Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Weird and wonderful things I've found on the beach

Over the years I've found some weird and wonderful things along the seashore. When I was in my late teens I found a bottle on the beach at Queenscliff, with a message in it from a Scottish sailor who worked on an oil tanker. Of course I wrote back and so began a correspondence that lasted three years. We met twice, then the relationship drifted apart.

On King Island, where we lived in the 1980s, we discovered the bones of a whale washed up in a little clove on our coastline; rusted nails from shipwrecks; and a roll of pornographic film.

Usually we carry a plastic bag to collect any human rubbish we find on the beach, and then take it home to dispose of correctly. Plastic bags, fishing line, hooks, bottles and cans are unsightly and dangerous to marine life. Fortunately our piece of coastline is relatively free of rubbish, thanks to the locals who are vigilant in picking up anything that has been carelessly dropped.

Eleven years ago, on Phillip Island, I saw an unusual shoebox-sized container washed up on our beach. At first I thought it was rubbish, but on closer inspection realised it was a container for somebody's ashes. When I brushed off the sand I could see a name inscribed in the plastic, his date of birth, where and when he was cremated, and the name of the funeral parlour. When I shook the container I discovered it was full. But was it sand or somebody's ashes? Other neighbours joined me on the sand and we discussed the situation.

Subsequently the funeral parlour was phoned, and they asked us to look inside the receptacle. If the contents looked like kitty litter, they said, it was in fact the ashes. Apparently the container was tossed overboard in Fremantle shortly after the cremation. From Western Australia the container travelled all the way to Phillip Island, an amazing journey in itself. After unsuccessful attempts to get in touch with the family, the funeral parlour asked us to sprinkle the ashes in the sea, which we did. So ended the journey of Frank's ashes. The funeral parlour said a lot of people have the big ceremony on the beach and no one has a Swiss army knife to take the seal off the top, so they throw the whole box away.

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