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Australia What washes up on Sydney shores is a tale for all times

23:40  30 may  2020
23:40  30 may  2020 Source:   brisbanetimes.com.au

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a group of people on a beach near a body of water: The recent storm in Sydney exposed columns from the pier at Coogee Beach that was demolished in the 1930's. 10th June 2016 Photo: Janie Barrett © Janie Barrett The recent storm in Sydney exposed columns from the pier at Coogee Beach that was demolished in the 1930's. 10th June 2016 Photo: Janie Barrett

Did you see the sea in Sydney last Sunday? Huge waves battered the city's coastline from Palm Beach down to Cronulla, with swells not seen for some time in Sydney.

People flocked to the coast to be awed by the ocean, even if they weren't game enough to go in while beaches were closed.

High tides and walls of churning whitewater battered Curl Curl. Homes in Narrabeen looked endangered for a while as they took a pummelling. Some surfers were game for the thrill, riding 10-metre monsters.

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A few braved the wild waves south of Coogee Beach, near my home. A crowd gathered on the headland, intoxicated by one surfer. He battled towering waves a long way out, between the headland and Wedding Cake Island. It was a vicarious adrenaline rush to see him constantly pummelled, only to return by jetski to take them on, again and again.

In the aftermath, I've been pondering what washed up on our shores - and what it reveals about the era we are living in.

Wind gusts of up to 70 kilometres an hour on my home turf shifted metres of sand, revealing a glimpse of Sydney's past. On Monday, the storm revealed old pylons from the Coogee Pier, which had stood from 1928 to 1934, when it was demolished. A huge wave damaged it first, then the army was called it to tear it down.

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I've only seen the pylons emerge from the sand once before in the past decade: in the 2016 storms that damaged the surf club.

Treasure hunter Michael Oliver took his metal detector to the site and found lots of dropped coins and lost jewellery. Randwick Council reported he even found a worn-out threepence, probably dropped when the pier was still standing. Threepence was the cost of entry for children to the pier. Adults paid sixpence.

I still recall my father's stories of Sundays spent taking the tram to Coogee with pockets full of small change to spend in the penny arcade machines.

The amusement pier, built in the style of that in Brighton, England, reached 180 metres into the sea off Coogee. It had a a 1400-seat theatre, a 600-capacity ballroom and a 400-seat restaurant upstairs.

It was a delight to see the pylons. It gave me the same sense of wonder I get when I swim in this bay and, on rare occasions, see the rusty old shark bell lying on the ocean bed. In over a decade of swimming here, I've only seen it three times. The water needs to be clear and still enough. But each time I catch sight of it, that bell delivers me to the Sydney of yesteryear.

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My mind drifts to the last fatal shark attacks at Coogee, almost a century ago in 1922. Two young swimmers were attacked by a white shark within a month of each other.

Also delivered by last Sunday's turbulent waves were containers of medical supplies, lost overboard south of Sydney as a ship, the APL England, was en route from China to Melbourne.

By Wednesday the contents of 40 shipping containers that fell from the ship had washed up on our shores, from Sydney to the Central Coast. An investigation revealed they were corroded and constituted "a clear breach" of maritime requirements.

Face masks and plastic containers, among other items, washed up. It forced the closure of all beaches in the Randwick Council area while the State Emergency Service and citizens collected the debris. At Coogee, it was a concerted effort to clean up the beach.

But I wonder, as with the threepence from the heyday of the Coogee Pier, what people will make of a face mask if it washes up 90 years from now.

What would it say about the coronavirus era in which we live? Would people find it a novelty, much in the way we look at old photos of masked people in the 1918-19 flu epidemic?

Or might we be wearing masks for the next century?

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