The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Si­mon Will­cox

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.

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