1. The North Coast
When you go to the north coast, drive in light rain and arrive in sunshine, for contrast. Notice the greenness, the closeness of the border, and the beginning of subtropical landscapes. Play old Rolling Stones tapes. Think about Fast Bucks, Big Bananas and the Motel Nirvana. Avoid canal estates, Macdonalds and flat tyres. Go to Byron Bay and sit on the veranda in the evenings. Face the sea and listen to the wind in the spindly bangalow palms on the cliff behind you. Listen to the talk about going into Byron to buy fish and chips. Open another bottle of champagne instead.
Don’t bother trying to reason with the horse when it tries to eat nuts off the edge of the veranda. Let it knock your glass over, and lick your foot, and go away happy.
Watch the peacock strutting, tail feathers out like a fan, bum fluffed out and shaking. Watch the hens ignore him. Wait till he lunges and the hen makes a run for it. Discuss this behaviour, in a desultory fashion, in relation to city life.
Go out late at night and walk north along Broken Head beach, into the wind. Listen to the surf noise and watch the fishermen’s torches and the ends of their cigarettes bobbing up and down. Think of the sky as an enormous black net full of stars.
Let someone else go out in the morning to buy the papers and check the beaches, and if someone tells you to go to Tallows, then go. Let the dogs lie under the beach umbrella; it’s not worth a fight. Cover yourself in a cocktail of deep tanning lotion and blockout. Enjoy the smell of coconut oil and salt. Go in and out of the water, then lie on the beach and read, then go in and out again till there’s nothing under your eyelids except this incredible blue.
Go into Byron and drink iced coffee at Il Duomo while the sprinklers water the ferns. Eat cold chicken for lunch with at least a dozen people, who all say: shall we open that other bottle of champagne?
If you go out in the afternoon, go to Kings and walk down through the rainforest to an empty beach. Swim near the rock pools, sit under the pandanus palms, go to sleep in the shade.
Then, in the evenings, sit on the veranda and face the sea…Let someone else light the barbecue. Slap idly at mosquitoes, then go and get a coil. Watch the fires in the sugarcane at the bottom of the hill. Smell the smoke, and the soft warm salty night air.
Think of pink watermelon in a red dish, green skin, white rind, black seeds. Gin and tonic with ice and a dash of lime. Cointreau with soda, lemon juice with ice, sugar and mint. Chinotto in green bottles. Cold white wine and soda drunk in the garden while it gets dark and the mosquitoes come out of the ferns. Silver dory on ice at the fish markets, calamari with plastic spines — steam them and eat them with lemon juice, garlic and black pepper.
Iced coffee with cream and icecream. Fish and chips on the beach at 9 p.m. Mango sorbet. Sarongs. Thongs. Kids with no clothes on, running in and out of the hose in the back yard. Defrosting fridges, and pools of water on the kitchen floor.
If chlorine in the water turns your hair green, dissolve aspirin in the rinse water. Boric acid mixed with cocoa and sugar kills cockroaches, though your friends will call you a hippy for not using chemicals (remember the ozone layer). When fleas drift across the suburbs in summer, vacuum the carpets and go out for the night.
Try tomato slices with basil and olive oil for lunch, with vinegar for sunburn. Vinegar for bluebottle stings. Salt kills leeches; watch out for them at the bottom of the rainforest valleys. Remember to shake the sheets when they come off the line to get rid of the spiders.
Make love in the shower, in summer. Put a ceiling fan in the bedroom. Go to jazz concerts. Shop in the airconditioning to keep cool, spend an hour buying holiday reading, lime cordial, toothpaste and mangoes. Remember to park the car in the shade.
They say you should avoid Sydney in the summer, but these few simple steps will make your stay pleasant. Watch out for crocodiles, snap elections and tourists with cameras. Memorise the location of automatic teller machines and coffee shops that open after midnight. Convert small amounts of time and money into long pleasures.
Remember to smile when you pose for a Japanese tourist at Bondi Beach. Think of the exchange rate. Float, like the dollar.
Don’t let the car overheat, and remember, always carry spare water. Avoid laundromats. Don’t talk to taxi drivers, unless they have a sense of humour. Avoid Parramatta Road and crowded buses.
Go to the beach in the evenings, just before it gets dark, listen to the soft conversations at the edge of the water, watch the moon over the city and wonder why it sometimes seems so big; go into a dream.
Sleep on a futon or an old kapok mattress on the floor. Open all the windows that you nailed shut after the last break-and-enter. Stop wearing jeans, buy dresses from the second-hand shops. Wear old silk. Put up white curtains, and water the garden in the evenings before going out to Vietnamese restaurants with no more than four people at a time.
3. The South Coast
Swim in the the lake estuaries where the current carries you slowly around to the sea. Watch the patterns of light on the sand in shallow water. Float where the water turns green and there are patches of seaweed on the bottom. Watch your shadow move across the bottom like a cloud. Find the spot on the lake where everything goes quiet, the hills fold away to the west and the fishermen stand perfectly still as though they are lost in something, just for a moment. Listen to the tide turning.
Tell the time by the long wet shadows in the garden in the morning, the long yellow light in the afternoons. When you see the red lorikeets in the peach tree, move quietly; don’t scare them away. Make tea in the afternoon and take it out into the garden. Sit under the trees and listen to the pink and grey galahs.
Fish in the lake, at sunset. Watch the prawners with their torches and nets. Listen to the soft splash as a fish jumps. Sleep with the window open. Listen for the sea and wait for the moon to pass behind another cloud.
When the long slow time is over, drive back along the highway drugged with glare and petrol fumes, through the small towns, past the service stations, past the sign that says Paradise Used Cars. Switch on the car radio. Look out the window, watch the grey haze over the city and the planes lifting off the runway at Botany, and say: I think it’s beginning to rain.
Barbara Brooks is a Sydney writer and independent scholar. She has published Leaving Queensland, a book of short prose, and a biography, Eleanor Dark: a writer’s life.