I can’t take in the dawn from the Sandgate waterfront, not far from home, without scanning the blue-grey backbone of Moreton Island on the far-off rim of the bay, and thinking about my three big adventures there. Moreton just might be my favourite place; I’ve circled her on foot twice, in both directions, and hiked most of her through the middle. Here’s the story of my first big walk there…
My father wakes me with my name, once, twice, from the darkness of the main cabin. I know where I am but can’t remember why… There’s something…I have to do… But…
When I open my eyes again he’s standing at the foot of my bunk. “You want a cup of tea?”
“Huhhh…? Yeah.” Gas hissing in the galley in the port hull. I can smell it, a comforting smell. “What time is it?”
“Quarter past four.”
There’s a soft slap of water against the hull, a suggestion of dawn through the perspex window. I raise myself onto an elbow and peer out. There she is.
I take my breakfast to the cockpit. The broad, sagging flank of the Big Sandhill is right there, saltwater lapping at its feet:
The sand, that mountain of sand, looks cool and inviting, but with the first flare of the sun over the summit the illusion will be gone.
There is a single tree halfway up the face, a tree that has always been there, the only refuge from the superheated sand during a midday ascent. When we were kids the hill was an Everest of scorching snow. Faces daubed in our warpaint of Pink Zinc, my sister and brother and I would half-crawl to the highest point, where it gives way to a maze of dunes and dry scrub sprawling towards the ocean side. We’d point at Brisbane across the Bay, and with a dare would race each other back down, bounding past the tree, laughing hysterically as we loped down our trail of footprints, unable to stop until we splashed into the water at last and steam seemed to hiss from our soles…
I lower my pack to my father, farewell my mother and their guests and climb into the front of the rubber dinghy.
“You’re going north?” my father says as we motor in, scanning the white sand beneath the boat with its khaki bands of weed and razor shells. It’s low tide, and an occasional stingray skates across the bottom.
“Yeah, clockwise.” One of my hiking superstitions. Also, nor’easters are forecast, and I figure it will be better to have them at my back when I work my way down the ocean side. Moreton is 38 kilometres from tip to tip, the world’s third-largest sand island (after Fraser, further north, and North Stradbroke just south) and its eastern shore is an unbroken, gently curving stretch of naked surf beach. Better to have tailwinds nudging me southward.
“We’ll hang around here today, maybe climb the Sandhill, go over to the Wrecks, maybe, or Blue Hole, Days Gutter.” He clicks the motor to idle. “Alright, far enough.”
I slip cautiously over the side until my feet in their rubber sandals find the bottom. Once as a kid I jumped out of a dinghy at high tide near here and sank in a panic beneath the deep and deceptive waters. I am still half a kilometre offshore, standing thigh-deep.
“See you Monday then?” I said. “Right here? What time?”
“Say two o’clock, in front of the Sandhill. You want to do the whole thing, don’t you?”
..and dodge a side-stepping sand crab…
..leaving the water, scanning for a path through the Confederate battalions of soldier crabs…
..and I’m on the beach, shaking slimy weed from my brand-new Chacos.
A last glance at the boat anchored far offshore…
….and I start north. The sun has not yet breached the Sandhill and I move in comfort along the firm wide avenue of dead low tide. There are no surfaced roads on Moreton; the beaches are highways, but few vehicles gouge the virgin sand this far south. On my right, casuarinas, melaleucas andbanksias, sand-lovers all, have claimed the foothills down to and occasionally onto the beach.
Then the sun emerges and I realise, wincing, that I’ve left my sunglasses on the boat. Then the tide creeps in, and my avenue became a street and then a track. Then the sand grows spongy, the beach convex, and my left leg begins to hurt behind the knee, till every step is a painful chore. Then the pinching in my big toes becomes intolerable and when I glance down, both of them are bleeding…
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote