Girl in Coffs Harbour

February 1, 2013

coffs harbour beach

I have a song that I like, by Lyttelton band The Unfaithful Ways, called Little Mountain Town (sometimes I wish I lived in a little mountain town, where everybody knows  your name and nobody gets you down).  This summer, I discovered an adjacent fantasy – longing to live in a little seaside town.

I never really understood the idea of what Australians call a Sea Change.  Shakespeare makes it sound rather uncomfortable (but doth suffer a sea change, into something rich and strange).   But that is what people call the change of lifestyle that comes with a move to the small beach towns up and down the East Coast.  I’ve never really been a beach person.  I grew up being able to see the ocean, but never really went there.  My parents now live 5 minutes walk from the beach, but I always considered it a place for quiet solitary walks, not swimming.  I lived in Australia for 8 years before I swam in this side of the Pacific.

That all started to change this summer, with a week spent in Coffs Harbour.  Where I discovered that a stay at the beach does indeed have it’s own special transformative power.

Near the end of 2012, a friend and I drove the 8 hours north of Sydney to spend Christmas with two people I had never met, but who opened their house to us and made us feel so at home.  There were morning swims, and evening swims, and long walks through mangroves or bush and over cliffs.  The sound of cicadas was everywhere and the ocean was always sitting just offstage, waiting for us.  It was incredibly special to have a nice little weatherboard house two blocks from the beach to rest in as I nursed the beginnings of a broken heart.  There were G+Ts and scrabble and cryptic crosswords and lazy afternoons spent reading.  The unofficial Coffs Harbour Pentenque court was just over the fence, and there was an entire row of strawberry plants begging me to creep up to the top of the garden to sit in the grass and eat them.  The new love of my life quickly became an aging burmese cat named Hamish, and our hosts are now two great new old and dear friends.

And every time I started to get sad, the sea was there waiting for me.  I could float in oblivion and be calm and be only myself.

So Coffs is now officially my favourite small Australian town.  A place where you go to a christmas party at the local antiques store and get served lime cordial.  A place where you get a perfect halter neck suntan from your red swimsuit.  A place where the fish and chips are plentiful and you can smell the salt on the wind and hear the biota teeming all around you.  A place where tawny frogmouths nest in the poinsiata tree outside your window.  A place to just check out for a little while and remind yourself how to live – quietly, slowly, and with growing wonder at the world around you.

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