Moving abroad sends our senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell into overdrive, and in this month’s NSEW offering, we explore an element of expat life through one or more of the five senses. In Sound Check, Linda (North) finds that it is distinctive sounds that remind her where she is. In Tastes that Tell Our Stories, Erica (East) admits that she does, in fact, cry at Cheerios and roasted chicken. In Nasal Manoeuvres, I know that no-one knows France like my nose knows France. And I’m happy to have Russell (South) here on I Was An Expat Wife today, walking us through the multitude of sensory experiences found at the beach in Bottling the Essence of Beach Life.
If I asked you to describe Australia, you’d inevitably mention the beach. When I’m travelling away from Australia and I consider life here, I always think back to the beach. In fact, the beach is so synonymous with my current Australian lifestyle that I couldn’t imagine being without it.
There is something about living by the ocean that gets right under the skin and penetrates deep into the mind, body and soul. The experience is at once calming, soothing, refreshing and energising. There is no single sight, sound or smell that captures the spirit of beach life in Australia, but an entire gamut of sensory encounters.
The smell is the first thing to hit you.
Cresting the hill not far from home, I can already smell the ocean wafting through the air conditioning vents of my car. It’s a heady, almost pungent, mix of seaweed and brine with underlying notes of Norfolk pine and just the hint of a cool ocean breeze.
Then the sound reaches you.
Surprisingly, it’s not the steady roar of the shore break that first greets you upon nearing the destination, but the drone of thousands of cicadas spread out against the barks of the scraggly gums bordering the beachfront. As the air heats up, the cicadas grow louder, now matched by the noise of endless surf barrelling in from the east.
On the approach to the beach, a flurry of visual sensations greets the eyes.
Low drifts of sand spill on to the road’s edges, dead and browning palm fronds collect in corners of the car park, and the air is laden with a fine sea mist blowing and swirling around in damp, wispy clouds.
Tiny butterflies dance over the tops of flowering shrubs which stretch out along the valleys of the sand dunes behind the beach. Proudly standing pines line up along the divide between sand and bush, as cliffs of sandstone in varying hues of gold and yellow tower over the treacherous reefs below.
At the ocean pool, children gather in their starting positions for the morning’s swim competitions, parents cooking sausages on the public barbeques close by. Shaggy-haired surfers glide along the length of one cresting wave after the other and a lifesaver calls out to novice swimmers who unknowingly drift away from the safety of the red and yellow flags.
The feel of the beach is a calming influence.
Cold early morning sand sieves between my toes and the gentle sea winds feather my face. I wade into the shallows and feel the briny water instantly soothe my feet, as if washing any lingering stresses away.
The sun bites at my back. Memories surface. I recall the severity of this seemingly innocent environment and a sudden need for the familiar touch of sun cream across my exposed body.
I can taste contentment and sheer bliss on the tip of my tongue.
The over-used cliché of the ocean washing worries away has never been truer in this heavenly place. I’ll bring an intense day at the office to a close and take a quick detour to the beach. I’ll count my lucky stars that I’m able to stand on the shore and gaze out at a horizon with no end. A wide-open nothing where blue meets blue.
For someone who grew up in an ordinary commuter town on the outskirts of a major capital city, the sensory experience of a visit to the iconic Australian beach is entirely unfamiliar yet incredibly comforting.
The excited voices of children chasing each other in the warming sand.
The chink of wine glasses coming together as an ice-cold chardonnay is shared over a picnic blanket.
The rustle of the weekend newspaper or the crinkle of a book’s pages being turned.
Espresso machines whirring away at the beachside café, accompanied by laughter and light-hearted conversation.
Beach volleyball players diving through the air and onto the sand.
An ocean boat skimming over the water’s soft skin, its occupants leaning into the row, heaving on the oars as one.
An Australian beach is brimming with activity, an abundance of sights, sounds, smells, taste and touch. In fact, life by the beach is an almighty overload of the senses.
If only I could bottle it, I’d be a rich man indeed.