(de­posited)

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Marianne Baten­burg Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

Rot­ting organic odours rise from the pile of brown mat­ter strewn around, over­whelm­ing my sen­si­tive nose-hairs, tick­ling them into a near-sneeze. “Organic odours” seems too mild a de­scrip­tion for that which evokes a dis­so­nance of sen­sa­tions. The brown mat­ter stretches for hun­dreds of yards across the sand, de­posited there by the rest­less, churn­ing ocean.

The ebb and flow — from con­ti­nent to con­ti­nent — gath­ers the mass of sea plants, weeds, plas­tic bot­tles and bags, bits of coral, count­less empty shells and uniden­ti­fi­able re­mains of other life forms. Be­yond the rot­ting stench emerges the pun­gent smell of fish, strangely not of­fen­sive, drag­ging one’s senses from the beach­side into the ocean.

This abun­dance of ocean-de­posited de­bris sur­prises the early morn­ing beach walk­ers; many grum­ble about the in­va­sion of their sandy ter­ri­tory.

The ocean, deep, vast, strong-willed and in­vin­ci­ble, gives and takes at will; this mass of gath­ered de­bris is its lat­est show of strength. My bare feet step ten­ta­tively on the organic mass, wary of pos­si­ble ny­lon fish­ing lines or curly hooks that could be hid­den be­neath its sur­face. I feel I am exploring a puz­zling gift, one that takes a while to un­pack and com­pre­hend.

“Where did you bring me this from? Zanz­ibar? Mau­ri­tius? In­dia per­haps?”

“How I would love you to tell me the tales of whom and what you en­coun­tered, why you off­loaded your gath­ered trea­sures on this par­tic­u­lar doorstep. Such protests and con­ster­na­tion you cre­ate. There is even talk about clean­ing up the beaches with large bull­doz­ers so all the reg­u­lar beach­go­ers can con­tinue their walks with­out the in­con­ve­nience of chal­lenged nos­trils, an­kles sink­ing into rot­ting leaves and the pos­si­bil­ity of chance en­coun­ters with un­known frag­ments from for­eign lands.”

Maybe all this mat­ter needs air­ing and dry­ing, re­leas­ing some of its smells, cleans­ing it of months of un­der­wa­ter pum­melling and churn­ing, rid­ding it­self of skele­tons no longer wanted: a nec­es­sary spring-clean that the ocean knows needs to be un­der­taken at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals.

Days go by be­fore the ocean un­ex­pect­edly sends its in­creas­ing tides, inch by inch, up the beach, gath­er­ing what was left be­hind, back into it­self. Had the com­plain­ing pro­test­ers had their way, the ocean would not have been able to re­trieve that which it had de­posited. They re­turn, com­plaints quickly for­got­ten, to re­claim what they be­lieve is theirs.

My nose twitches as the fresh­ness of the air tick­les my senses. I glance around and mar­vel at the un­clut­tered stretch of white sand. Has any­body thought of thank­ing the ocean for tak­ing back its own lit­ter?

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