A little belated, I visit North Narrabeen Beach to mark the winter solstice.
When I arrive at North Narrabeen Beach it will be either fire or surf. One or the other will consume the lists I’ve written.
Last year, neither happened because I prioritised going the beach on Solstice Sunday over the process of reviewing the year gone by.
I did the work afterwards and the post that came out of it was, I think, a good one.
Now, I’ve reviewed the year first, even if it pushed my beach visit past the Solstice.
My reviewing process begins with reading my diary entries stretching from last winter solstice to this one. The process takes a long time but I was confident it would be worthwhile. To be honest, it’s been a difficult year. So, I hoped my review would lead to both useful insights and provide closure on the year gone by.
If you are reading one of my Solstice Sunday posts for the first time, here’s the story behind it.
Not long after the Southern Hemisphere Winter Solstice of 2013, my marriage collapsed. Nearly a year later, I was lying in bed, listening to the radio. I heard a story about solstice ceremonies. A caller spoke of a ceremony she enjoyed with a group of women friends that involved fire – like a campfire – and a process of letting the previous year’s ups and downs go.
I decided then to make two lists – one of all the best things and one of all the worst things in the previous year. These I would take to the next beach in my Sundays the Beach project and, as part of my visit, burn them both. Burning them was to signify that all the good, and all the bad were equally behind me and, as more light came into the world and we moved towards spring – I had a fresh start before me.
There was a chance it would feel ridiculous and pointless, but it didn’t. It felt good and liberating. You can read about that Solstice Ceremony here.
My preparations for my solstice visit to North Narrabeen
This year has been, in its way, almost as challenging as 2013/14 – if not quite as brutally so, or as heartbreakingly so. But as with 2013/14, variations of What am I doing? and Where am I going? were much on my mind.
The process took weeks: I read my diaries, highlighting things I thought important, I transcribed those important bits into a typed document, read them over and abbreviated them into lists of the good and the bad. I wrote summaries of the good and the bad, and then, finally turned those into a succinct few sentences which captured the essence of the best and the worst of the year.
These I wrote onto toilet paper. If I were able to burn it, I figured it would catch easily, if I was flinging them into the sea, then it would disintegrate almost immediately.
The exact lists I won’t include here. But, I’ll boil them down to their essences.
On the negative: I spent too much time and energy dwelling on self-critical and negative thoughts and lost in existential questions about how I’ve come to this juncture in my life.
On the positive, as a friend said to me at some point, fallow times are important. It was a fallow year and through it learned, or clarified, a lot of things about who I am, what I want, and how I might get there.
Yes, the Solstice was three weeks ago, but better late than never and, most importantly, I’m fully prepared. I’ve done the work. I’ve thought about it. And, now, here we are.
With my preparations done, let’s journey to North Narrabeen
It is a beautiful, crisp, sunny, blue sky Sydney winter day. It’s time for me to venture, at last, to beach number 57 North Narrabeen.
I have a smooth journey north, first on the train to Wynyard Station then straight onto the B1 bus which delivers me an hour or so later to Warriewood.
I stop for lunch at Brot & Wurst – a German small goods shop and café. The weisswurst, with sauerkraut, crispy onions, and mustard served on a bread roll, is delicious. The coffee is fine.
I walk through suburban streets to arrive at stairs leading up to a section of the Bicentennial Coastal Walkway which leads though a pocket of bushland to a lookout on Narrabeen Head facing the long stretch of golden beach from North Narrabeen, to Narrabeen and Collaroy and into the curve of green leading to Long Reef Point.
The beach is busy – for winter. There are half a dozen or more surfers in the water, several people fishing in the mouth of the Narrabeen Lakes, and kids playing football on the sand.
It’s a windy day and I’m wondering if I will be able to find a sheltered spot in which to burn my lists.
I return the way I came and cross over to North Narrabeen proper. I climb the dune to the beach.
It is clear fire will not be possible. I peel the single ply of each list away and, one after the other, let them go. They dance in the wind as they fall and are quickly consumed by the surf. They disappear into nothingness immediately. I see each of them hit the water and a surge of surf pull them in and then, nothing. They are gone just like that.
What’s the point of a solstice ceremony if it’s not to think big thoughts
I breathe in the ocean air, watch the black wetsuit clad surfers play, and notice that a nearly full moon has risen. It sits pale and ghostly over the sea. I love the sharpness of the deep cobalt line of the horizon stark against a sky of palest blue.
Here’s the thing: the ocean is like this all the time. Summer or winter. Day or night. On sunny days and rainy ones. Today, tomorrow, 2000 years ago. Waves build and crash, or fold, or dump ashore. Every day forever. And the moon is the same – it’s just there – every day, every night, we see more of it some days than others, it might be obscured by clouds for days on end. But it’s still there. The same.
That stability, that sameness somehow speaks to the idea of letting go of the good and the bad alike. I am the sea, I am the moon – there is an essential me, which is, frankly, largely neutral – in the sense that some aspects of my character may be good, some less so, but basically, I just am. I am who I am and who I am is enough. I may wax and wane, I may let clouds obscure my view of myself. I may have calm days and rough days. But as the sea is the sea and the moon is the moon I am who I am – yesterday, today, tomorrow. And I’m good with that. Mostly good with that.
On Solstice Ceremony Day I am good with that. It’s the thing I need to remember. When the moon wanes, and the sea churns, and storms blow in – to still be good with the idea that I am who I am and who I am is enough.
A bit about North Narrabeen and Phillip Schaffer
The traditional custodians of this part of Sydney are the Gai-mariagal people. I included a bit about them in my post about Narrabeen Beach (No 53).
The first land grants to Europeans were made in the early 19th century. John Lees, Philip Schaffer, and James Wheeler settled on the south bank of Mullet Creek, while Alex Macdonald took up 80 acres at the beach.
Philip Schaffer was the first German-born person to own land in Australia; and on, or near, part of his holdings is now Brot & Wurst – one of very few German small goods shops in Sydney. I wonder if they know.
Schaffer was a farmer from Hesse, Germany who served as a lieutenant in a German rifle corps attached to British command in North America. In 1789, the British government recruited nine farmers to be superintendents of convicts in Australia. Schaffer, then a widower and father to a 10-year-old daughter, was one of the nine.
The arrived in Port Jackson in June 1790. As he spoke limited English, he didn’t last long as a superintendent. Instead, he was established as a farmer, initially at Parramatta – where he planted Australia’s first grapevines. He was one of the first three free men who came to New South Wales and were granted land.
He remarried in 1811, to Margaret McKinnon, a former convict from the Isle of Skye. In 1815, he was still farming in Parramatta and in 1816 he was granted 50 acres in Narrabeen. But all did not end well: ‘old age, poverty and intemperance’ led him to sell off his holdings a piece at a time and he died around 1828 in the Benevolent Asylum, where his widow also resided.
A bit about the people of North Narrabeen and their politics
The suburb of North Narrabeen falls within the Northern Beaches Council local government area, the State Electorate of Pittwater (Rob Stokes, Liberal), and the Federal Division of Mackellar (Jason Falinski, Liberal).
In the 2017 Same-Sex Marriage Postal Survey, 84% of Mackellar voters participated with 68% voting Yes, and 32% No. New South Wales voted 58% Yes, 42% No; nationally it was 62% Yes, 38% No.
The 2016 census found North Narrabeen to be home to 5,852 people, of whom 65 or 1.1% identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. This compares with 2.9% of New South Wales and 2.8% of Australia.
73.8% were Australian born, while the top five other responses were: England (6.9%), New Zealand (1.7%), Brazil (1%), South Africa (0.8%), and the Netherlands (0.8%). 49.3% of people had both parents born in Australia and 26.8% of people had both parents born overseas.
85.9% of people only spoke English at home. Other languages spoken at home included Portuguese 1.5%, Italian 0.8%, Dutch 0.6%, German 0.5% and Japanese 0.4%.
The most common responses for religion were No Religion 34.5%, Catholic 23.4%, Anglican 18.7%, Not stated 8.5% and Uniting Church 2.3%.
The median weekly personal income for people aged 15 years and over was $843, state-wide it was $664, and nationally $662.
Of occupied private dwellings, 36.1% were owned outright, 42.9% were owned with a mortgage and 16.9% were rented. The median weekly rent was $620, state-wide $380, and nationally $335.