He broke out of the water and pushed towards the piling. His brother was already there. They rode up and down on the swell, must have been three or four feet, and wore wetsuits against the crusted mussels and other shells on the piling. They pulled themselves up the ladder and went off the edge of the pier again. Tom surfaced and called out he’d been to the bottom.
We were four hundred metres from the shore. The pier was a swarm of people, loose boards rattling under hundreds of feet. Flags were everywhere. People were wearing them. There was even one in the sky, trailing a biplane. The plane flew east and disappeared over Arthur’s Seat. The boys jumped into the water from the lower landing, swam under the pier boards, out again, up the ladder, into the water. A muffled rhythmic whump echoed from the shore. It was three in the afternoon.
They pulled off their flippers and we walked down the pier. Away from the water it was hot. The whump from the shore formed itself into a noise from a band playing on a temporary stage on the foreshore. We threw the flippers down and sat on the grass amidst the fleeting audience. A couple of old rockers who must have been teenagers when the song was a hit were jiving in front. The sax player blew the break from I’m Walkin’ and the smell of barbecue drifted across the crowd. More flags everywhere. The lazy hum of holiday traffic on Point Nepean Road. Flags on stalks in their windows. Flags on their mirrors.
Flags? The Age, a newspaper that was once great, had reported – the day before Australia Day – some academic’s thesis that flags were racist.
Back on the pier now. Teenagers wearing flag bikinis; children wrapped in flag towels. Tom curved a line in the air and disappeared into the water. William followed. They surfaced. The whump with soaring sax came again. Something about a blue moon.
About that exact time on Australia Day, a mob of politicians and professional protestors were making childish ferals of themselves. Or is that feral children? It was like tantrum time at kindergarten, but without the cuteness.
About time governments and academics got the hell out of our lives.