Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Gunners Barracks

From the shelter of the terrace, I see a lizard. A thin sliver of a creature, he darts along the stone wall in stop-motion, basks in the sunlight, than darts along further.

I focus on the scene behind him, behind the wall: open water, yet land to my left, land to my right and land ahead. I am looking from the north to the south of an enormous harbour, with all its headlands and peninsulae; ferries, yachts, dinghies and cruise ships; beaches and pools; skyscrapers and harbourfront pads; forests and bushland. This is Sydney.

I turn back to our table. Tea is served. As a present, we have been given afternoon tea at Gunners’ Barracks, and what a treat this is: from panna cotta to salmon sandwiches, from samosas to scones, everything is unveiled before our eyes. The service is outstanding, the silver is spotless, and the view: priceless. Not even the threat of a kleptomaniacal kookaburra can spoil this moment.

With not a cloud in the sky, the harbour is buzzing. On the water, the Circular Quay to Manly ferries pass one another before us. A sailing teaching class weave around one another in the distance. Water taxis and speed boats streak the deep blue with white. The tourist jet boat zigzags the bays, thrilling (and drenching) its passengers. A sea plane comes in to land. Everywhere there is movement and life.


We walk further into Middle Head, to the National Park at its tip. Here, at the fore of Military Road are concrete bunkers. From 1801 to the 1960s, this was the site of military fortifications – look outs and cannons and disappearing guns, tunnels and gun pits and faux ‘Tiger Cages’ used to train those deployed to Vietnam – reinforced and remodelled over time to guard Sydney from whatever threat it might encounter.

We dip into the shade of the bunkers, wandering through concrete avenues below the ground. Rusting metal studs jut from the ceiling in one; more modern Japanese graffiti is found on another, untranslated, on the very settlement maintained to once keep the Japanese out. (An objective it failed to do when three Ko-hyoteki midget submarines entered the harbour in 1942, culminating in the sinking of the HMAS Kuttabul.)

With little time to explore, and no tour guides on hand, we can only glimpse at the rich stories that underpin these walls. On this normal, yet beautiful headland, a far from normal piece of history lies just beneath the surface.

The lizard returns. It moves so fast, yet so briefly, so as to appear to exist either here or there, but never in a place in between. It occurs to me that this is a normal sight for anybody living in a hot climate - a lizard, basking in the sun - but for me, a Brit, this is not normal. I realise that in all that I have written, whenever I have commented on something under an assumption of irregularity, my reader, whose background or address may be very different to my own, might consider it regular. This is, after all, the Internet, available in homes everywhere. What does that mean of my reaction to such normal, yet not normal, things?

I have time to neither ponder this half-considered thought nor process how this beautiful headland is more than meets the eye, how normal can be anything but. I have not time to be troubled by what is and what is not regular, for the view has enchanted me once more.

I pour another cup of Darjeeling.

I look out from the terrace.

I bask in the sunshine.

I think: 'this’ll do'.