It is Sunday afternoon and Williamstown Beach is a melting pot in the rare, withering heat of this year’s Melbourne summer, which has so far paid little heed to global warming. A multiculturalist’s dream is stretched upon the sand. Down at the high-water mark, a Chinese couple is parked with their Esky, she brandishing a white-bread sandwich to lure their kids from the shallows, him draped in a beach towel that is also the Australian flag. Their children aren’t interested in curtailing the fun of poking at a beached jellyfish; their cries of delight and mock terror mingling with the screech of gulls so that it is hard to tell how much of the flat-vowelled screeching is avian or human.
A couple of reed-thin Africans amble past – Somalis, perhaps, or maybe Eritreans from nearby Footscray, where you can buy lounge suites with vast armchairs that look for all the world like tribal chieftains’ thrones and some of the churches preach their sermons in Dinka.
Over to the left, an elderly couple who you guess hailed long ago from Southern Europe. New Australians they would once have been called and there can be little doubt about that. He is short and round and wombat-necked, his shoulders and back a carpet of greying body hair that speaks of Greece or Italy.
And over to the right, a knot of Muslims, the men in board shorts and bare chests, the solitary woman in Koranic swimming attire – ankle-length trousers, hijab and some species of voluminous shawl that hangs limp and wet atop yet even more bolts of fabrics. Poor thing, you think, having earlier watched as she struggled from the water in that broad acreage of soggy drapery.
But they seem happy enough, gabbling and laughing, the woman included. If there is a cause for a concern, it hangs over everyone on the beach, regardless of origin and ethnicity. The afternoon’s blue skies are vanishing behind a mattress of low, dark cloud rolling in from the Bay. You can feel a storm brewing and that may well mean one of Melbourne’s infamously sudden drops in temperature, with the pelting rain and lightning that so often go with them.
Indeed, there is a distant rumble, but it could not be thunder because it comes out of the north and grows louder with every second: a Qantas jumbo is climbing out of Tullamarine. The plane is now overhead and banking to the east, setting its course for Godknowswhere. There is not yet need to fret about gathering up the towels and baskets in a sudden, wind-whipped barrage of stinging sand.
Just like everyone else, the Middle Eastern clan notices the low-flying jetliner, and one of the bearded men says something that makes his companions smile.
Then, as the plane cuts its arc above the water, he raises both arms as if to mime the shooting of a rifle, sights the jetliner with a pair of lined-up upraised thumbs and squeezes an imaginary trigger.
There are more smiles as the red tail and its flying kangaroo diminish in the distance. Just another day in multicultural Melbourne.
(Note: Those curious about Islamic teachings on beach wear will find the link below enlightening.)
— Roger Franklin