A cold wind gust blew from the south and through closed shutters of a caravan. The wind made a haunting, whistling sound in the faded moon-lit darkness of southern Victoria. The bite of outside’s chill gave all five of us sitting around a blow mould table in the caravan cold shakes. I turned to Rory, a Melbourne surfer and weekend warrior.
It has been a sorry excuse for a summer’s night, I said.
I like it, he said.
What do you like about it?
You don’t like the sun?
Makes things a little too easy.
In the caravan the door slammed on the tin body and the wind blew in stronger. Rory stood up and knelt down next to the door and tinkered with the broken latch. A man knocked on the door and opened it. I got you an occy strap, he said.
Thanks, Gary, Rory said.
There’s Wi-Fi if you need it.
No, why? Gary said. Rory laughed. The password is hot chocolate.
Is that your way of telling us how good your hot chocolates are?
They’re pretty famous.
Rory closed the door and looped the occy strap around the latch to the kitchen draw handle and then sat back down.
I can’t believe they have Wi-Fi, he said.
You don’t need Wi-Fi out here.
True. Get a working door first, huh.
Rory scooped another ladle of bolognaise. Did I tell you to bring your 3/2? he asked.
Yep, I said.
I got you booties too.
Is it that cold?
The next morning we woke and stepped outside. The dew sat on the tops of leaves and fell making everything below it sodden. We examined the sky. The clouds hovered low and heavy and covered up each inch of blue trapping the cold remnants from the night. I picked up our wetsuits hung from a line under two trees. The dew drops from the trees made them wetter and colder than the day before. Rory wiped the condensation off the windscreen of the car and we drove out of the caravan park and stopped at the front office. Rory got out of the car and walked up to counter where Gary stood behind the coffee machine and then he walked back with two cups. Steam funneled up from the cups and dissipated into the crisp cold air.
It’s hot choccy, I said.
Good, hey? I see how they’re famous.
A hot chocolate in the summer, though?
It’s not Byron, mate.
Thanks for the hot chocolate.
We headed east looking for waves along the Great Ocean Road. We drove along and up and down the granite escarpments and boarded the cliff’s edge. A thin steel fence lined the edge to our left and loose netting on our right draped over the vertical cliffs.
Do you know this road was built by WWI serviceman? Rory said.
Built as a memorial. Using picks and shovels.
The hum of the car over the road was the only sound pervading in the silent surrounds of the memorial for the countless now etched into the rocks forever.
We parked at the edge of a promontory and we looked west onto the Bight where the road snaked around the capes into the unseen distance. On the right were areas of cleared land and green pastures. They were bare of people and looked like forgotten engravings of Victoria’s colonial history. Evidence of lost hopes to tame her coast. Scattered coastal shrub and banksia woodlands had now begun reclaiming the abandoned meadows. The vegetation leaned land ways, up the sloping hills, pushed by the roaring southerly winds of the Bass Strait.
We kept driving until we found an exposed reef where the south west swell hit creating waves three times overhead. The water was lumpy and dark and white-caps scattered sporadically over the vast ocean like dull glitter. No one was out. Rory put his sunglasses in the above compartment of the car and opened the door and began untying the boards.
Doesn’t look that inviting, I said.
Looks fun, he said smiling. I didn’t reply.
We paddled out and I sat on my board and looked down at my hand under water and it disappeared in the murk. Our bodies swayed and lifted and then dropped with the incoming swells driven from the Antarctic portion of the Indian Ocean and a gust of wind blew from the South Pacific on our already soaked faces. It was a convergence of forces that had claimed hundreds of 19th Century ships now abandoned on its cold and dark seabed. We both caught a wave and then another and paddled back out together and sat on our boards and looked at a single kangaroo grazing on the pastures. Then it disappeared and only the bareness of the Victorian coastline remained. I said, If something happened to us we’d be screwed.
That’s why I like it, he said.
Back on the beach we took off our wetsuits and put on our trackies and jumpers and beanies but we still shivered. Rory turned to me.
Let’s do it, he said.
Yeah. Let’s wrap our mittens around another one of those hot choccies.
Mate, that’s a given.
We left back toward Melbourne and the clouds dissipated for the first time and let the sun illume. The late afternoon rays shed a golden light over the road and undulating meadows before us, titillating through the eucalyptus trees casting long shadows to the east. I took off my jumper. That’s more like it, I said.
You happy now? He said
I need my sun.
This calls for a beer when we get home, I reckon.
The car drove further away from the coast and a familiar set of skyscrapers arose along with a dark and heavy cloud above it on the horizon and in no time the cloud cast under the sun and the world darkened and I put my jumper back on. Maybe a hot chocolate instead, I said.