Australia Day

 My friend, Judy had emigrated to Australia in the sixties and while on board the boat which brought them out, she made friends with a family of four, two adults and two children, and remained friends with them after arriving here.  Jean, the mother, was fully sighted at that time but had a genetic condition which would see her become completely blind in middle age.

One weekend in the eighties Judy and myself drove to Sydney to see the family and as one of the days was Australia Day, Judy and I decided to take Jean, now fully blind, to Manly for the day.  It had been a long time since this lady had been anywhere as her husband worked hard and the children were at school so we three girls thought we would do the town over. 

The day was glorious and we caught a train from Blacktown, where they lived, into the city and then a ferry over to Manly. 

Travelling with a blind person is an experience.  At first we were hesitant and tentative until she educated us as to how to behave so that she was the most comfortable,  and was able to enjoy the jaunt.  We explained where the steps were and how many, the gap between the railway platform and the train and such like, and all the while she held onto either  or both of our proffered elbows so that she was the one in control. 

Explaining what was happening and putting into words the world which we were seeing brought our own senses into play and we could see much more than we would have otherwise been able to.  Taking art classes teaches you to see forms and colours which otherwise pass us by but telling a blind person what you are seeing is an experience like no other.  It also helped that she had previously been able to see and so her imagination could take over from our details.

Alighting from the ferry in Manly we strolled along The Corso, pausing here and there to fully be aware of the happenings of the day and the improvements which had been made since she had last visited there, the buskers, the clothes people were wearing, the obvious fun and laughter of the young people.  Not that we were so old ourselves but we were old enough to be reasonably sedate in our wanderings. 

On the ocean side of The Corso we sat on the beach for a while, feeling the hot sand and listening to the small waves rolling in, seagulls winging around waiting for someone to mention food.  There were a few swimmers, mainly children with parents watching and some babies having their first taste of waves tickling their feet and letting them sink into the sand, giggling and squealing with the pleasure and surprise at the coldness of the water on their hot skin, taking their breath away. 

Fish and chips while sitting on the wall was definitely the way to go, and we sat there dangling our legs and savouring every last little bit, except for the odd piece of potato being thrown into the air so we could see the acrobatic performance of the birds, with their shrill squawking and fighting over it.  The pecking order alive and well but some of the younger ones still getting under the radar. 

We paddled along the edge of the beach in the shallows, trousers rolled up above out knees but still managing to get wet when a wave slightly bigger than the rest rolled in, taking pleasure in the coolness, also helped by some splashing of each other as well.

Finally, the evening drawing in, we made our way back to the ferry, piled in along with all the other homeward bound revellers and enjoyed the journey across the harbour, then on the train again, still knocking bits of sand from our clothing. 

It was a wonderful day and one which I have remembered more than any of the other myriads of Australia Days I have spent, before and since.  Is it because we saw so much, smelt and tasted so much, all our senses turned on and in overdrive?  Is it because of that but also because we gave voice to all these senses, verbalised them?  I have often wondered.

It is now thirty odd years since that day and I am writing a book about an overseas trip my partner and I did a couple of years ago.  On this trip I would write what I had seen, heard, felt and did each day, more or less as a diary but much more than just a diary.  With technology being what it is, I was able to email these missives back to my family and friends and it reminded me of that day with Jean, telling those folk back home not just where we were but what we had seen and the feel of it, the smell of it, the wonder of it.  Most of the people who received these scraps from our trip will never see the places we visited and even if they do, they will be different to what we have seen.  “Everything changes over time, just like wine…” a line from a song by A-ha.