Driving in among the army of tall trunks of the trees of the national park, so straight and strong forging up from the forest floor, I roll the window down and take a deep, deliberate breath. There's no salt in the air just yet, only the damp, woody smell with a hint of eucalyptus. There's just this one road in and out, no other cars to encounter in the late afternoon. As the sleeping children begin to rouse and realise we are nearly there, they strain to be the first to spot the ocean through the tops of the trees as we begin the wind down to the beach. And then the first to spot a kangaroo, grazing lazily on the grass as we come into this teeny civilisation that we so adore.
We pull up and unpack the car and our place here. The setup is an easy routine after so many visits, and before long the food is in the fridge, the paddle tennis in place, and we are ready for our first walk. Each time we come, the coastline has changed. The shore of the lake feeding into the ocean changed, the opening wide or narrow, the deep channels of crystal blue water moved from one side to the other. We gasp at the new vista greeting us, and exclaim at the adventures that await us this time. "Look, there are dunes all along the other side!" or "Our best fishing spot is gone, we'll have to go further along this time." Noticing these enticing little changes in this place that hasn't changed in so many years. The same little weatherboard shacks still line the three streets as they did when I first came here as a child myself. The caravan park with the little shop still only open in the school holidays and through the summer. The path to the beach still weaving through the dense bush, opening into a shimmering bay. The handful of people nodding hello as they pass us on the nearly empty beach.
The early morning light calls the fishermen amongst us to the try our luck as the sun tiptoes across the water and slowly warms the air. Once all are up and about, its back down to the lake, diving into the invisible water and riding on the current as the tide comes in or out. The afternoon is for the north end of the beach, catching a wave or two if the ocean gives us what we need, otherwise diving into the water of the sparkling bay and bagsing first bat in cricket. Back home to find the perfect marshmallow stick listening to the symphony of birds heading to their homes for the evening. From the screech of the sulphur-crested cockatoo at first light, to the riotous laughter of the kookaburra, to the twittering and tweeting of the tiny fairy wrens hopping about in the grass. And of course, let's not forget the whistle and scratching of the parrots and lorikeets paying a visit in the hope of some seed being on offer. This is the soundscape of our place, floating on the whisper of the wind in the trees and the waves crashing on the shore.
This place holds so many memories for me from my own childhood, which I share with my own children as we create new ones. The past and the present, the old and the new, the things that change and stay the same. All sitting within this little clearing in the forest at the beach that has been here for millions of years before me and will remain long after I am gone.