My father and I walk along the caves where water awaits. Our suburb, Lane Cove, is home to Riverview. There, you’ll discover an elite Jesuit all boys school named St. Ignatius College. It covers vast amounts of space and former farmland, where cars and trucks must enter the grounds to reach the main school buildings. The most spectacular part of St. Ignatius College is the chapel courtyard: a collage of elegant architecture, war memorials, Jesuit symbols and crosses, staircases, church glass, freshly mowed grass and cobbled pathways. This area shines on a busy Christmas Eve mass. The town’s chatter meshes with the music from an early modern carol. I associate the courtyard with the sort of ambience only Australians can provide. Among the bustling crowds, I see family, friends and strangers, all invited to drinks and sandwiches at my parent’s house.
Yet this story isn’t told on a weekday or on a Christmas Eve night. It’s a Sunday in April. The weather is unusually dry and it is neither hot or cold. My father and I do not see schoolboys or teachers; rather, we witness boy scouts, couples with dogs and children playing on roads. We smile at the passing residents of Riverview. All are recognisable: our neighbours, our friends to have coffee with, our Lane Covians. My father is skilled at learning names and enjoys encountering familiar faces. There’s a tranquil predictability about Riverview. Everything is exactly how you remembered it.
Beyond the courtyard and school buildings, you’ll find a wharf and a picnic area. One can take a ferry to other, prestigious destinations of Sydney: Kirribilli, Manly and Darling Point are three examples. The most spellbinding aspect of the New South Wales capital is not any building or land. It’s the water. Now, at four o’clock in the afternoon, the sun shines on the river. But look closer and observe the marine life. Fishes and jellyfish are always noticeable. Yet on this afternoon walk, my father and I spot a seal.
‘I’ve never seen one here before,’ I comment to my dad. He shares my opinion. Underlining my sentiment is a provocative belief: interesting things aren’t meant to happen here. This is kept silent as the father and daughter enjoy the breeze and nature. Yet my imagination turns wild. I fancy hourglass dolphins and sea lions to roam the water. Even a walrus and polar bear makes a striking appearance. Of course, none of this is possible. Its mind-magic. Yet these illusions are potent.
For the first time in Riverview, I begin to see alternative futures for this land, where things are no longer how I remember. My future seizes to resemble a linear train-track. It’s the London Underground. Except, the stations appear as giant question marks.
The dream fades. We walk across the bridge, away from the river, to unique rock formations. The caves, ancient and wild, welcome us. Australia’s wildlife and nature is old. It predates antiquity and much of our current knowledge about this country comes from Aboriginal art, culture and storytelling. Yet it’s taken for granted. Riverview’s wharf and the grounds of St. Ignatius College is home to pleasant Sunday walks, hardly a serious interrogation into the history and future of the universe. The past exists like a seashell: you have to hold it close to hear the operas of yesteryear.
Perhaps that’s why I like walking down here. It’s a departure, although temporary, from the hostilities of yesterday and tomorrow. My mind, usually restless with concerns about war, politics, conflict, economics and culture, is gifted temporary tranquillity. Mind-magic, I know. Sometimes, the best medicine comes from poisonous berries. Yet caution is required: any antidote can quickly turn foul.
Upon reaching home, I look at the digital clock. We were gone for an hour.
Read more of Madeleine’s short stories & creative non-fiction