Look Back On: Drowning

I know it seems a morbid subject, but ever since I found myself sitting on Tasmania’s memorial to the drowned (Tamanian Sefarer’s Memorial in Triabunna on Tasmania’s East Coast) a few years ago, I have thought a lot about the poor souls who have succumbed to the trap of water. Somehow – especially given my home is by a river on the coast of an island off the south coast of the world’s biggest island (I know that from those Bacardi ads on the telly in the 90’s), it seems really dumb that we don’t have gills to save us, and here in Tassie, some seal-like skin.

Anyway, back to Triabunna, I was waiting impatiently for my family to buy sausage rolls at the bakery when I realised the low brick wall I was sitting on carried a heap of plaques and was shaped like a fish. I began to read. Here were the stories of those wrecked, swept away, drowned or missing in Tasmanian waters. I became lost in the frightening, cold world of those lost at sea. When I finished reading and returned to dry land, the sausage rolls were bought, eaten, my family were waiting for me and I felt all warm and grateful, sort of like when you’ve showered and dressed after a winter wet-suited water ski (from which my maturity [okay, age] these days prohibits). I wiped away tears but I remember the stories…of fishermen and sailors, travelers, naval crew dating right back to the early days of sailing when whole ships went down with all on board.

There is the story of the Hobart based yacht the Charleston that was lost in 1979 on her way to Sydney to begin the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. I was too young to remember the tragedy but remember some of those family members left behind. They are still wondering. No trace of the yacht of its crew have ever been found.

Of course I remember clearly the storm that claimed the lives of 6 yachtsman in the 1998 Sydney to Hobart. There is a plaque for them.

In 1959 a cargo ship called the Blythe Star sank off South West Cape. Despite a huge air search the vessel could not be located. 7 of her crew were found on the Tasman Peninsula (not far from where I sit now), 11 days after the vessel’s disappearance. 3 drowned. Here is the amazing story on the news at the time (was telly ever really this dodgy?)…

And in 1845, the Cataraqui, a British Baroque sailing ship sank in Bass Straight in 1845 en route to Victoria carrying 369 emigrants and 41 crew. It crashed into rocks just off King Island. With 400 lives lost it is Australia’s worst civil maritime disaster.

But Tasmanian waters aside, do you know that while our politicians have been friggin’ about over Asylum Seeker Policy for the last 4 years, nearly 1000 boat people have drowned? With today’s bill passed in the House of Reps just an hour or so ago, and the senate looking like it will give it the big nod, I really hope these unnecessary drownings will stop.

And putting political stuff aside now, in a few months it will also be 4 years since the drowning of our close family friend James Bennett. He was lost after being pulled into white water in a Queensland swimming hole. His larrikin, easy-going nature will be long remembered. James was a naval officer, a diver and a longtime water lover. If anyone could survive an incident in water he could; so clearly the forces he was up against were exceptionally strong. I like to think that – given his diving background – he felt no panic or pain, but rather felt at home under the water. I like to believe the rumours that drowning is a peaceful – even euphoric – way to die. Because you deserve that James, you really do. And you deserve one of those beautiful sirens – those ones who call sailors to their deaths with their song – to take you in and keep you loved for evermore. And I hope she has big boobies because I bet you were a boobs man. I know you won’t mind me saying that.

In fact, there is a Tim Buckley song I really love about sirens. Maybe I’ll sing it, for James and for all the people who have drowned or are missing at sea, everywhere, all over the world.

Hmm, maybe I’ll sing it, record it and post it here. Actually it was one of my blog goals when I started Megoracle to do a singing post, and I think I’ve been blogging for about a year. Let me check…yep, my first post was 15th of August last year, which makes TODAY Megoracle’s 1st birthday!! Oh so glad I checked. Right, no time like today for my first ever singing post. Hold on…

Rightio, I’ve done a hasty recording of Tim Buckley’s Song to the Siren – my very flawed version based on the one done by the Cocteau Twins. I would have planned and rehearsed more but I have to pick up the children and it’s not Megoracle’s birthday much longer, not that this is much of a birthday song, just the marking of a milestone – a goal post.

My web cam mic has given me an Ita lisp, plus I’ve only just started playing the guitar so don’t hold the lack of skills against me either, disclaimers over. Importantly it comes from my heart for all those drowned. PRESS HERE TO LISTEN.

Here are the lyrics given that the audio is so shite:

Long afloat on shipless oceans 
I did all my best to smile 
’til your singing eyes and fingers 
Drew me loving to your isle 
And you sang 
Sail to me 
Sail to me 
Let me enfold you 
Here I am 
Here I am 
Waiting to hold you 

Did I dream you dreamed about me? 
Were you hare when I was fox? 
Now my foolish boat is leaning 
Broken lovelorn on your rocks, 
For you sing, ‘touch me not, touch me not, come back tomorrow: 
O my heart, o my heart shies from the sorrow’ 

I am puzzled as the newborn 
I am troubled at the tide: 
Should I stand amid the breakers? 
Should I lie with death my bride? 
Hear me sing, ‘swim to me, swim to me, let me enfold you: 
Here I am, here I am, waiting to hold you.

James “Jimmy the Juicer” Bennett.

Categories: HistOracles, SongStressing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. What a very interesting post!

    • Thanks Lois – I see you live by the sea too. Does it inspire your work? PS As a child I spent six months in Grantchester just outside Cambridge. Do you know it? I think of it often, possibly the rose tinged thoughts of a child, and would love to go back. We walked in the Gog Magog hills. I still laugh at that name (although I shouldn’t, we have a hill here called Brown’s Nob).

      • I do know Grantchester very well; my friend had a canoe and we would often go along the river there… I was also in a swimming club which every year had swimming races along the River Granta. Gog and Magog were two giants apparently… and yes, I know the hills too!
        The sea does inspire me… but in my mind I always think of the North Antrim coast in Ireland… there the sea is clear and blue and with lots of waves; because we’re on an estuary although the water is technically clean it is also rather muddy. I wrote about the sea in my novel Farholm!

  2. Lovely song and lovely sentiments. When I was younger I nearly drowned three times and one time needed reviving. My mother insists that I am to meet my death lured by the siren call of the water (like Fish Lamb in Cloud Street). As a result I love the water, am taken with the smell of the ocean, the sound of the waves. My song is “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison and will be played at my funeral. “We were born before the wind, also younger than the sun ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic. Hark now hear the sailors cry, smell the sea and feel the sky, let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic”. Water is a calm, ageless energy but can be fickle and cruel. I am determined not to meet my fate as decreed but to perhaps just float away on a boat to the sounds of the waves instead… lovely idea though.
    PS Loved the song so much named my daughter Bonnie!

    • Thanks Deb. I didn’t know Into The Mystic but am listening to it now as I type. Beautiful lyrics. I live close enough to the ocean to hear the waves and I have a long, fearful fascination with it. It pops up often in my writing. I made a short film last year called A Quiet Tomorrow which is about this very thing – the pull of the ocean. Yes, like Fish Lamb. There is an element of it in Tim Winton’s other book, Breath – which went on to get a bit sexually weird unfortunately. I hope you get your boat wishes! Thanks for your comment.

  3. Ha! I tried an email response to this the other day -apparently it didn’t work. Just wanted to say I loved your song – Cocteau Twins version is one of my all-time favourite songs. Well done for doing it, and for sharing it. Keep up the good work!

  4. Meg, just popped on to listen to your ‘angry song’ that I’ve heard so much about, loved it by the way! and kept looking down the page and found this post. Your words are beautiful and speak of things I often think. The photo made me smile and remember happy times too. Hope you are well. Alice x

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