thomas m wilson

Fremantle Wildlife

February 13th, 2009

The last few days in Fremantle have been very, very hot – too hot!  The hot suburbs of a Perth suburb in February are enough to make anybody vapid.  The other night I rode my bike down to Bather’s Beach, a beach in the middle of Fremantle.  I was alone and I trod across the warm sand and then down into the area where the water laps the beach.   Although it was 7.30 it was a still and very hot evening.  I dropped my shoulders under the water and started to swim out towards the west.  I dove down and resurfaced.  After five minutes a dolphin suddenly slid its fin out of the water twenty metres away from me, further out to sea.  The fin glistened in the dying light, and then dropped below the surface again.  Without much thought I started to swim quickly out to sea towards it.  As I got towards it I started to swim underwater. There was a slight nebulous fear about transgressing the boundaries of personal space between our species – a not-knowing what happens when you quickly approach Bottle-nosed dolphins underwater in the dusk as a lone swimmer.  But pushing through and past this fear was part of the exhilaration of the experience.  I knew that I wanted to be close to this wild and beautiful Other under the water, and I made it happen.  In a split second I was swimming quickly out to sea and diving down a few metres below the surface.  And then, in the grey underwater light of late evening in Fremantle, without a mask on, I saw a lighter shape out in front of me towards the bottom and heard a high-pitched sequence of querulous sonar beeps.  “Hallo, who are you?”  Seemed to say the sentient Other in the misty atmosphere before me.  There were no other dolphins in the area as far as I could see, so why would this fellow be making vocal signals just as he came into proximity with me?  But the piquancy of this sudden burst of cryptic and alien communication came to me like fresh air.  It was like fresh air coming into a room made stale by human breath.  I started to swim with the large being, dropping down to the bottom and stroking my way forward towards it and past it.  I popped up now and again with wide-eyed excitement.  All day I had been reading about the slow but steady depredations on nature in south-west Australia by white people over the previous century, and to finish this hot summer day with a sudden and unexpected encounter with a large, wild mammal in the sea, five minutes bike ride from where I live was a joy, a needed joy.  I came home to my house feeling revived by an encounter with slippery, muscular extra-human reality.  I came home to my house feeling reassured by the continuing presence of the wild.