On the beach

On the beach

Down the path, across the road, down the bank, and I was on the beach. This would have to be the most favourite spot of my childhood. I spent hours on the stretch of rocky shore between Grassy Point and King George Street. As a child these were the boundaries set by Mum.

In the rock wall foundation of the road, built many years ago by prisoners who must have painstakingly lifted and placed every rock into its own special place, crabs could be heard scuttling in the black crevices. For ages I would cling to the wall above the high tide mark, peering into the darkness trying to make out just what those creatures were doing in there.

Low tide on the rocky beach revealed a world of wonder. Chains of slippery necklace seaweed strung out between rocks made them quite dangerous to clamber over, but oh the explosions they made as you jumped on them! When the sea had been rough, great mats of seaweed covered the beach. This often included big clumps of kelp. As the seaweed dried it would float on top of the water creating floating islands.

The Dewar family home situated on the hillside above the harbour

Paddling in the shallows I discovered a wealth of colourful anemones both large and small. They waved their tentacles in the water, but quickly closed up as soon as they were disturbed. Small cockabullies would dart away to hide under rocks or under the seaweed – you had to be really quick to catch them.

Crabs found under rocks would scuttle away as fast as they could. Picking them up could be tricky especially those with huge claws. I soon learned to pick them up with thumb and forefinger spread across their back, keeping their claws well away from me. There were two types: the rock or shore crab coloured brown and purple and the half crab, a blue-green crab often with only one large claw.

On the point near King George Street there were rock pools. The rock strata was black and solid, showing evidence of the volcanic beginnings of Otago Harbour. In these pools were small fish and translucent prawns left behind as the tide went out. I would spend hours peering into these pools looking for new animals and plants.

Swimming was a fun activity in the summer. I was never allowed to go swimming unless Mum was watching me. I am not sure what she would have done if I got into trouble as she couldn’t swim, but that was the rule.

Those beaches of my childhood had a special magic. If I returned to them now would that magic still be there?

By Annette Batchelor (née Dewar)

Excerpts from ’Growing Up Down The Bay’, a Dewar family history.

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