Tag Archives: ferry

Leaving Ireland with Melancholy and Hope

17 – 22 August 2015 (Days 84 – 89 of my Midlife Gapyear)

Monday 17 August 11:30 am – Flanders Cross

And just like that, time is fleeting. The Kilkenny Arts Festival is finished and all my new acquaintances have begun to fade away.

I returned to Kilkenny via Dublin sharing a festival courtesy car with American author Jane Smiley and her husband Jack. They were both lovely. We talked about Australia. (Jane wondered why the people of Adelaide think so little of their city. “They live there even when the festivals are over,” I said). Not surprisingly, for an Iowa person, she has Chicago connections; I said that I grew up in the Skokie part of Evanston, “I see,” she said, “why you moved to Australia.”

Once back in town I was, again, helping Cornelia and Hazel. Then we had dinner and went to Druid Shakespeare. There we met a friend of Cornelia and her sister from Australia. Perhaps she missed that I’m from Sydney – when I asked where she was from she said 4 ½ hours north of Sydney. Yeah, where abouts? Sort of Armidale – yeah, where abouts? Walcha. Oh, sure, I know Walcha – inland from Port Macquarie. She was amazed.

When we were leaving Druid Cornelia exclaimed at how terrible that actress’ voice was. I’m glad I wasn’t alone in my opinion. She’s like some sort of Nicole Kidman-looking love child of William Shatner and Al Pacino.

We went on to The Set Theatre for the Brooklyn Rider, Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill Marble City Session. So good – such beautiful, beautiful playing. I saw Robert Pinsky there at the end of the show and it pleased me that it pleased him to see me, “I thought you’d gone,” he said.

Then yesterday, Sunday, was the last day of the festival.  The finale gig at the Cathedral was fantastic – really amazing.

I expect to long have very fond memories of this time here – my time spent on the festival – the people I’ve met, the performances I’ve seen.

Monday 17 August – 5:55 pm, Kilkenny

I’ve gone and bought watercolours. I won’t paint if I don’t have them, now I do, so it’s a matter of finding time to use them.

Cornelia and Matthew are mother/son-ing. I’ve had an ice cream at Kitty’s Cabin. A gaggle of local youths hang about nearby with their ubiquitous hurling sticks – I wonder how often they are used as weapons?

Tuesday 18 August 12:40 pm – Waterford, The Larder

It’s a beautiful day – sunny and warm.

My bike is having it’s wheels trued. I’ve wandered Waterford – basically to find places: bicycle shops, phone repairs. My phone – the cable connection is fucked – is irreparable (a lesson in getting something unbranded).

The coffee here, at the Larder, is passable and I’ve had a nice chat with the proprietor – Patrick Murphy (really, he was born in England of an English mother and Irish father, they didn’t think they’d be moving back, but they did when he was four).

He’d been in retail most of his career but decided a couple of years ago to take a crack at a café. He was talking of Celtic Tiger times when everyone was flush. He worked at an electronics retailer and new TVs came in. He went to discuss how to display them and the manager said just stack them by the door – they’ll sell. Patrick was like ‘is this what this trade I’ve been working in all these years, the skills I’ve gained, come to?” He quit that day. He told this story to say all that all that wealth had made the Irish loose and careless with money. One good thing to come of the GFC, he thinks, is that people care more about quality now and this has something to do with the improvement of coffee in Ireland (though, let’s be honest, they still have a way to come).

I’m feeling keen to be riding again and also a bit weird that I’ll soon leave this place. And a little – just mildly – disappointed for not having gotten more writing done. But this week remains.

4:10 pm – At the library

Cornelia described this building as a Celtic Tiger building. Built to be a mall with major retailers but left standing empty when the GFC hit. It’s still basically empty but with council business – a library and regional office in part of it.

I have to admit that Robert has taken a hold in a space in my brain. I think the conversation I had with him was among the best I’ve had on this trip. I really enjoyed swapping Clinton stories with him and talking about American politics with someone quite attuned with the ways of that world.  I’m not sure I’ve recorded some of the Hillary Clinton stories he shared. He was a young professor at Wellesley while she was there. He was teaching an American Poetry class to arty young women who were sure the revolution had come or was nearly upon them, it was 1968. They were discussing a poem which mentioned a lawyer. And the response was “who would want to be a lawyer, or marry a lawyer? Ugh, how horrible”. And then a few of them saying “Hillary Rodham” chuckle, chuckle. It was the first time he heard her name.

He was at the commencement where she spoke. It had been the tradition of the school that a student did not speak – she was the first – and it was controversial. The main speaker – who went before her – was US Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, African-American and Republican; he spoke of patience and incremental change, of letting the system work. Hillary, in response, abandoned her prepared text to say something along the lines of, “Senator, we were hoping you’d have something to say about how we can solve these problems, etc.” Robert said that it was measured and well-delivered – that he went away thinking: This is an impressive person.

Hazel asked him about his Simpsons’ experience. He had flown to LA just before 9/11 – on one of the same flights that was highjacked on the day. He imagines (or knows) it was the same crew from his flight that would have been on that one. With air travel grounded, he was stuck in LA. The Simpsons crew took him under their wings. “In my circle, I’m considered by some to be funny,” he said, “but with them I felt an amateur surrounded by Olympians.”

I’d be quite pleased to make a friendship of it.

Wednesday 19 August – 10:22 am, Flanders Cross

Wispy clouds washed pink by sunset with crescent moon.
One of my final Irish sunsets.

On the drive home last night Cornelia said of her mother, “Her worry is deep and awesome.” I thought that was beautiful.

We were on our way from Waterford and stopped in at Bobbi’s where we were invited in for a glass of wine. She and her youngest daughter live in this mad beautiful manor house with views of green rolling hills and sheep. She lived in Australia for six years in the 1970s working as a station cook in the Outback. She told a story of visiting an Aboriginal community south of Katherine with a didgeridoo player of her acquaintance.

9:07 pm – Flinders Cross

I’m really beginning to stress out about whatever comes next. I was hoping to visit the French family with whom I rode in Wales in Caen. They’ve had to cancel – which puts me at a looser end.

I am looking at a two-week German class. Is that a good investment? Worthwhile? Or should I just ride from Cherbourg and stop worrying? Should I head to Germany on the shortest line? Or the Belgian border following the coast? Find the quickest way out of France? Or spend another €100 on the train out? Fuck if I know. Fuck if I know. I’m ready to go – but to where?

I emailed Robert Pinsky today – anxious to see if he replies and if he does, how.

Thursday 20 August, 7:17 pm – Flanders Cross

This morning I woke stressed by indecision, of uncertainty about where to go, and how to spend my time.

Cornelia suggested that I settle in somewhere for a month. This led to the idea of doing a four-week German course in January rather than two-weeks in October. It makes so much sense. I’ll sleep on it but it feels right and like a burden has been lifted. I can just ride from Cherbourg – head up the coast, the D-Day beaches. I’ll get to Berlin in time for my flight, easy.

And then I had an email reply from Robert Pinsky. Which pleased me.

I’ve dipped into his Selected Poems and think I’m going to like his stuff.

I have never been good at reading poetry.

I like to read faster than poetry invites. Poetry seems to require a deliberative reading which I have, so far, been unwilling to offer.

But maybe now is the time. Maybe it’s the time in my life to be a reader of poetry. Perhaps even a writer of poetry. And perhaps my meeting Robert is a bit of influencing good fortune.

Friday 21 August 12:25 pm – Umi Falafel, Dublin

I woke early. I’m excited about getting going again. I like the plans I’ve settled on. Glenn was coming up to Dublin, so I’ve tagged along to look for knicks and eat at this restaurant again.

I quite like this from Robert’s Gulf Music:

“… but the immigration papers did

Require him to renounce all loyalty to Czar Nicholas

As he signed, he must have thought to himself

The Yiddish equivalent of ‘No problem’, Mah la belle”

11:41 pm – Flanders Cross

Things are happening as they ought: I only rode 15 km in Ireland; I’ll study German in January; meeting Robert. As is ought. Fortuitous but as they ought to be.

To read and write and paint and take my time. To think and meet and learn. Poetry, reading poetry, enforces deliberation. Deliberation is good.

We’ll see, we’ll see.

Saturday 22 August, 4:05 pm – Pulling out of Rosslare

Farewell, farewell Ireland. I’m feeling a little wistful, a little sad to go. My time here was spent in unexpected ways – but it was good for me. Friendships made, forged. Decisions. Ideas. Realisations. Just settling in for a time.

A family - mum, dad, and pre-teen son and daughter, with me - standing in a green field, arms around each other.
With my Irish family

6:00 pm

I’m reading family scenes in Jane Smiley’s Some Luck and looking at the groups all around me.

There were dolphins – everyone rushed to the window to look – not me. I didn’t want to leave all my stuff at this table un-monitored.

I am alone again.

A melancholy selfie of a woman in a blue jumper on the deck of a ferry, cloudy day, dark sea, a bit of Ireland in the distance.
On my own again, farewell Ireland.

9:00 pm

I’ve painted a watercolour of the sea beyond my window while listening to a podcast of Robert speaking on modernism someplace once upon a time. He’s a smart man, knowledgeable and interesting – which shouldn’t be surprising, he’s been at this thing he does for 50 years.

Here’s the thing about the intelligence others see in me, and which I see too, albeit less clearly – why can’t I figure out what to do with it? How to use my smarts, my talents, to produce, to create – to leave something?

Listening to RP, reading his stuff. Reading Jane Smiley’s novel. Admiring all the artists at Kilkenny, I feel the twinges of regret for having not done more with my 46 years.

Time to retreat to my cabin to eat biscuits. Tomorrow I ride. And seek. Seek. Something. What am I seeking? I don’t really know. But, in the meantime. Just. Be. Here. Now.

The gloaming: Low clouds over a gently rolling strip of Ireland on the horizon, the foreground calm steel-coloured sea.
Goodbye Ireland

No 20: Currawong Beach – 29 January 2012

Leaving home at 10:28am we encounter the first of several instances of good public transport karma the 400 is at the previous stop when we arrive at Burwood Road.  We run up the steps as the train pulls in to Burwood Station, wait a few minutes for the L90 and arrive at Palm Beach at 12:28.  I love that Sydney’s public transport system, somewhat faulty as it is, reaches so far and wide.

Once the bus turns off Pittwater Road – which, as an extension of Military Rd is like other Sydney arterials with real estate agents, kebab shops and chemists interspersed with flats and houses — onto Barrenjoey Road, the bus is twisting and climbing from the ocean side then dropping onto the Pittwater side past big and bigger houses built cleverly into the side of the hill.  It’s green, green, leafy, subtropical fecundity everywhere; everywhere the houses and roads are not lording over blue waters dotted with expensive, private water craft.  It is hard to believe we are still in the same city as Croydon Park or that the Sydney public transport system readily and easily reaches this place.

Currawong Beach is about 54 km/33 m from home including a two kilometre ferry ride.

We’re about 25 minutes early for the next ferry to Currawong Beach so with a little time to kill we figure we won’t get a bad coffee in Palm Beach and head for Barrenjoey House – where for a mere $4 per we have very good short blacks served by vivacious staff.

We find a funny mix of people lingering around the Palm Beach Wharf.  Some ferries go from here to Ettalong – so while most folks are the sort of casually well-off found in these parts of the Northern Beaches there are also some black-jean wearing, bearded, blue-tattooed Central Coastians about as well.  As we are heading to Currawong, long a summer destination for unionists staying at the NSW Labor Council owned cottages, the sprinkling of working class people amongst the six-figure cars in the lot feels right.

Our ferry to Currawong is a lovely, charming, wooden old thing staffed by an old hand and a young bloke who is still learning the skills of driving the thing.  The crossing is a bit choppy with a good wind going but sunny and warm with a smattering of clouds.  Mitch stands in the open hatch watching with envy the many sailing boats skimming north, sails full and leaning well into the wind.

I reckon the ferry spends most of its time at the wharves where weekenders load and unload.  We spend 10 minutes at The Basin Campground at Ku-Ring-Gai National Park with people loading all their camping gear on the ferry.

I worry a little when we arrive at Currawong and find the jetty sign-posted as ‘private’.  But you can’t own below the high-tide mark so the beach is public even if the grounds are not.  There aren’t many people about: a couple of teenagers sunning on the pier, some smaller children joining them after the ferry left.  Later some kids, maybe the same ones from the pier, are lazily shooting hoops.  No one approaches us and we have the beach entirely to ourselves.   This is the first time since our visit to beach number seven, Bradleys Beach on Dangar Island (26 April 2010) that we have a beach to ourselves.

Currawong is a narrow beach, maybe a few metres deep, of maize-coloured sand backed by the manicured grounds of a summer camp.  Clusters of trees are here and there – if they were palms you’d feel someplace very tropical.

The beach curves slightly and runs maybe 200 metres north of the pier and another 50 metres south.  The sand is weirdly soft – each footstep sunk five or more centimetres.  Well not each but most.  It is like walking on snow with an icy crust – sometimes it holds, sometimes you drop through.  Beyond the ends of the beach is bush which wraps toward rising headlands which lightly embrace the shallow bay of the beach.

The water is warm but I don’t go in beyond my calves as changing to my swimmers without shelter will be rather difficult – it’s a rather exposed beach with nowhere to hide.

We picnic – bread, cheese, salami, apples – and lay in the speckled shade listening to the fast beating but very low waves pulsating ashore, the thrum of marine diesel engines, and the surprisingly regular aerial hum of the arrival and departure of the sea plane from Rose Bay.

It’s hard to imagine a better way to separate the old week from the new than a quiet, restful visit to a beach.  Oh, and did I mention the cicadas?  I didn’t notice them for the first hour or so … so ubiquitous are they this time of year that a decidedly loud chorus of bugs escaped my notice.

We spend some time imagining the Currawong Cottages back in the days when it was a workers retreat of the NSW Labor Council – imaging blue-collar union workers and their families making their way to Palm Beach and across on the ferry.  Cutting something of a scythe through the entitled locals, I’m sure.  We imagine labourers from war-torn Europe, recently arrived in Australia in the 1950s, finding themselves in this idyllic place.  Fricking workers paradise or what?

We have hot, sweet tea and lamington fingers.  Take a variety of “20” pictures.  Watch departing guests leave on the 2:30 ferry.  And do nothing much at all, really, but relax.

When we see the 3:30 ferry making its way from Palm Beach we gather our gear and head to the wharf joining a couple more departing families.  The ferry back is already full of weekenders from The Basin but we nab seats at the front.  A pair of 11-year old girls are our companions – seated close enough to share i-phone ear buds and watch something on the little screen.

We round the northern headland and into the embrace of Mackerel Beach – million-dollar weekenders are crawling up the hillside and along the stretch of land leading down to the beach.  There is a big queue of people on the wharf waiting for the ferry.  More people join us on the front.  Words that came to my mind are: casually privileged, maybe ignorant of their privilege, but entitled.  Something about their clothes which are unnecessarily expensive – a t-shirt is a t-shirt; shorts are shorts – the difference between those purchased at Target and those purchased from a boutique is mostly price, rarely quality, or even the country of origin, or the way the workers are treated, but certainly the perception of ‘prestige’.

Back at Palm Beach we skip the 4:08 bus in favour of a cold beer and some of the best hot chips I’ve ever had.

We get the 4:28; walk right onto a train at Wynard and directly on to a M41 at Burwood and are home by 6:35.

I’ve done a little research on Currawong Beach Cottages.  The camp seems to now be in the hands of private owners following some considerable controversy which surrounded their sale by the NSW Labor Council a few years ago.

But here are a few tid-bits about the Cottages history as a resort for unionists, all of this is taken from the NSW Heritage web site on Currawong:

The idea of affordable and improving holidays in natural surrounds took off after the Great War following the lead of camping, bushwalking, amateur fishing and national park movements.

The development of purpose built ‘resorts’ by trade unions increased substantially after World War II.

Changes to labour legislation at this time also contributed. The Labor Government introduced two week’s annual leave in 1944 and a 40-hour week in 1947. James Kenny, assistant secretary of the NSW Labor Council advocated that families should be able to holiday with their families in affordable accommodation and he put to the Labor Council that a holiday camp should be established.

By the mid-1940s the progressive social programs of a number of unions included camps.

Kenny had begun to explore the possibility of providing low-cost holiday accommodation for union members since their two-week paid annual leave was introduced in 1944. After the end of World War II, Kenny negotiated the purchase of the Currawong estate from the Port Jackson & Manly Steamship Co Ltd for ten thousand pounds

Kenny worked tirelessly to develop Currawong, relying on the labour of colleagues, friends and family. Due to the deprivations arising from the war, development of the camp was initially reliant on donated building materials and the volunteer labour of unionists.

Gabrielle Carey included descriptions of Currawong in her novel ‘Puberty Blues’, which she co-authored with Kathy Lette in 1979.

One of the comments representing a widespread sentiment come from Siobhan Bryson whose extended family have been visiting Currawong for over 36 years. She stated: ‘it is a place which is safe for children, far from the usual commercial pressures of holiday resorts, full of bird and animal life, immersed in the ancient spirituality of the original custodians of the land, and strongly connected to the historical struggle for workers rights in NSW’. Marianne Lloyd stated: ‘1950s Australia captured and frozen within this little beach community… Holidays at Currawong are still about families and take you back to a time of firecrackers and a time when you knew all of your neighbours. Where children were safe outside in the evenings and parents had time to listen and be heard’ (Design Plus, 2003).




‘It’s a Currawong ritual. Nightly at the Pittwater holiday retreat, the children take torches, gather on the big lawn by the dilapidated tennis court and play spotlight under the stars. There’s often a sizable gang, aged five to 13, unafraid of the dark, dashing in and out of the trees in this night version of hide and seek.

‘But what makes the spectacle remarkable is the absence of adults. There is no need at Currawong for parents to hover in the role of chaperone. Parents are out of sight, beyond the trees, up the hill, sipping beer on the verandas of fibro cottages as the squeals of delight float up to them. At Currawong, kids rule. Even at night …

‘For those unfamiliar with Currawong, it can best be described by telling you what it doesn’t have – no roads, no cars, no shops, no TV, no cinema, no restaurant, no amenities really at all, except the tennis court, the jetty for fishing, and a squishy golf course of sorts. There are nine fibro cottages (no inside toilet) and a historic homestead.

Unionists get priority, and the rents are reasonable. And as you gaze across Pittwater at the millionaires’ row of Palm Beach, you think Australia is the best country in the world.

‘And for primary school-aged children, whose suburban lives are so circumscribed, it is heaven on a stick. No camping ground we’ve been to, no beachside holiday cottage, has provided the children with the same experience of independence, safety and community.’ (Sydney Morning Herald 8/5/1999, p45)

A former manager at Currawong offered this memory of the place: ‘A very small child once urged my wife and me to “Come and see the gods”. He was very insistent so we accompanied him to the creek that runs through the property. Excitedly he said “Look at them – can you see them”. Floating on the creek were spiky grass balls being gently driven in different directions by the breeze. We rather unconvincingly said “Oh yes we see them”. The little boy who was only about four years old looked disappointed and said “Well they are not really gods – they’re more like symbols of God”. I have never forgotten that moment. Currawong is a very special spiritual kind of place that deserves to be retained for all people.’

I had hoped to find more archival photos of Currawong but this is the only one my search unearthed: The Baker Family at Currawong published by the Sydney Morning Herald on 9 February 2007.

Currawong is in the local government area of Pittwater; State district of Pittwater(Rob Stokes, Lib) and Federal seat of Mackellar (Bronwyn Bishop, Lib).

Next up will be beach number 21: Dee Why.