I Must Go Down to the Seas Again...
The child lying bellydown on a warm rockshelf, hypnotised by the surge of the waves. The fisherman peering down into the blue, waiting for a circling flank to appear. A surfer watching the horizon. A grandmother slipping into the cold shallows at dawn. Is there something that unifies these people? Something deep in the soul that wants to be fed, that’s more ancient and harder to define than the mere activity?
Do people need the sea in a way which transcends the every- day and the obvious?
Mick Sowry calls this need the “sea affected life”. Its consequences vary between people: for some, it’s enough to know in August that they’ll dig their toes in the warm sand in January. For others, the obsession runs deep, and will bring about life decisions which, on the face of it, look irrational. The day I finished reading James Hamilton- Paterson’s masterpiece Seven Tenths: The Sea and Its Thresholds, was the day I began withdrawing from the city. Every feeble excuse offered to the north wind ever since has fed the need to revisit the wellspring of the ocean. When I travel inland I feel like I’m holding my breath.
The point about ocean-addiction is that it starts and ends with the water. The ocean itself is the thing that issued the siren call, not the material add-ons and assets that surround it. You misheard the call if you thought mere baubles would sate you. The essence of the want, the answer to the call, lies in the water, beside the water, above and under the water. It is both littoral and literal, and in the end requires no more than bare feet and a squint.
Children somehow understand this. They bring shells home from the beach (they even bring unfortunate crabs home to expire on the kitchen bench) because they felt something great and unlimited there, and they want to hold the physical connection close. They love shipwreck stories because they ooze possibilities of treachery and treasure. They shudder at the idea of sharks because sharks are the perfect villains; whales and dolphins their counterpoint heroes. For children, the edge of the ocean is where our complete mastery of the world ends; everything beyond is imagination. And in that realm, their powers are equal to, or even greater than, their parents’. They want to create their grown-up selves out of the mystique of these feelings: a first wave, a first kiss, an endless day in the sun. And for the rest of us, the things we search for when we go to the ocean, and the things we bring home in our hearts, are profoundly personal.
This might only be my personal kind of madness. But it’s also possible that we all experience symptoms of the Sea Affected Life. Great Ocean Quarterly is our little experiment to test that notion. The idea was Mick’s, and he nurtured it for years, carrying it in his cupped hands like a fallen marsupial. A journal built around the tides of ideas - art, literature, photography, design, history and science - that wash our exposed coasts. From Ireland to Kiribati, Newfoundland to Dunedin, the ocean’s universal energy drives people to create. Mick felt it on the shores of Victoria’s west coast, but you can dunk a human in saltwater pretty much anywhere and they’ll emerge renewed.
Could we publish English poetry next to an account of a sub-Antarctic voyage, next to a feature on two long-dead American shark fishermen, between photo-essays on the Rip and the Apostle coast, next to wild fiction about sea creatures and lighthouse keepers? Could we delve inland, into the hills and rivers of this region, and even head off to faraway coasts to test the universality of these feelings? Would all of this cohere into something that does justice to the undercurrents of brilliance on these shores? The answer is in your hands.
18 Sense of Sea
56 54 Degrees South: A trip to Macquarie Island
& the Sub-Antarctic
61 A Delicate Eye
Hugo Muecke & Mick Sowry
72 Storming the Rip
Jon Frank & Mark Willett
100 The Charter Client
22 Uncommon Ideals
26 The Sea Guinanes (Part 1)
92 Nine Men’s Morris
36 The Church of the Open Sky - Shane Howard at St Brigid’s Church Crossley
98 Too High - Lorne vs Birregurra
108 Bounty - Glen Loch Apple Cider
& Brae Restaurant
114 The Marengo Blues Companion