The Narungga people have always lived on Yorke Peninsula. Their country extends as far north as Port Broughton and east to the Hummock Ranges. Their neighbours were the Kaurna of the Adelaide Plains and the Nukunu to the North, with whom the Narungga would meet for trade and ceremony. Their expertise at fishing was admired by many of the early European settlers.
The first European settlers in this area were Joseph (Curley Joe) Simms and his wife Blanche who arrived in the early 1860’s. The area known to the early Europeans as Glencoe was later, and still is, known as Simms Cove.
Curley Joe began fishing at the time copper was discovered on the Yorke Peninsula and in the families that arrived, Curley Joe had a ready market. All seven of Joe’s sons became fishers (he and Blanche had 11 children). Over the next many generations numerous Simms’ boats were commissioned and when not at work were anchored in Simms Cove.
For those of you reading this piece and have seen my photography captured in the place I refer to as ‘my sanctuary’ would be familiar with an iconic part of the Simms Cove-Moonta Bay landscape. It is known as the breakwater.
This remnant timber has fascinated me for years so I set out to learn more.
I took the time to sit and listen to a remarkable local and extraordinary man, a descendent of Curley Joe, Ben Simms.
Ben is in his 84th year. Ben has been many things in his life, a writer, a poet and a horse trainer but it is his affinity with the sea and fishing which is striking.
I was compelled to write these words after spending an afternoon in Ben’s company. These words are my take on the ‘Sentinels’ at the bottom of the cliff at Simms Cove – the remnant timber, the Breakwater.
These words are written from the perspective of a tree, a tree destined for life beyond its native forest, and are dedicated to Ben.
I grew from a seed and put down my roots in nutrient-rich heavy, clay soil. I grew tall and straight and stood shoulder to shoulder in a forest of my kin. My home, my sanctuary is on the eastern seaboard of Australia.
I am already 200 years old and I am the keeper of secrets.
It is spring and I’m adorned with a flourish of rich creamy flowers, native bees work busily in my canopy. I hear the crack of a stock whip in the distance as the cloven hooves of bullocks’ crash through the understory. The bullocky calmly encourages his team of beasts to ‘walk-on’ but not with a word but rather with nurturing actions. A small band of sinewy, keen-eyed men mark my brethren for felling and I am targeted too.
I feel the bite of the saw rip deep into my bark and my flesh. My scent, my blood, the smell of what they describe as turpentine is heavy on the ether as my leaves are crushed. It is matter of some time until my remnants and broken spirit is heaved onto the flatbed dray and my journey begins. “Walk-on”, the bullocky gestures.
I am a tree – I am supposed to stand sentinel for the term of my life but I am now moving. I am being moved. I am moved.
Days later I reach a harbour, it’s bustling. Hemp lines hold a cargo vessel alongside a makeshift wharf. The loading begins.
I am manhandled into the hold and wedged between my kin – we are heading to South Australia. The journey around the rugged coastline is uneventful. Spring turns into summer.
The activity at this port of Wallaroo is lively and hurried. Steamers and majestic sail boats sit high on the tide. The construction of a wharf is underway and farther down the coast, the construction of a jetty. The year is 1872 and the port is Moonta Bay.
I am surplus to requirements…or am I? Have I been hand-picked to provide a safe haven for a fishing fleet? Is this my destiny?
My length has been reduced now and I’m rolled, hauled and then suspended over a cliff and painstakingly lowered to a sandy resting place below. Fishers are now also lumberjacks and engineers, they start to design a haven, a breakwater. They get to work. I am to be the centre piece. There are more than thirty pieces of my kin now implanted in a watery bed. I listen to the fishers and workmen as they recount their embellished tales.
I am the keeper of secrets. With every passing day I add more to my vast chapters of knowledge and understanding.
I have served my purpose well and I have now seen many seasons. The tides ebb and flow, the ferocious sou-westerly gales gnash at my very being but I remain steadfast.
On calm clear nights I bear witness to the intensity of the celestial landscape. I see black velvet scattered with precious gemstones. Diamonds, rubies and large magellanic cloud are suspended in the vastness of space. The Southern Cross pointed out by alpha and beta Centauri hangs. I wonder how many navigators have gazed upon the crux – a welcome escort to those seeking direction or comfort.
I have afforded shelter to the Challa, the Rum-Runner and many other vessels over the years. From time to time cutters, anchored in the deeper cooler water off-shore renew their rigging and chain. The heavy chain, now compromised by the elements of salt and water are brought to my watery forest.
I am wrapped in chain and for a moment in time I am connected to my fellow sentinels. It is said this is to add strength to my purpose. I disagree. The sea soon erodes the chain and it disperses into the sea, fragmented and broken. I remain steadfast.
I have been a bystander as skippers and deckhands, their backs braking and muscles burning with the sheer weight of their bounty finally get their prized catch to the top of the cliff. Their catch is destined for market and so the next part of the journey begins for fish and fisher.
I am the keeper of secrets – I dare not tell a soul.
Young lovers meet at dusk at the base of the cliffs when the tide is near high. The lovers embrace and collide with passion, they are alone. They believe there are no witnesses to their unbridled desire.
I am the keeper of secrets – I dare not tell a soul.
I am weary; my years now number more than I care to count. I’m weathered, I’m windswept but my surface is smooth. No splinters, no shards which might catch and rip at a cloth. A pacific gull, not long past its juvenile years, extends its wings and stretches. As it does, its talons dig into me so it can maintain a steady balance.
I feel no pain but I do feel pleasure. I feel the connection with another living creature. It is comforting and gives me comfort to know that the majestic seabird picked me to perch upon.
You may think I am dead remnant timber soon to be lost to a watery grave but I am alive.
I live in a sanctuary and I offer sanctuary. I am part of an irreplaceable history but importantly I am very much part of the future.
I am the keeper of secrets.