HAVING seen my first total solar eclipse in Ceduna almost 10 years ago, I took my family to the tropical north last year to experience the totality zone, when the sky turns indigo, the birds go quiet and the stars come out in the daytime.
I remembered feeling as if I were in an enormous, old-fashioned planetarium and just for a moment I could see the gears moving and glimpse how it all worked. I read about Baily’s beads, as the sun’s corona peeps through the valleys of the moon, about strange gravitational effects that some people had reported and shadow bands that were like rippled sunlight reflecting off the bottom of a pool.
An eclipse always occurs with a new moon and this one would be in the first few degrees of Scorpio, my sign. A new moon is a fresh start, especially in your own sun sign. So an eclipsed one would be a new beginning on steroids.
We came up a few days early to find a good spot to see it from the beach, then a cruise ship arrived on the easterly in the night, almost blocking our view of the sunrise.
The busker in the Port Douglas mall told the BBC film crew he had bought 250 cardboard solar sun glasses for thirty bucks. He was selling them at $2 each or three for $5, plus some slide blues on an old steel guitar and just a pinch of wit as dry as his central Victorian birthplace. ‘‘Two dollars today, two cents tomorrow,’’ he was singing as we left.
In the night market, dozens of different languages were raised above the universal voice of rock ’n’ roll from the pub band on the corner, which finished appropriately with the Stones’ classic Paint it Black.
At 5.30am we blundered bleary-eyed on to the sand. There were already small knots of people gathered on the beach, some with longlensed tripods and matching T-shirts. One group from Japan, their batteries powered by the sun, had pulled an all nighter in shifts. Dozens of smaller boats waited out at sea, dwarfed by the liner.
Then the tangible presence of the sun first appeared above the horizon.
A beautiful sunrise was quickly covered by clouds. As the first contact was made there was partial cloud cover but the cheap cardboard ‘‘glasses’’ we had bought from the busker revealed a smooth bite had been taken from the sun. An ‘‘ooooh’’ escaped the eclipse chasers on the beach. We discovered later you couldn’t see much at all through the expensive glasses from the local shops.
As totality approached, there was some nervousness; then the edge of an eclipsed sun was visible. A thin curl of white hot corona. Then totality. People clapped, danced and even cried. A flock of black cockatoos flew back over us to roost again, confused at the two-minute drop in light and temperature.
The clouds above us glowed in a strange indigo twilight. Saturn appeared out of the sky, brighter even than it had ever been at night.
Our two-year-old felt something was amiss and asked whether it was dinner time. I held her in my arms until the sky began to brighten again.
As the moon retreated, wiping the sun clean, the wind that had dropped to nothing came to life to cool the increasing warmth of the new day. The total eclipse had just got on with it, not making a big fuss. A fresh start for us all in a laidback, far north Queensland way.