from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: just me and the sea.

Many Australians would describe the Yorke Peninsula (YP) of South Australia as a barren place, especially if you arrive from our rainforested coast of Queensland or from the northern beaches of NSW.

just another sunset

And I would have to agree. If you drive down the YP at the end of summer, when the wheat and barley fields lie fallow, covered in dry stubble, the grey flocks of sheep huddling together in the open or immobile under a few remaining trees, it is not enticing. Most of the remaining native vegetation seems to have survived along the roadsides and in the Innes National Park at the foot of the peninsula. The YP is often called the ‘Ill-shaped’ leg – rather like Italy, the YP is in the shape of a bumpy foot.

The Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

The YP has predominately limestone, alkaline soils with calcareous loams and calcrete. The early settlers said that the land ‘grew rocks’ because as fast as they cleared paddocks by hand, more white lumps appeared. There are only shallow hills and the wind is notorious – a great place for wind farms. 150 years ago, the smoke from the burning of the mallee eucalyptus and allocasurina forest blanketed Adelaide for months on end. And after that came the dust: the topsoil blowing away before farmers learnt not to plough the stubble after harvest.  

But farmers have learnt how to manage the land, finding it was perfect for barley, wheat and canola.  

So much for the history of the YP. There are a few places where you can catch a glimpse of what it once was. It’s strange how humans only start to realise what they have lost when it almost too late: the wombats are virtually gone; the echidna is rare and emus and kangaroos are seldom seen unless you are in a National Park.

But the coastline of the YP is relatively undisturbed. The beaches are long, with deep white sand and aquamarine seas: hardly a soul in sight. Go there for the sea, the beaches, if nothing else.

I have lived next to the sea, more or less, since moving to Zanzibar at the age of 8. Zanzibar, Durban, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide. All different seas. It is one of life’s perfect pleasures. Sixteen months ago, not long before Covid-19 blighted our world, we sold our beachside holiday home on the YP, and for all of 2020 I have missed being there. I knew the phases of the moon: the tides, the way the winds dropped at low tide and when to hurry inside during the 40-degree spells. I paddled my bright yellow Hobbie kayak over the shallow reefs and seagrass, fishing for squid and blue-swimmer crabs. Sometimes pods of dolphins followed me.

This last week we travelled down the YP to a friend’s remote property located on the peninsula’s wild southern instep. Much of her 400 acres is dune scrubland, too sandy to farm, and so it has been left alone. Her property flanks about 3-4 kms of beach on the Gulf of St Vincent. This is a beach where it is rare to see another soul.

On the beach you always discover something – each day, something different: perhaps the desiccated skeleton of a leafy sea-dragon, or a perfect abalone shell. Bleached lumps of sea grass face the sea. They will be taken by the winter storms. In one cove I came across four endangered hooded dotterels, running back and forth as they foraged on the edge of the waves. I found a great green twist of rope that had come ashore, probably from a commercial fishing vessel. I always take a bag to the beach to gather rubbish left on the line of the high tide. But this day, all I gathered was a milk carton and one plastic bottle. A few years ago, we came across a beached mountain of fishing rope, over four metres long and two metres high. Perhaps it had been discarded by a deep-sea trawler. The council came and managed to remove it.

There is some good news on the YP in terms of conservation. Our state government is constructing a feral-proof fence across the narrowest section of the YP. They hope to remove foxes, cats and other ferals from the lands west of the fence to allow native fauna some protection.

At least 27 Australian mammal species are believed to have disappeared from the peninsula due to feral predators and the clearing of vegetation. While kangaroos and emus can still be seen around the area, many native species will never return without assistance.’

https://www.wwf.org.au/news/news/2019/predator-control-fence-brings-hope-for-australia-s-most-threatened-species#gs.vgh1oa

My friend’s house had no electricity, only gas for the stove and small solar panels for pumps. So, no TV and the mobile phones died. It’s very relaxing without news. You get used to it: we played bridge, cleared scrub from around the house, completed a difficult jigsaw, read books, birdwatched, walked the beach and shared long dinners and bottles of rather good Australian shiraz. What more could you ask for?

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: travel time – off to the Yorke Peninsula

Black Point shack resisting the sea

December 10.‘Where are you going for Christmas?’ my friends are asking. Australian families are on the move once more. Tentatively. Within Australia.

During this year, our 8 states and territories have acted rather like different countries. Their premiers have had their year in the limelight as each one has dictated the terms of who will enter their state and what quarantine they will undergo. These restrictions should have come from uniform federal health advice but it is pretty obvious that local decision had a lot to do with a dose of aggrandisement and the proximity of elections. In all cases where the premiers have been tough and declared that they are but protecting the (especially precious) residents of their own states, their popularity has soared.

West Australia (WA), in particular, has been most reluctant to open its borders. Even one case of Covid-19 in another state, causes an immediate banning of interstate travel to WA. Premier McGowan would only open the WA border to NSW after 30 (yes, THIRTY) days of no new cases.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-12-07/wa-set-to-reopen-to-travellers-from-nsw-and-victoria-at-midnight/12956210

AND, if South Australia (SA) remains Covid-19 free for 28 days, we will be allowed into WA without having to go into quarantine for 14 days – and that will take us to midnight on Christmas Eve. Thus, all those SA people who have families in WA cannot plan to be together at Christmas. It does seem rather absurd.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-12-10/sa-travellers-into-wa-wont-be-able-to-reunite-for-xmas/12970370

Meanwhile intra-state travel and travel to states that are open (Queensland in particular) is booming. AirBnb is flat out, rates are up, December and January are almost booked out for holiday accommodation.

So, with my birthday coming up, before the schools broke up, we booked a 4-night getaway on the beach at Black Point on the Yorke Peninsula (YP). The Peninsula is foot-shaped and Black Point is almost due west of Adelaide on the eastern shore of the peninsula. We have to travel north for an hour and then south along the coast for another hour. The YP consists of flat, almost completely cleared farming land that is planted with barley, wheat, canola and lentils. In summer after the harvest, it is depressingly brown and dusty. Along the coast little towns are tucked into protected bays. Almost all have slowly collapsing jetties that once shipped grain to Adelaide.

Last November, we sold our own beach ‘shack’ at Port Julia on the YP. All Australians call their holiday homes by the sea, ‘shacks’ even if the building is brick with 5 bedrooms! We were missing our regular visits to the coast and Black Point is well known for its beautiful 3km scoop of beach, north-facing, with its back to the prevailing wind.

Basic beach shacks and rough boat sheds were built there long ago and some remain right on the beach front. But with the passing of time and the rising of the seas, planning regulations have resulted in the replacement houses being constructed about 30 meters further back on the sand dunes. So now some of the crumbling corrugated iron and board shacks remain almost on the high tide line and new huge million-dollar houses are rising further back.

our beach rental

We rented an old but renovated shack on the beach. (It did not have an outside ‘dunny’!). The verandah was on the spring high-tide line and at night the sound of the sea kept we wondering where I was.

It was lovely! Just to watch the changing face of the sea and sky from our shack was enough. I fished from my kayak for crabs (too small at the moment) and squid (more success there). We celebrated with a good bottle of champagne and grilled crayfish – bought in Adelaide (the price of crayfish is down because China has halted our exports saying our seafood is contaminated).

a birthday treat

Our children across the world phoned using Whatsapp – from Seattle, Indianapolis, Sydney and Cape Town. Life is pretty good at the moment. No complaints.

From David Vincent, in Shrewsbury, UK: The sea, the sea

Aldeburgh beach

October 13.  There is much to be said for Shropshire, but it is as far from the sea as it is possible to get on this narrow island.  When the grandchildren are staying with us, we travel over the Welsh hills, by Lake Bala, to Harlech.  A lovely drive to an unspoilt beach, but a two hour journey.  Not a trip to be taken on a whim before breakfast.

So we seize the offer to house sit for a week on the Suffolk coast.  Old friends, an Anglo-Finnish couple, have returned to the wife’s country to spend the autumn in their cottage by a lake deep in the forests near the Russian border. 

Well into October, Aldeburgh and the nearby Snape Maltings are packed with Londoners escaping to their second homes.  There is nothing new under the sun.  I have just read A Collection of Very Valuable and Scarce Pieces Relating to the Last Plague in the Year 1665 (1771), a source book for Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year.  It includes ‘ORDERS Conceived and Published by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London, concerning the Infection of the Plague, 1665’, one of which specifically relates ‘to any Person that hath two Houses’.  Anyone with their own carriage left the Capital for their country estates.  The Court retreated to Oxford.

It is not difficult, however, to escape the Range Rovers and take long walks along the straight beaches.  The sea has changed its meaning in this pandemic.  In the great plagues of the middle ages it was the primary source of danger.  The further inland, the safer you were.  The concept and the machinery of quarantine were developed to protect the populations of port towns from infections arriving by ship.  The last major outbreak in western Europe was in Marseilles in 1771.  In Britain there was a small, fatal, occurrence of bubonic plague between 1906 and 1918 just south of where we are now, in settlements around the River Orwell, thought to have been caused by rats escaping from grain ships. 

In the early days of this pandemic, the hapless cruise ships  were a problem, but since then, infection has arrived by air.  The East Anglian coast, together with Cornwall and the Isle of Wight, have the lowest rates of infection in England.  We look out to the breaking waves, conscious that disease and lockdown lie behind us.   The sea advancing and retreating over the shingle calms the spirit. 

The only company on the beach is easily avoidable.  Many of the walkers are accompanied by dogs.  As I noted in my last entry, the hunger for touch in the lockdown has cause a large increase the purchase of pets.  The price of pedigree animals has doubled, with attendant tales of smuggling and kidnapping.  According to Direct Line pet insurance, 2.2 million dogs have been bought since the crisis began in March. 

When the tide finally goes out on this pandemic, what will be left as a visible reminder of the crisis will be hundreds and thousands of dog-walkers, trailing after their pets along pavements and paths, where once they would have been sedentary in their homes.