This Priceless Life

(C) Julie Boyd         First published in The Australian newspaper

It is easy to recognise the locals during my daily walk on the beach. They’re the ones with the relaxed smiles on their faces who have the time to look you in the eye and say “G’day”. Although, these days, there is a little strain creeping into those smiles as the threats to our community grow.

During the past five years those friendly smiles and accompanying chats have healed me. So has my dog.

When I first moved to this tiny seaside village I was extremely ill, walking with the aid of two sticks. My closest friend had just lost her battle with cancer. So had her baby grandson and her mum. All died in the same week. My friend and I had been taking bets on which of us would go first.

I still wasn’t sure if I was coming here to live or die. I couldn’t walk to the beach, let alone help clean up the mess eft by thoughtless tourists. (To be able to do that now is my thanks). I knew no-one but oved the smallness, reminiscent of my birthplace, the magnificent estuarine wetlands and the long stretch of surf beach.

It had taken quite a search to find somewhere that fitted my physical limitations so perfectly. It is a quiet, affordable family camping holiday destination, beloved by many families who cannot afford other holidays, or who deliberately chose this experience for their kids. Some have been coming here for generations. Then, all my energy was focused on becoming well again. Now, I was take two hours to walk to my friend Trish’s house at the other end of my street for a cuppa, not because of my health but because of how close our community has become. The 500m walk means patting all the neighbourhood dogs that come out to greet us along the way as my own little furry healer wanders along sniffing all the familiar smells.

A word to Rick about the state of the wetlands as he runs past in his wetsuit for a quick surf between jobs. He’s a godsend mechanic who fixes everyone’s cars and will race up to led you a battery charger when needed. No charge, of course. Or a chat with old Mrs J, who has arthritis and is having trouble wit her knees, and her son’s dog, the one she’s looking after because her son can’t have him in the house he’s renting.

A moment to compliment Joan on her new hair colour and a few minutes spent with B. strategising our latest plan to save the placet. A chat to Mary, who has just moved here. She no longer feels the need to hide away, afraid of the wild surfer kids who live in the street, the ones who are fighting alongside us to save this beautiful place.

Then there’s Maddy, our community baby, who has just taken her first steps. We’re all very proud. My own kids live interstate and overseas but stay close thanks to technology. They love the place as much as I do.

These days my community has become my family, and, like any mum, I will fight any threats to it. We live simple lives here. We know what is important. Like me, anone who has had a near-death experience or two will tell you that the last thing on your mind before you start floating is your family, friends and community. The bank balance doesn’t rate a thought.

If you want to know what contentment feels like, I can certainly tell you, but you can’t buy it.

It’s priceless.