiful day that probably says something about climate change. For the moment, let’s not go there. Come walking with Barney and me, and the ghost of Frederick McCubbin who always walks with us on this stretch of beach.
Walking is the greatest of healers. Good morning, we say to people we pass, and Lovely day, isn’t it. And they say, One out of the box, and sometimes they say, Beautiful dog, and Barney lets them ruffle his Poodle ears.
Most mornings, we leave the sea and follow a path that threads through a belt of natural bushland preserved between the beach and street.
Barney pauses on the path. The sour sobs are thick and yellow at this time of the year. The sun’s rays are like a halo around his Poodle head. Is there a fox in the undergrowth? Sometimes he chases them. Perhaps not today.
From the highest point amongst the trees, we look back on the bay. (This photograph was taken on a different day.) Always I sense the presence of the Bunwurrung people who once lived and sheltered here. No city buildings on the sky line. No bathing boxes to block their view. But see the gulls diving for fish? Some things never change. How hopeful is that?
When I look south, I can see the point where Frederick McCubbin painted his blue lady painting which is not as famous as his Lost and Down On His Luck. In the 1890’s, McCubbin lived on a street close to mine and he must have walked on the very same paths that I now walk in the mornings. How wonderful is that! How inspirational!
From here too, I can see my favourite cargo ships on the horizon, packed to the gills with colourful containers. Recently I’ve been having some painting lessons and this is my almost finished first painting. It is very derivative of Julian Twigg but you have to start somewhere, don’t you? Besides I’ve never seen him paint a pink ship which is the favourite part of my painting. Why is the horizon sloping a little to the right? I might have to fix that. Or not.
Further on, Barney looks over a fence. He is still searching for Mr Fox. I tell him he is a very lucky dog to be able to romp through this strip of bushland so close to a beach. I tell myself the same thing. Walking focusses my mind on the moment. On fungi on a branch. Moss growing on a patch of sand. A bird hiding in a tree. Which is the wonder of walking, isn’t it?
This is another of McCubbin’s paintings. It was painted at this very section of bush and sea where we walk.
See how the tea-tree bends in the sea breeze? The shoreline is now a lot lower than it once was: the trees we are walking through could well be exactly the same trees, now twisted and bent with age. I can feel McCubbin beside me, carrying his easel and paints, as excited about what he might paint as I am to find what words I might put on the page when I return home.
How blessed are creative people! Yet we all create in our own ways! Even walking is a kind of creation. Of a new sight, of a new smell. Of a new world, seen for the first time.
Barney does his own exploring. Perhaps this is McCubbin’s tree, he seems to be saying to me. And why not? If dogs can discover cancer in people, surely Barney Poodle can read my mind.
Back on the beach, we pass the bathing boxes. If I was homeless I would break into one and sleep there. I always think this. Perhaps it is a fear that lives with me since my father burned our house down. Or perhaps these little box houses are crying out for someone to live in them.
There is a homeless person camped in a secret place in the bush where Barney and I walk. We leave him or her in peace. We are glad he or she has a safe place to sleep.
Melbourne is supposed to be the world’s most liveable city yet we have thousands of people living on our streets. How can that be? How can we let that happen?
This morning, my walk has an ulterior motive. I stop everyone who looks like they are a caring person. (And some who don’t!) I ask them to sign my petition. As soon as I say — I am a Grandmother Against The Detention of Refugee Children and this is a petition to have the 150 children on Nauru released as soon as possible — they grab my form and sign it. Such is the power of grandmothers!
That is the whole point of grandmothers, isn’t it? We have lived long and hard. We know what is right and wrong and have the power to make people listen. We have wisdom. We don’t have time to worry about silly, superficial things. Time is running out. We have to fix what we can now.
We walk on. Thank you people on the beach for signing my petition.
Free the children NOW!