Balmoral Dreaming

Favourite Wife and I visited our very favourite haunt last week. Balmoral, in Sydney’s glorious harbour.

My Favourite Wife under our Favourite Tree on our Favourite Beach.

A full half-century ago we were children on Balmoral Beach. We were not to meet for many more years, but it is within the bounds of possibility that we passed one another. Passed, because we could not have done otherwise, belonging as we did at opposite ends of the beach. Balmoral Beach is the southern end, where our tribe of boys belonged; Edwards beach is the northern end, where she and her sisters were frequently taken for family picnics. For us it was only a walk by footpaths or bush tracks, and the “Clifton Street Gang” of a dozen or so neighbours owned the beach. The southern end of the beach at any rate; the northern end we visited infrequently because we felt so strange there, so out of place. And, besides, there were girls up there.

The Clifton Street Gang, Christmas 1972
“The Clifton Street Gang” photographed by my uncle in 1972.

But memory is an famously unreliable witness. So much of both our pasts is anchored in the shallow water and glorious sands of Balmoral, but we return there as strangers: knowing, but unknown. When we visit our beach we both experience such a flood of memories that it intimidates our sense of the present. In nostalgia one’s thoughts are prone to race in wide arcs of comparison. Then and now. Us and them. Fancies of what might have been. Great embellishments of what actually was.

The signal danger of nostalgia, one to which I fall prone, lies in forgetting that the past was once the present. And that distant ‘present’ was as laden with hopes, joys and fears, with inspirations and intimidations as today’s present is.

I have a peculiar folly: in the blink of an eye I can create alternate histories for myself that spring from a different choice made at some crucial moment. Suddenly, immersed in wistful memory, I see an entirely different path I might have taken; a different profession, and different location, a different whatever-I-want. The tragedy, of course, is that this wild imagining denies the goodness of the present moment I actually live in. Every good gift life has given me, and there are too many to count, evaporates as my imaginary castle of sand on Balmoral Beach grows. But I have learned to avoid this quick sand, by and large.

One of my favourite quotes is this:

“God reveals himself to us as our life”

I got that quite wrong!

“God comes to us disguised as our life”     – Paula D’Arcy.

I don’t know who it comes from, but I believe it’s truth. It’s meaning is slow to emerge, but give it some thought. The past may have been a gift of enormous value, but the present moment alone is the gift. It is now that matters, now that we decide, now that we act, now that we love or hate, now that we hurt of heal, now that we fear or love.







4 thoughts on “Balmoral Dreaming

  1. Lynn Hatfield

    Dear Rod,
    Only last week I thought I must contact you & here is your Rejoice! Thank you again for all the wisdom it contains. I agree that the gift is the present and we need to give thanks for that. We really did enjoy your visit and hope it will not be too long before we see you and Karen again.
    Our Hatfield family reunion is planned for 4th March after Monty arrives back so it will be interesting to see him and hear of his travels.
    With love to you and Karen,

  2. I too have beautiful childhood memories of both ends of Balmoral but particularly, when younger, swimming in the shelter of the rock pool at the northern end.
    Perhaps we also passed each other then?
    Hope you enjoyed your visit.
    Anne Marie

  3. Hi Lyn, thanks for your message. I’ve just heard that Monty is heading home soon, that must be quite exciting for Peter and Lynda. We hope to see you again soon, maybe May. – R.

  4. It’s entirely possible Anne Marie. I find it really odd how foreign the northern end still feels to me, and how the southern end feels like part of my home. I hope we might pass each other somewhere else soon. If you ever drive to Melbourne, do call in.

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