92 Days of Winter: Swimming, Walking & Watching at Cape Paterson’s Bay Beach

The Bunurong / Boon Wurrung people of the Eastern Kulin are the traditional owners of the lands and seas in which this work was developed. Their sovereignty was never ceded. It is, and will always be, aboriginal land. I acknowledge and pay my respects to indigenous elders past, present and emerging.

92 Days of Winter is a work-in-progress mixed media experiment conducted in is the place that I live – Cape Paterson, on Victoria’s south east coast.

Each day of the 2020 COVID winter (and numerous times since) I left the warmth of home, meandered through sleepy streets, over the dunes, down to the same secluded stretch of sand that marks the threshold between shore and sea. Once there, I walked the vacant coastline, dove into the bracing cold and swam in the sea. Each and every day of this elongated winter, all ninety-two of them, I returned to the same place, in search of something different.

The shoreline I visited is a place of my adolescence and now my adulthood; Cape Paterson’s Bay Beach, an unobtrusive section of coast in the heart of a quiet seaside village. It is a place that elicits fuzzy recollections of sunburnt skin, chapped zinc smeared lips, and dawdling fishing. Memories of swimming, drinking, kissing and fighting.

It is also a spot for quiet consideration, sitting in tussocked dunes, for long walks and for rockpooling. Its waters offer escape from lingering heat, and in summer the place buzzes with kids and oldies. Winters are wild seas and deserted shores. Irrespective of the season, it is a swimming place, a walking place, a thinking place on the edge of the ocean.

Each person has a different methodology for how they deal with disruption – so in a time when a pandemic has trailed summer firestorms and smouldering dirt – it has made sense to clutch for the familiar. As a saltwater person, one born of this coast, I turned to the water and the sand in search of reassurance.

At this bedrock place, I have tried to make some sense of the grim new realities that beset us all. Each day, I have immersed myself in icy waters, walked and watched. Then, with an old Polaroid camera found in a junk shop, I have photographed something of this place. An image that I then annotated with reflections and provocations based on something noticed. Be that jagged shores or bitter south westerlies.

Ross Gibson’s of notion of memoryscopes, Greg Denning’s call for ‘representation through intimacy’, Stephen Muecke’s description of ‘respectful visitation’ and Val Plumwood’s writings on the ecological oppositions manifest in place have provides theoretical sounding boards for this process. 

Those images – 92 inscribed portraits of place – form a diary of sorts, one that both documents and reflects. A chronicle marking time spent at a local beach throughout a winter of global discontent.

I have completed this ritual as a way to reconnect, to reorient, to see this place, and the world, through a different lens. I hoped that time spent in cold water and on lonely sands would build a literacy of place.

The conclusion of winter saw me in possession of a new personal archive, a collections of imprints and fragments including: 92 annotated polaroids – each capturing a different aspect of this place – one for every day of the season; an additional 48 polaroids – extra images, photo failures and damaged shots – some annotated, others not; I also amassed a collection of 62 Instagram posts – an act I ceased when a State of Disaster was announced here in Victoria; and approximately 25,000 words of written reflections on the place, its history, its memories and it’s aspects.

Since then, I have reworked and edited the prose and a selection of images into a photo essay. I have also started experimenting with creating short multimedia vignettes combining the polaroids with spoken word reflections.