Long centuries ago, when no one knew where Australia was except the Indigenous people who lived in it, hapless European would-be colonising world powers would stumble across it by accident. Tall ships would get blown off course, of course, mostly Portuguese and Dutch trading ships trying to find Indonesia and their arses in the bath tub, and they’d end up here.
The big winds would blow them hell west and crooked, till they landed on the coast, if they were lucky, or on rocks and reefs offshore if they weren’t. Those who managed to land in one piece took one look around, found nothing but sand, rocks and flies up their nose, pushed their boats back into the water as fast as they could, if they didn’t have holes in them, and bailed out again while they were still able to. No gold, no spices, nothing here worth killing and enslaving anyone over. Those who didn’t manage to land in one piece lived to bitterly regret it, but usually not for very long. They left a long trail of abandoned coins, rusty ship equipment, and niggly, persistent syphilis infections among native tribes, before they lay down and carked it of thirst. Often not very far from permanent water sources.
The trail also includes bones, and, occasionally, the odd skull. Every now and then the wind shifts, blows in a particularly motivated and invigorated fashion from an unusual direction, and shifts heaps of sand away, bringing back to the surface the left-overs of those poor buggers. This place here is encouragingly named after some of these exposed remains. At one point some bloke, on a mission only known to himself, stumbled across a collection of human bones, bleached white under the sun, scattered here and there through the dunes. Apparently he came back from his venture white as a sheet, went straight to the pub, sat down and drank himself stupid for five days straight and refused to leave. The story has it they had to pry his fingers off the bar with a crowbar, when they eventually dragged him out. In due time the bay here was named after his discovery.
But we’re not easily deterred.
There’s a wave here.
Word passes around the breaks quietly, and you hear about it. We found it on a map, and figured it’d be worth a stickybeak. There’s a point where the swell wraps around very nicely and peels off into eternity, or so Word Has It. As an extra bonus and motivation, no one ever goes there, so there’s an uncrowded pointbreak there waiting to be ridden.
“Uncrowded” is a bit of a misnomer here. “Deserted” is more like it. There are no tracks leading there, and the only way to get there is through the dunes and along the shore, on foot. Cars can’t get there. So we packed a hat, sunscreen, a shirt with sleeves, and water, stuck our boards under our arms, and set out at dawn to beat the heat of the day.
We picked our way along dunes like mountains of sand, covered in the famous WA wildflowers: white, blue, purple, red blooms everywhere. The eternal wind had not yet picked up, and wouldn’t for a good few hours yet. The ocean lay placidly far below us, shimmering blue and white, as we scrambled up dunes, trudged along their long crests, and stumbled back down the other side. Switched boards to the other side, stretching out cramped hands. Seashells, flat, round, conical, broken, shattered on the sand everywhere. Branches of busted-up coral, shaped like staghorns, stark pale and pockmarked with dots and holes, lay on the top of huge sand dunes. How they had gotten there was anyone’s guess. There was a big tsunami here about 150 years ago that wiped out every living thing for 100 miles around, including people. That might have had something to do with it.
‘Are we there yet?’ Kiana, my partner in crime, was getting over it.
I stopped and pulled the map out. Had a bit of a scan over the dunescape ahead of us.
‘Yeah …’ I scratched my chin thoughtfully. ‘I reckon it’s over there somewhere.’ I waved my hand vaguely in a north-southerly direction. ‘Not far now.’
Kiana glared at me.
‘Yeah, but are we there yet?’
‘Shut up and walk.’
We walked on.
A fair while later we slid down the back of a towering dune, and half-fell half-staggered onto a beach. There in front of us lay a small, sheltered bay. On one side, stretching off into the middle distance, was a wall of red-brown sandstone cliffs, interspersed with sand dunes. Coarse, white sand led down to the waterline. And there, off to the other side, was the headland. More of a rock-spit really, a long, low flat finger of rock sticking out into the ocean.
But big enough to divert the traffic of the ocean currents, and cause a wave to stand up, and roll away to the other side.
My heart sped up a bit. This was it.
We dropped our boards, threw our bags on the sand, and pulled out rashies and wax. This was what we had come here for. This was what was going to make the hours of clambering up and down sand dunes worthwhile.
I put on my legrope and walked down to the water’s edge, Kiana close behind. We waded out into the water. Beautifully soft, warm and salty. We pushed out until we were waist deep, almost ready to launch out on our boards. Until Kiana stopped.
‘Hang on a minute,’ she said.
I turned at the sound of her voice. There was an edge in it. I looked at her face. She was frowning.
‘What’s that over there?’ she said, pointing ahead of us.
‘What where?’ I asked stupidly.
‘Out there in front of us, look,’ She gestured towards the rockpoint.
‘Whe–’ Then I saw it.
There was movement in the water in front of us.
Right there where the wave peeled off the rocky point, at the perfect take-off point, something was moving through the water.
I frowned, and squinted into the glare coming off the ocean. Focussed and double-focussed. Unfocussed again, in case it would make it go away. It didn’t.
There was a black thing in the water. Two actually, with another one a bit further away. Cruising sleekly, cutting long, sharp lines through the surf. From the point away along the beach, for about a good 50-60 m, then turning around and heading back again. And again. And again. Cutting laps like swimmers training for a race in a pool. In-out, in-out.
The things were black. They were also triangular. They stuck out tall and proud above the water. I swore under my breath, then started monitoring the nature of their movement. Were they moving up-and-down, like mammals, that is to say like dolphins? Or were they moving side to side, like fish, that is to say like sharks?
With a sinking feeling I realised they were moving side to side.
There was no mistaking it.
There was two sharks cruising up and down, right in the middle of what we had been looking forward to calling our new break. Right there where the wave broke, they were doing their laps. Right there, where we would want to be sitting to take off, feet and legs dangling innocuously in the water below us.
I looked around in despair, for another wave, another take-off zone out of harm’s way. Nothing anywhere. There was one wave, and it was right there, where those two bastards had claimed it.
I looked over my shoulder at Kiana. She slowly shook her head from side to side, her face set.
What to do?
We backed out of the water. Sat down and watched for a while. Waited for the men in the grey suits to bugger off. They didn’t. The sun rose higher in the sky. Eventually the wind picked up, and blew the wave out, as we knew it would.
We sighed, stood up and picked up our packs and our boards. It was going to be a long way back. As we passed beneath a tall dune, something round and white lay motionless in the sand. It had two big round holes in the top, and a smaller, triangular one below it. Beneath the holes, two rows of semi-regular rectangular shapes stretched across it, in a wide – open grin.