Australia, Beach & Coastal Walking
Comments 12

A Very Mangrovey Retreat

One of the pleasures of blogging for someone who loves English is that, since you play largely by your own rules (and those of one’s WordPress overlords, of course), you can take certain liberties with the language.

I’m pretty old-school about vocabulary and the Immutable Laws of Grammar & Punctuation, but it’s a blog, not The Times. So when I employ a sweet new adjective (seemingly) of my own design, and use it not once but seven times (counting this post) — I just checked — I feel that in my own modest way I have enriched both the language and the culture, hopefully till the end of time.

Mangrovey was my gift to the world. Or so I thought, till out of curiosity, after coming up with this post heading, I did a quick Google.

What a come-down. My own use of the word did not turn up till the fourth page of the search results! People have been having mangrovey experiences all over the globe (or at least those parts of it that support mangrovian* life) for years! Guess I’ll cancel that trademark application…

So we drove north again, my old friend Alex and I, right after I’d slapped Kate’s birthday post together and hit the Schedule button. I wanted it to publish on her birthday and there’s a 14-hour time difference — I knew there’d be no internet in the mangrovey desolation we were heading to, which was in fact one of its attractions.

Where we were going was the same spot I wrote about here — a quiet Bayside community where his parents and sister’s family are building a couple of houses on the one waterfront block. Since that last quick getaway, the first house had been just about completed…


The new house seen from the beach at dusk, with the tide out.

..its occupants had moved in, and the caravan (trailer to you Americans) his parents had been sleeping in was now available to Alex and any friends keen to share the magic of the world’s most unglamorous beachside holiday.

We did the usual errands for dinner ingredients at the small-town supermarket, Alex had the usual discussion from the driver’s seat with the staff at the drive-through bottle shop (liquor store in American) and soon, well supplied, we pulled into his parents’ place.

Before long, greetings done and trailer digs scoped, with the sun about to bed down for the night and a brilliantly timed high tide creeping in, we were nursing pear ciders and strolling through the mangrove forests that shelter this tranquil stretch of beach:


A brief break from comparing beard maintenance techniques before resuming the chase.

Alex works in movies, lots of modest TV and film stuff but also sometimes in the costume department of obscenely large-budget productions filmed down here. If you want to know what it’s like to dress John Goodman, he’s the man to ask.

But if it’s glamour ye be seeking, look elsewhere. All-too-quickly draining our fruity beverages, we wandered around between sinewy trunks and over spiky pneumatophores


Stingray holes beneath a dead mangrove.

..(well, Alex wandered, I sorta dashed and darted, a twilight dance I know all too well) while he filled me in on the stresses and strains of his latest project and I reflected that, money issues aside, the day-job of the middle-aged unemployed is a relatively mellow business.


Meanwhile the tide was encroaching, the light golden and glorious, and like a Z-grade director I quickly improvised a few cheesy tableaus with tripod, timer and long exposures:


Zombies of the Littoral Zone. We had to hold those stoopid poses for 10 seconds. I think you’ll agree the effort was worth it.

Tide in, sun down, stars out, I took this charming self-portrait (which involved some serious running)..


B-movie horror, or Beachfront Breaking Bad? I should be directing that damned pirate movie…

..and then I realised with amazement that Scorpius, my second-favourite constellation after the Southern Cross (hey, at least I can find ’em) was spread in spectacular clarity across the eastern sky, above the sea and perched, like a flamboyant actor on a twilight stage, just above the scaffolds of the second soon-to-be house:


Right there in the centre, the curling tail of the Scorpion.

Here’s the whole constellation in black-and-white — we were using our headlamps as a bit of low-rent illumination on the scaffolding, and a certain participant found it difficult to stand still:


Scorpius & headlamp trail. The majesty of the heavens.

I recalled that trip to Alex’s brother’s bush container-home-in-progress, and the way we’d all stood around admiring Scorpius over several pleasant evenings…

We had dinner at the main house and then retired to the caravan and our respective devices.

Fuelled by pear cider (there may have been a vodka mule in there as well; if you’re going to mix your drinks, you must do so with alacrity) and the joy of freedom from my recent woes, which have been substantial, I pursued my passion for low-light shooting…


..and the exciting dramatic possibilities of the starlit trailer:


Alex PJ-ed up, I donned my smoking jacket and slippers, and we spent an excellent evening chatting and listening to a ton of new music I’d recently acquired:


We talked at length about how we could each live quite contentedly in a caravan home/studio. Yes, it’s come to this, folks: 50-year-old drifter looks at trailer as dream retirement home.

We used to see the same bands 30 years ago as Brisbane uni students — the term and form grunge originated, as the scholars know, in Australia (long before Seattle), and Brisbane was a steaming, slimy hotbed of the stuff.

So we sat there listening to all these Nuggets 60s-punk numbers I’d downloaded, mixed at random with Sonic Youth, Aerosmith, Devo, Hank Williams and a 4-disc comp of Australian 60 stuff, and after a while and several ciders it all started to sound like the same band…

Somehow after a long evening I had the presence of mind to set my alarm, and more astonishingly, obey it when it dragged me awake before 5:00am. The morning tide lapping around the mangrove trunks was a powerful incentive (I don’t get out much).

I left Alex lying beneath a pile of bottles and chocolate wrappers, and struggled, coffee-less, to the water’s edge…


Preparing for attack…

..and then out to the mangroves, which are at their most beautiful in twilight with a placid sea rising around their limbs:






Imagine my shock to see this apparition striding insouciantly into the sunrise. No wait, that was me:


The Dawn Strider.

And there were vast schools of these things floating in — as kids we used to call them sea pens or sea pencils:




Turns out (thanks, Jane!) they are the propagules (seedlings which germinate on the tree) of the red mangrove, a shrubbier and less common species in these parts than the big fellas you see in these shots, which are grey mangroves.

The next half-hour was spent in a happily aimless ramble…




..and when the sun and the rising tide finally got their way, I strolled back to the van in search of caffeine — just in time for the resident semi-tamed magpies to salute either my majesty, or the sun’s:




Another fun day, another photographically enriching sundown, lay in store — and another blog post for my lucky readers. See you soon.

*          *          *          *          *

By chance this 60s garage classic featured on Nuggets came up on iTunes as I was typing this post — seemed appropriate:

* Damn it, 3,010 results on Google…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. Brilliant shots and very entertaining piece of writing! Looks like you and Alex had a very interesting time catching up and relaxing.
    I don’t suppose the “sea pens” are coming from the mangroves there or another species of mangrove from another location? If you google “mangrove seeds” images you will find some similar shaped pens. I am probably wrong though. I usually am. Long seeds seem to grow out of of round mangrove fruit and then drop off. Apparently they float. I remember finding them on the beach when I was young. When you break them in half, is the texture furry? I always wondered what they came from. Your post reignited my curiosity!
    Have a great time on your island getaway. Thanks for the great read and visual delights.

  2. I love the third photo of the carolling magpies. I can just imagine them calling.
    Those ‘sea pens’ can travel long distances… These days it’s a case of finding somewhere appropriate to germinate; despite mangroves being keystone species in coastal and estuarine ecosystems, so much of our coastlines are being turned into water front properties or cleared and walled for other purposes.

    • Thanks, Dayna, I have become quite attached to a select group of maggies lately. It’s positively Hitchcockian on my parents’ verandah each day, and I have a couple of friendly ones in the local park as well. Very cute when they reward tidbits with song.

      The attitude towards mangroves has improved a lot in Aust society over the last decade or two, but they’re always fragile and developers still see them as soft targets. I grew up among them and feel relatively at home within mangrove forests (biting pests excepted). On my recent Moreton trip I photographed a couple of sprouting red-mangrove propagules, one in an unbelievable hostile, windswept sandy “waste”.

  3. Some gorgeous shots – inspiring me to get out in the early hours and find the beauty in the mangroves that are in abundance in the Hawkesbury estuary near me. Somehow I never seem to be able to capture their beauty and mystery with a camera on my jaunts in the kayak. Dawn light must be my friend!

    • Envious of the kayak! If I find myself here long-term, think I’ll invest in one for sure.

      Dawn and pre-dawn light, for sure, and the other end of the day, if you have a tripod. Would still work from a moving vessel if you can avoid camera movement (higher ISO/wide open aperture etc).

  4. Pingback: Of gods and map readers | Berowra backyard

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