The Fourth River

Essay: “Senses of South Arm”

By on March 17, 2017

A collaboratively-written meditation on place from Issue 14, Juvenescence

By ‘Waratah’ – Grade 5/6 South Arm Primary School, Australia


In the dawn, you can hear birds as you’re waking. It’s so quiet you can hear the trees bristling together. When you walk on the rocks at the beach with your friends and it’s really windy, it sounds like something’s going to break, like smashing glass. It’s scary and relaxing at the same time. There are thunderstorms so loud they make the windows shake. Seagulls and cockatoos and pacific gulls are circling this small piece of land with a lot of water. There’s noisy rock’n’roll music played badly from the next street over but sometimes you can hear the waves like low moving tree branches, like ghosts whispering on the wind. When there’s a big swell and you go down to check it, you can hear the waves booming and the seagulls in a choir, singing in different pitches even though they’re trying to sing the same song. When you go underwater everything goes quiet, muffled, there’s seems to be no one else in the world and you’re almost lonely. Almost. There is sleep-talking in the night. When you’re asleep in the car and can hear your sister, hitting you on the legs, saying, ‘Wake up!’ When you’re the first person awake there’s no sound in the house, you’d rather be asleep but you’re up already. Or you sleep in, getting your beauty sleep and feeling peaceful, when your dad comes in with a microphone and guitar and plays the worst thing in the world to try and wake you. And it’s only 7.30am. At the jetty there is the roar of the motor, sea spray splashing your face and you feel like you don’t need to worry about anything. At cross-country, there is the sound of the gun at the start of a race, it gives you a bit of a shock but you’re pumped! In crazy weather, the wind bashing at the roof makes it seem like the whole building might fall down. On a warm day, it sounds like the sun is singing just for you and no one else can hear it. And it’s quiet, when all the kids are at school.

When you’re walking down to check the surf, the air feels like it’s just come out. You feel the sand between your toes when you’re building castles on the beach, the grains sticking to your arms when you’re buried in it and stinging pins when it blows hard against your legs in the wind. It feels cold when you’re fishing on the rocks with a lead weight in the palm of your hand, waiting to be cast; like slimy fish guts and wet scales flying when you fillet a catch. You feel free when you see that wave come to you and you dive underneath and water whooshes over your body. It feels sticky and melty when you wax your surfboard on a hot day. There’s the air going through your hair, hitting your face and legs when you stand on the surfboard, cold water rushing down your back. When you wipeout you feel like you’ve hit bricks, scared you’ll be under there forever, bouncing off the sea floor with your butt. When you just make it over one of those big sets and it sucks you back over the falls, you feel free for just a second before being pulled back under. When you’re floating on your stomach and the waves glides over you, you can feel nice, soft fingers rippling down your back. When you’re lying down and can sense a wave coming, it feels like it might break your face. You feel energetic and refreshed when you’re snorkelling, when you see all those colours it feels like they’re inside you as well, emptying you out and filling you back up again. When you run into seaweed it’s like slimy octopus tentacles but nothing is holding you back anymore because you can breathe under water, you can swim for longer than normal. It feels like you’re a giant intruding on another world you don’t know about, like you’re reading a book and you don’t want to stop. It feels like you’re Poseidon. But if water comes into your snorkel, you just feel thirsty. When you come off your kayak into cold water, you feel scared the anchor will come out of the sand and it’s going to float out to sea. When you’re walking it can feel scratchy on your legs and feet with ferns and cutting grass. When you skate it feels frustrating because there’s not enough space, there’s men and women walking dogs and you need to swerve and get on and off your board – when you do get a proper run you feel… ‘Finally!’ You’re happy and nervous. You are one with the board. You feel shocked and scared when wildlife run in front of the headlights because you don’t want to take a life. At the beach run, when you turn at the marker and see the end and think it’s going to take forever, you feel like you want to collapse, feel dry lungs, persistence and exhaustion. And then there’s that feeling of being half asleep and half awake and your dog licks you in the face.

It’s all greens and blues, yellow for the sand and brown from the tree trunks and the dead, long grass. The sky is pale silver. There’s the maroon and white and grey of the school uniform, looking like a tree got a bit confused. When you’re at the beach first thing in the morning and the sun is rising, it’s pink, yellow, red and orange all mixed in together. You can see the jetty – brown or grey or white, depending on the light – there are rock pools, rocks in general, houses, beach houses, man-made boxes, big mansions and little shacks. People are having fun playing together in their yards and in the park and at the beach. When you’re driving along the neck and look out across the morning at Mount Wellington, it’s a perfect picture. When you drive in and see the Anzac memorial and the wreaths from Anzac Day, it’s colourful on the body but plain on top and there’s sadness for those people who went to war and didn’t come back. There are piano keys and alien-like fingers flowing over them. Art and craft at home, fabric and glue and paintbrushes and mess. You see a soccer ball coming towards you and feel nervous about if you can kick it or not. As you drive you see animals hit by cars and black birds pecking at them. And sometimes when you walk through South Arm, you see no one at all. It feels weird, like everyone’s left and you’re the only one there. It looks like a rainbow has fallen and scattered all over the ground.

It tastes like crisp new apples, locally grown pink eye potatoes, salt and seaweed. It’s dry but a little damp at the same time and hard to explain. There is salt in the air close to the beach. There are fish and chips at Ye Olde South Arm Store and the taste of petrol in the air there too. On Wednesday night you can eat rump steak at the RSL. When you eat a fish you just caught, you taste satisfaction. There’s a particular taste of flathead that you’ve just squeezed a whole wedge of lemon over. When you eat hot chips at the beach, you’ll get the taste of sand in your mouth too. Sometimes you eat something, then something else that’s not a good combination and you have a weird taste in your mouth that you don’t really want. It tastes like people have been living and breathing here for a long time.

It smells like salt water and hot chips. It smells like a rainbow because there are so many different smells at once – salty, happy, disgusting. There are rotten farts from a certain someone and stiff barracuda when you pull it out of the bucket when you didn’t know it was there. Sometimes it smells like dead whales and seals. It doesn’t happen often but when it does it is putrid and the smell catches the back of your throat. You gag and it smells like rotten fish, magnified. There is takeaway cooking at the shop and bitter oil fills the air. After a big storm, the seaweed gets pushed up the shore and if you go near it, it smells like meat that’s started to turn. When you pat your dog and smell your hand, sometimes it smells like your dog rolled in poo before jumping into a rock pool that someone weed in. Gutting a fish smells… just… blurgh. There’s gas and petrol when your next-door neighbour doesn’t light their bonfire properly. And the stinging smell in the back of your throat from chimneys when fires are first being lit. There’s putrid cigarette smoke and you want to hold your breath until you’re really far away – the smell of smokers’ breath feels like death and it is. Then there’s the smell of a gum leaf-eating possum that lives in your chimney and the grubby, tacky fingers of little kids after they’ve been playing in the playground at lunchtime. There are people cooking dinner. Bacon carbonara frying in the pan. Barbequed sausages, the cheap fatty ones. You can smell the charcoaled meat patties from the night before on the BBQ plate when it’s turned on again in the morning. There’s a freshly mown lawn wet grass smell, like it’s just washed itself and laid down. There’s the smell of rain when you’re outside with the wet soil and trees, its earthy scent reminds you of the rainforest. In the morning, if you get up early, there’s the freshness of damp dew that’s settled overnight and it feels relaxed and alive and full of potential. It smells like a new day.



The Grade 5/6 students of South Arm Primary School have been part of a writing program exploring their sense of space and place in their local community. South Arm is a small village in Tasmania, Australia, at the bottom of the world – surrounded by big skies, clean air, beaches, and bushland.