Footprints, Pawprints and Spirits in the Sand: Winter Solstace At The Beach.

I AM FOREVER walking upon these shores,
Betwixt the sand and the foam,
The high tide will erase my foot-prints,
And the wind will blow away the foam.
But the sea and the shore will remain

Kahlil Gibran: Sand & Foam

Whenever I take my camera with me, a walk somehow turns into an adventure, as I see the world through my second eye.

This morning was no exception.

No sooner had I caught up with the other dog walkers, than I found out that last night was the June Winter Solstice. You see, like so much other things down here in the Southern Hemisphere, things are a bit topsy turvy and upside down. Or, indeed, the right way up depending on your perspective. While so many of you re feasting on Summer, it’s Winter Down Under.

Feasting on the details in the seascape. It was just incredible!

Feasting on the details in the seascape. It was just incredible!

Yet, the dog walkers were all pretty chuffed this morning. There we were enjoying the incredible sunshine in the middle of Winter, tossing our jumpers, coats, scarves to the four winds, while some of the more daring canines actually braved the surf without dipping in a pre-emptory paw first.

Winter? What Winter?

No paw dipping for Bilbo. He stayed well clear of the water...and the other dogs for that matter. He's the canine equivalent of a bloke standing alone holding his beer  in the corner at the pub.

No paw dipping for Bilbo. He stayed well clear of the water…and the other dogs for that matter. He’s the canine equivalent of a bloke standing alone holding his beer in the corner at the pub.

Although the day started out at a brusk 9 degrees Celsius, it rose to a glorious 20 degrees. Talk about spoiled! Indeed, I was.

Returning home, I started cogitating about the Winter Solstice, reading about festivals held overseas as well as scientific facts about the seasons and the rise and fall of the moon and the sun.

Even seaweed takes on an incredible beauty through my camera lens.

Even seaweed takes on an incredible beauty through my camera lens.

What with all this juggling of snippets, facts and reflection, I started wondering about the feet which used to walk along these shores not that long ago and what their traditions for the Winter Solstice might have been.

Aboriginal Language Map of Sydney.

Aboriginal Language Map of Sydney.

Our local area was home to the Guringai Australian Aboriginal tribe. This tribe stretched from the north side of Port Jackson, North through Pittwater, Broken Bay and Brisbane Water, to the southern end of Lake Macquarie.

Another fallen tree in the surf.

Another fallen tree in the surf.

In March 1788, just a couple of months after the English first settled at Sydney Cove, the first Europeans arrived in our local area when Governor Arthur Phillip landed with a party at Ettalong Beach. In June 1789, a more thorough investigation of Brisbane Water was conducted. A rest stop was made at Ettalong Beach before the group passed through ‘The Rip’ (a dangerous passage leading into Brisbane Water). On return, the party camped at Ettalong Beach before sailing to Dangar Island in the Hawkesbury River.

Here are a few quotations from that trip which appear on a a local plaque:

Plaque no 2.: “Monday 3rd March, 1788 When the tide had slacken’d we picked up and found several small inlets between mangroves on one of which island we stop’d and pitch’d the tents: had a very hard rain all the morning Lieut. Wm Bradley March, 1788”.

Plaque no 3.: “Tuesday, 4th While the tents and clothes were drying… a crab was caught and proved very good AM, at day light proceeded up… we found natives all the way up. Lieut. Wm Bradley March, 1788”.

Plaque no 4.: “This plaque was laid on the 3rd of March 1988 to commemorate the landing in this vicinity of Gov. Phillip, Lieut. Hunter and their party on 3rd March 1788”.

Feet…despite my love of history, I’ve never really considered whose feet I am following in as I walk with the dogs along the beach and chat to other dog walkers. By the time we arrive, there are hundreds of footprints in the sand and it’s no longer a fresh canvas.

However, these footprints dig deeper…Governor Phillip, the Guringai people… into a timeless land.

Turning back the clock even further, Aboriginal people observed the solstice long before Stonehenge was even a dream.

Found on a property near Mt Rothwell, 80km west of Melbourne, there’s an ancient Aboriginal sundial dubbed Wurdi Youang, which was built by the Wathaurung people before European settlement. CSIRO professors believe the ancient Aboriginal sundial could be more than 10,000 years old, an estimate that would have it pre-date the famous neolithic Stonehenge and the only remaining ancient wonder of the world, the Egyptian Pyramids.

CSIRO astrophysicist Professor Ray Norris said the precise alignment of the stones proved beyond a doubt it was constructed to map the movements of the sun, in order to track the seasons.

“What we have found with this stone arrangement, which is a circle of about 50m across, is it’s aligned east-west and what is really interesting is that if you stand at the top and look through this particular gap over the stones, you look at the exact position of where the sun sets on summer and winter solstices and at the spring and autumn equinoxes,” Prof Norris said.

“This can’t be done by guesswork. It required very careful measurements.

“If it goes back, let’s say, 10,000 years, that predates the Egyptians, the Pyramids, Stonehenge, all that stuff. So, that would indeed make them the world’s first astronomers.”

Head of Sydney University’s Koori Studies, Janet Mooney, said the discovery would be an inspiration for young Aborigines and help address what she claims is a fundamental oversight of the skill of the ancient race.

“This discovery has huge significance for understanding the amazing ability of this culture that is maligned,” she said.

So many stories have been etched into the sand, reading like a book.

So many stories have been etched into the sand, reading like a book.

I felt quite a sense of pride learning of these Aboriginal achievements. So often, I hear comments about how Australia has no history. That we only go back 227 years, as though Australia didn’t exist beforehand. Indeed, it was terra nullus…a blank sheet of paper just waiting for the English to start writing its’ story.

Not so. Definitely, not so!

Anyway, none of this crossed my mind as walked with the dogs this morning. All I was thinking about how good that sun felt and how blessed we are to live in an absolute paradise. Of course, this is totally forgetting about the dreary, wet days we had last week and it is this contrast against that cold gloom, that made today so much better. It isn’t like this every day!

So, now the march towards Spring and those scorchingly hot Australian Summers has begun and yet I’m sure you’ll understand why it’s so easy to fall in love with a sunny Winter’s day at the beach!

xx Rowena


Further reading About Wurdi Youang

A Blog About Aboriginal Astronomy:

13 thoughts on “Footprints, Pawprints and Spirits in the Sand: Winter Solstace At The Beach.

  1. Tails Around the Ranch

    All such lovely photos. Your beach photos do make one wonder about who was there before and what things were like for them, why they went walking there and what happened to them. Interesting ponderings!

  2. New Journey

    Hello or should I say Namaste!!! Its so funny I get on here and your talking about a time long ago….my husband and I just came over a 7104′ high pass from Montana to Idaho on Hwy # 93, all along the road there have been signs about historical events…we have been stopping and reading about what historical event we were at…being in the US our county is a little over 200 years old, but it is still exciting to think about the men and women who had to cut the trees and move the boulders so they could not only get up the steep mountain but do it again so they could get down the mountain…pretty intense work if you ask me…we so casually drive over the pass on paved roads in a vehicle, without a care about a tree in the road or a boulder that we might have to move. Let alone starting a fire to cook on…we shake our head and say a quiet thanks to those who cut the trail…..a couple years ago we took the Oregon trial route across the US. All we could do was shake out heads and were amazed at the extreme conditions that our forefathers had to deal with before us…many places we stopped, I closed my eyes and I swear I could hear the voices from long ago….how exciting for you to be able to step back 10,000 years….no matter where, all those that came before us were an extreme group of humans…highly intelligent and very resourceful….and I for one wish we would all stop for a minute and remember….what got us here…I enjoyed summer solstice in Montana along the Clearwater river, under the sun and clouds…a very peaceful day for us… love your pictures happy to know that someone else at the same time is thinking about what and who was once before….foot steps in the sand, or on the mountain floor….all the same in the end…thanks to those that made it possible for me to sit and send you a note over half way across the world……Happy Solstice, winter and summer

  3. Minuscule Moments

    Rowena interesting thoughts on a beautiful beach walk. Your mind is as deep as the ocean. I never knew about the sundial either. Thanks for sharing some wonderful moments in our history.

  4. merrildsmith

    Lovely photos and thanks for the history lesson, too. Of course, we have a similar situation here in the US, as there were many cultures here in the Americas before Europeans arrived, and then others that were wiped out from European diseases and wars. Also, the move to send convicts to Australia was, at least in part, because England could no longer send them to the US after that whole Revolution thing. 😉
    Happy Winter Solstice!

  5. Ferran

    Just as beautiful today, it was lovely too run into you on the beach. What fascinating history and a lovely poem too. Hooray for sunny Australian winters.

  6. roweeee Post author

    I was stoked to run into you too…a real sense of serendipity. I find it quite interesting to see who I run into down there as well as what the beach has thrown up overnight. Unfortunately, lately the trees seem to be baring the brunt of the ocean’s fury and are being swept away, buried in sand. It’s become quite a concern…especially as the sand is almost at the road! See you tomorrow night xx Ro

  7. roweeee Post author

    I was truly stoked to read about that. My aunt, Dr Anna Haebich, wrote the national history of the Stolen Generation and her partner Darryl Kickett was NAIDOC person of the Year in 2013. This has meant that although we’re not indigenous, we’ve had some “education”. I have heard first hand just how entrenched negative attitudes towards Aboriginal people can be so I was really stoked to find out about the sundial and its implications.
    Both my kids have identified as Aboriginal because of Uncle Darryl and it took a lot of explaining to convince them otherwise. I think they’re still hoping!
    On Monday after school, my son attended a didge workshop with Mingaletta and we were all stoked. It’s for the local indigenous kids but his friend went along and he seemed to fit in okay. I think these sort of belonging experiences will be good for him and this is what reconciliation is all about!

  8. roweeee Post author

    Thank you so much for your response. It’s more of a letter…a reply. I am fascinated by history and do a lot of family history where I try to walk in my ancestor’s shoes. My grandfather’s family were on the first two boats which came out to South Australia from Germany back in 1838 and were among the pioneers of the village of Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills. They used to walk their produce to market in Adelaide through rugged terrain. they ate snakes, goannas etc in those early years and it was very hard. I’m made of tough stuff even if it doesn’t always feel like it.
    Enjoying the Summer Soltsice in Montana is a world away and yet we’re linking by technology, the blog…words. Quite incredible, isn’t it!
    I ditto your best wishes for Happy Solstice, winter and summer xx Rowena

  9. roweeee Post author

    Thanks Monika. Walking really does get the brain into gear and I have some great chats down at the beach and it’s interesting to see who I bump into down there. Love it!

  10. Bob Worimi

    Dear all
    The word Guringai claimed as a tribe language or super tribe of the Northern Sydney to Newcastle NSW is fiction.

    My Family The real Guringai peoples and location Barrington , Port Stephens NSW “The Kabook and Watoo People”
    Funded by the Taxpayers. “Filling-a-Void-Guringai-Language-Review-2015.pdf”

    Click to access Filling-a-Void-Guringai-Language-Review-2015.pdf

    Telegraph Paper news papers

    Aboriginal paper NIT

    Kind regards
    Registered Aboriginal Owner of Worimi / Guringai Lands Port Stephens NSW
    Australian war veteran
    Bob Syron

  11. Rowena Post author

    Hi Bob,
    Thank you very much for contacting me and linking this up to such detailed factual knowledge. It is hard. You try to show respect and use material you believe to reflect something of Aboriginal culture and community but there are many pitfalls. I tend to believe that it’s better to make mistakes and stand corrected than it is to leave Aboriginal people out of our history and stories. I don’t have Aboriginal heritage myself but I do have family members and friends and would like things to change for the better.
    Best wishes,

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