Legge's Camp revisited

Returned last Sunday from a camping holiday at Myall Lakes during which, by strange coincidence (I had not chosen the venue nor made the bookings) I found myself back in the very place where I first encountered the Australian bush more than twenty-five years ago. Was troubled by reminiscences from the moment we arrived there but did not fully make the connection until I saw an old sign hammered up above the door in the new restaurant / bar: Legge's Camp, it said. Was last there in 1982 or 3 when, following a very stressful period, I went away for a few days. At that time I lived in Chippendale, as it was then called, now better known as Darlington. My stubborn refusal to cease growing marijuana, and the discovery of my various schemes and plots by local Aborigine kids, led to a series of incidents that culminated with the glass panel on the back door being smashed in with a brick one dark night. I confronted the perp, a man of about my own age called George, out in the yard. He'd dropped his brick but I still clutched the axe I knew I would never have used. Later, after he'd gone, I inadvertently stepped into a fresh human turd he or one of his mates had left on the back lawn. Moved out of there soon after but I can't recall now if that was before or after the trip to Myall Lakes. In those days Legge's Camp was a rundown caravan park with one or two dilapidated wooden cabins standing under the paperbark trees on a narrow point between a swamp and a lake. Power boats with water skiers behind crossed and re-crossed the shallow waters, their propeller screws severed fronds of the weed that grew on the sandy bottom, the weed washed ashore and, as it rotted, gave off the precise odour of the human shit I had scraped off my bare feet just a few days before. One day I set off to swim across the channel to the eastern shore of the lake, intending to walk through the bush there to the ocean. It was very hot and I was wearing nothing but my swimmers. Even more stupidly, I failed to realise I was walking north rather than east and so, while I could hear the mutter of surf, never reached the sea. The ground so hot I was soon running in my bare feet from tree shade to tree shade on the sandy path. I was probably already suffering from sun stroke when I stopped finally in a place where something unusual happened. There was a large monitor lizard, yellow-bellied, black and white striped, climbing up the pink trunk of an angophora tree. It paused and craned its neck and looked at me: and then, although I could not say how, the whole landscape—cobalt sky, bare white sandy path, prickly shrubs, raggedy gum trees, ants of several kinds, whatever else among the unseen was attending—also paused and looked. In that look there was both sympathy and rebuke and, chastened, I turned and made my sunburnt way back to the shores of the brackish lake and back across that to Legge's Camp. The place is much changed now: an Eco Resort has been built here. We crossed over by car ferry to Bombah Point and drove past the sleek grey modern resort style cabins to the camping area and pitched our two tents down by the lake side. No power boats sullied its waters, which seemed deeper and cleaner than a quarter of century ago: I could no longer imagine how I had swum to the other shore. Occasionally I caught a whiff of the rotten weed smell but it was fugitive and mild. The fire we built in front of the tents continued to burn for the whole time we were there, attaining a certain grandeur on the nights we banked it up and sat around it eating or drinking or telling ghost stories under the huge stars of the Milky Way. There were ducks that shared the camp site with us; every morning the resident goannas waddled through, attended by comical choughs looking for things to eat; at night the possums quarrelled among themselves but not with us. There were big silver fish jumping in the lake but all we caught was one small bream; later a local told me they would have been mullet that we heard splashing out there in the dark and to catch them you have to bait tiny hooks with balls of cotton wool soaked in fish oil or some such. When we swam in the lake the tannin saturated water turned as it deepened from yellow to orange to red while the sand beneath our feet was green with weed seedlings: as if on some exotic planet. We went kayaking on waterways that, a fellow called Stormy told us, went for fifty uninterrupted kilometres north of where we were. Many black swans sailed in pairs in and out of view along the reedy shores. Their red beaks and white underwing when with necks outstretched they fly. Every time I went down to the lake side, I looked across to where a golden shoulder of dune broke through the grey-green uniformity of the scrubby bush south of Mungo Brush. The weather was beautiful until the last day, when a wind began to blow across the lake from the south west. We packed everything up and took a cabin for the night, during which some heavy showers of rain fell. Next morning, we went back across the car ferry and drove down the isthmus until we came to a place called Dark Point. Just before the carpark, nonchalant and slow, a magnificent red dingo walked out onto the road and then turned to walk back into the bush again; we had heard them howling in the night, one of the eeriest sounds I know. At Dark Point was the giant dune we had seen from across the lake, in amongst other dunes that were pristine after the night rain. The kids ran away into the distance to climb up it and slide down it while we walked on, as if through a desert, to the sea. There was no-one on the tremendous beach, but the sand was covered in tracks: this must be one of the places the dingoes come to scavenge. When the kids arrived my sons and I went swimming in the surf in the lee of a small rocky point and then while we were drying off we all wandered up and down looking for treasure in the tide wrack. Wondering what was on the equally rocky islands off shore. Later we walked slowly back through the dunes to the car and set off south for Hawks Nest and Tea Gardens and a perfect end to the holiday. Accompanied by a satisfying sense of completion of my abortive quest all those years ago now.

1 comment:

artandmylife said...

Sounds like a nice holiday. Oddly I have been re-reading Chronicle of the Unsung and so have just been through your retelling of the brick/window incident there too.