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Salty visions of Canberra-on-Sea | The Canberra Times

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The tragedy of Canberra’s landlockedness, its sad estrangement from the sea, was brought home to me once again as I spent last weekend beside the seaside, beside the sea, in the Pacific-hugging city of Sydney. Homo sapiens do like to be beside the seaside. Anciently we were amphibious things and it may be that when forced to live far inland we do a lot of subconscious moping. This may explain why so many Canberrans are such malcontented miserabilists even though they are living lives of bourgeois privilege in one of the most comfortable cities on Earth. In an eventful Sydney weekend two of the major events for your seaside-starved columnist were the two sunrises watched, on successive mornings, from Manly Beach. For both of these natural extravaganzas staged by Nature, both of these meteorological grand operas, we took our seats very early and in suspenseful semi-darkness. We were whisked there by an obsessive surfer son-in-law for whom an ultra-early gander at conditions is essential. My particular interest in sunrises and sunsets (I like to think that I am a connoisseur of them) must owe something to the fact that I grew up in an east coast English seaside town. It was so situated that at a certain spell of the year the local on the right clifftop at the right times could see the sun come up out of the North Sea in the east and then in the evening watch that same sun submerge in the same North Sea in the west in the evening. This rather bookended one’s days in that idyllic place. And to digress again for a moment, I took my seats for Manly’s sunrises just days after my spending quite some awed time (I heard myself gasp “Gosh!”) in front of JMW Turner’s typically fabulous portrayal of a sunrise in his painting in the current Botticelli to Van Gogh blockbuster at the Australian National Gallery in Canberra. His sunrise portrayed in his Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus – Homer’s Odyssey (1859) features a blockbusting rising sun that says something about the essence of all sunrises, everywhere, even for those of us (including, shamefacedly, your columnist) who don’t know our Odyssey from our elbows. The sunrise in this painting, even though it is getting its start in one of the painting’s corners far from the human action, is somehow the crux of the whole painting just as any place’s sunrise is the crux of that place’s day. The sun that comes up off Manly Beach is the nation’s sun, starting the nation’s day. My two Manly sunrises looked eerily like gigantic paintings by Turner. But back to the sands. Those of you who know the long, long crescent of Manly Beach will know that it is a grand space affording a view of a grand expanse of Pacific Ocean and then an even grander expanse of sky. On a grand dawn (the two I attended had, as used to be said of Gough Whitlam, a certain grandeur about them) the sun itself eventually appears, swaggering up out of the ocean after perhaps an hour of its being pre-announced by miscellaneous changes of colour in the sky and the Technicolor tinting of clouds. It is a soul-stimulating experience to watch the sun come up out of the sea. And, alas, one of several stimulations of the soul Canberrans, landlocked, must live without. Quite where the sun comes from on sunny Canberra mornings I’m not sure. It seems to almost stray in, like a lost camel, making a modest sorry-to-bother you entrance, from somewhere over in the unglamorous general direction of Bunnings in Fyshwick. MORE WARDEN: And Canberra’s sun emerges without any musical accompaniment but at Manly as one awaited the sun the appropriate music one swore one could hear Handel’s bustling and anticipation-stoking The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. Handel’s piece is the musical announcement of the arrival of a mighty Someone or Something (in this case the sun) of high importance. Perhaps the disappointment some of us have with Lake Burley Griffin has to do with how poor a substitute it is for the salty, mermaid-rich, dolphin-endowed sea so many of us subconsciously, miss so much and hanker for. What is to be done? Well, I have written before about how modern advances in the making of artificial waves (already enabling surfing and water frolicking in some swish resorts far from the coast) offer the dream that one day Canberra’s artificial lakes will pulse with artificial waves for Canberrans to ride on and frolic in. The exciting new developments in and beside our lake’s West Basin have one imagining the installation of an artificial beach there, not unlike Brisbane’s Streets Beach on South Bank, for the moment Australia’s only inner-city, man-made beach. Already at West Basin the visionary promenade so bitterly resisted by the misguided Lake Burley Griffin Guardians (and at the last election by the similarly misguided Canberra Liberals) is taking wondrous shape. Of course the magnificent promenade at Manly Beach (where I have just been promenading to watch the sun come up) is a world’s-best example of what a joy a waterside promenade can be. In my mind’s eye I see the day (long after the misguided Guardians, who would oppose such a vision, insisting the lake should be left to be a stagnant pond, have ebbed away) when Canberrans will mingle on the West Basin promenade to watch great artificial waves (the “brave white horses” the “flying rollers with frothy feet” of Australian poet Adam Lindsay Gordon’s action-packed poem The Swimmer) frothily breaking on a shore within a stone’s throw of our CBD.

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