The Big Rock
If you didn’t know, N and I were on our Honeymoon in Australia when Covid got serious. We had to cut the trip short to keep from being stranded, and we promised each other a do-over...but I’m getting away from the path; that’s not the story.
On what was unexpectedly our last day in the antipodes, the emotional exhaustion had taken root. Yet, we were both compelled to find some way to cram another ten days of sightseeing and cultural immersion into a few short hours. We somewhat heatedly discussed how we could solve this problem over breakfast, and cooler heads prevailed.
The best thing to do, we decided, would be to go to Bondi Beach and get good and drunk.
So, at 10:30 AM AEDT on a Tuesday, we found our way to a wine bar (aptly called The Bucket List) which offered outdoor tables and a panoramic view of Bondi Beach. We immediately ordered a bottle of wine, put our feet up, and took to the task of trying really hard to chill out.
One of the many reasons N and I are a good match is because we are similarly comfortable with quiet. The waves came up and down the beach. In the distance, we could hear surfers yelling at each other. The occasional car would drive by, but there were no other people near us. It was just, quiet. I broke the silence first.
“Every person here is tan,” I said, in a slight indulgence of frustration and self loathing.
“And fit! Everyone is.” she added. “It’s clearly a thing.”
“How is it that every last person is dark and hot?”
I’m watching a couple who look like they just came from shooting the cover of Buff, Bronze, and Bitchin’ Monthly: Our Annual Skimpy Formfitting Athleticwear Edition walking on the other side of the street. FYI, if you decide to take a visit to Bondi Beach, leave your self-image issues at home. They will serve you not.
We moved on to other subjects while we finished our first bottle. Flights. Budgets. Covid. Trump. Economy. Family. Eventually, we moved to the next decision.
In question was not whether we would have another bottle, but if we would take a stroll before that bottle was ordered. The walk was the right way to go.
She picked up her pack, I grabbed my camera bag, and we headed East along the beach. It wasn’t very far before the beach gave way to a rocky crag that runs below what are likely some very expensive houses. Looking off to the end of the rocks, I could see a giant square-ish rock that absolutely did not belong there.
“So, you have to go out there,” N says.
“Of course I do.”
“Mind if I don’t?”
“I’ll always find you.”
I take my ‘big’ camera out of my pack and sling it so that if I slip, I might break a wrist or a rib, but I won’t hurt my glass. I start out toward the edge along the rocks looking at the little pools and puddles as I make sure I’m not stepping into a wedge or a pocket. Flora and fauna in the tidal pools are beautiful, but I choose not to take pictures of such things (this saves other people from intense boredom later).
I was stepping over a divide between two big rocks when someone yelled at me.
I look up. The voice came from closer to the water along the rocks.
It’s the guy from the Buff, Bronze, & Bitchin’ couple.
He’s holding up his cell phone. The woman is a few steps behind him, determining what pose will enable the wind to look great in her hair. I’m already dreading this a bit.
“Hey, you look like you know what you’re doing. Would you … could you … take a few pictures of us? Maybe a video?”
I’ve been here before.
“Oh. Of course I can. Happy to help out.”
When someone asks you to take their picture using their cell phone, here is what you do. Take the first pic without telling them anything. Next, in the case of a couple, tell them to get much closer together and take another. Third, if necessary, casually tease them to get even closer—this is when the hug or the kiss usually comes naturally. Now they’re as relaxed as they’ll likely get. Quickly frame them on a third with the background, burst shutter, go high and wide, ¾, and close up. Hand the phone back and move along.
I follow this routine to the letter. Being honest with you, this couple needed no direction at all. But, on the very last step of the process, the guy is not taking his phone back as I hold it out.
“Could we…ahm, could we get a video?”
On the outside, I say, “Suuure!” and on the inside, I say, “Oh, come the FUCK on!?”
I took a few steps back and squinted through the glare to be sure the phone was in video mode. Holding it just above my eyes, I put the horizon on a third, and hit record…and the couple just stood there awkwardly. Not a problem; there’s a script for this too.
“Ok, where did you two meet? How long ago was that? Who was more nervous? What do you think of [where we are now]? Who at home is going to watch this? How do you feel about them? Give them a wave and a shout.”
They met at a trade show in France. She’s an event planner. He’s in sales. That was four years ago. He moved to Sydney to be with her. They love it here. She loves him. He loves her. I’m just here for the camera work.
You might be super duper sharp, dear reader, but I am not. Thus, I was taken entirely off guard when the guy reached into his pocket and got down on one knee.
I genuinely don’t remember what they said to each other after that. I only recall telling (maybe yelling at) myself to stay as quiet and calm as possible. Let the moment happen. Get the shot. Leave everything else alone.
The natural end of the moment arrived. I stopped the video, congratulated them both, and handed the phone back. Once you give the phone back, move along.
In another few seconds, I was on my way back toward the big rock at the end of the cliff wall.
The Big Rock
(I found out later that this was its actual name)
Common belief holds that the 235-ton rock was kicked up from the ocean floor and onto the cliff during a monsoon in 1912. Additional explanations range from a theory that the rock fell from above, to that it was already there long before the monsoon.
In 1971, an ambitious sculptor placed two bronze mermaids on top of the rock, after which The Big Rock became known as Mermaid Rock. One mermaid was washed out to sea in 1974. The second lost an arm and her tail, and was removed in 1976. Over time, the mythological name faded away, and the more self-descriptive name returned.
Do not mess with The Big Rock.
Walking back toward the beach, a guy with Maori tattoos flags me over and asks if the whole thing with the couple was a setup of some kind. They had walked by him on their way back. He overheard her playfully accusing her fiancé that the whole thing had to have been an elaborate plan.
I spotted Noelle sitting in the shade of the cliff wall between two overturned rowboats. She could see me the whole time.
“Did you have fun?” she asked with a smirk. She’s been party to the ‘would you take our picture’ routine a hundred times.
“Yeah. I really did not see that coming.”
“Did you take their picture with your camera?”
“No.” I honestly hadn’t even considered it. “Maybe I should have? After he took the ring out, all I could think of was not to overthink it – just be quiet and don’t become a bad part of their story.”
My wife took my hand and squeezed it. We bumped into each other sideways, the way we do, and I told her the whole story as we walked back to The Bucket List. We ordered the second bottle of wine, but this time we didn’t complain about people. We didn’t bring up politics or money or the world that was waiting for us the next day.
Instead, we listened to the ocean coming in and out. We enjoyed the cold sweetness of the wine and watched people go by. Quiet. I was with her, she was with me, and we left everything else alone.