Sometimes the best thing you can do is just sit and watch. Catherine Marshall marvels at the dawn and savours the solitude of a remote beachside location.
I’m sitting on a beach named Lonely, and dawn begins to break. The sun rises behind me, for though set along the empty sweeps of north-eastern Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria, Lonely is tucked inside a bay hooking inwards from the gulf and faces the broad sweep of land that lies to the west.
I’ve left my camera behind. The sky is the softest pink, the clouds dusted with the first hint of morning; it is not possible to capture this day’s beauty on film.
So I take a photograph with my eyes instead. I scan the curve of white, powder-soft sand punctuated at one end by a collection of boulders – deliberately, artfully placed, it seems, and with bright fig trees curling out from them – and at the other, far end, by a finger of land covered with scrub painted pale green by the morning light. In between are palm trees standing proud against the warm breeze, though their fellows – felled by so many cyclones that have blown in from the east – lie crumpled and desolate beside them.
On a boulder close by a crow bellows his mournful morning repose – a deep, resonant croak that sails out into the bay and rings in my ears. His eyes are tiny yellow marbles set into a stony black face.
The breeze has dimpled this water – a mirror just yesterday – and the night has leeched it of all colour. It is a pale sheet that’s been crumpled through night, but when the sun shows its face it will draw out the brilliant colour from this bay: so many shades of blue, the white sandy bottom clearly visible through bright layers of water.
In a blot of sunlight now spilling onto the beach, the seagulls fuss, pecking at their feathers, darting at the water, coming back to rest. They know to be wary of the creature that is out there, the shadow that lurks beneath the surface just metres from the beach. This is the saltwater crocodile that has lived at Lonely for fifteen years at least. He is always here, even when you think he isn’t. You will scan the water and be certain he has swum away, but then he will appear as if to reassure you, the water’s surface disrupted by his beautiful, terrifying shape: the head with its protruding eyes and armour scales; the serrations of the spine and the endless, sinuous tail; the jaws and the teeth which, though not visible, you know are set deep into them.
Coconuts have been planted in a rim all along the beach, demarcating the place beyond which you must not venture, for though crocodiles are slow on land, they emerge from the water at high speed and in a flash will snatch their prey and drag it into this deep and beautiful bay.
The sun has risen now above the tamarinds and casuarinas and gums that spread out in a coastal forest behind me. The crocodile stretches out on the water’s surface, ready to catch its warming rays; and Lonely – its sand still cool from last night – glows with morning joy. TTW
Catherine Marshall was a guest of Lirrwi Tourism and Qantas. See Time to Wander’s ethics policy. More at lirrwitourism.com.au.