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Better than Paradise: Coolangatta Gold

The pleasures of a surfing town. In Coolangatta on the Gold Coast, the diamonds are scattered out to sea.

Underneath a thousand miles of sky
I watch the waves come tumblin’ down

Capricorn dancer
I’m riding to shelter
Show me a sign
Lead me on to the tropical zone

Capricorn Dancer, Richard Clapton’s 1976 ode to healing hippie counterculture makes a list: Gypsies riding from wonderland; sounds that ease his trouble mind; diamonds scattered out to sea; and, a metaphor straight from the heart of flower power: “Ah, I see the water flow”.

We made an unintended trek through the tropical zone, from Byron Bay up to Surfers Paradise and finally back down to Coolangatta. Cooly the most. Strangely, I think I like Coolangatta best. It’s Byron that Clapton loves — in Blue Bay Blues he sings: “Janie, see how good the sky looks today, I’ll bet they’re having fun up in Byron Bay”.

Cooly — pop. 5000, named after a shipwreck — is a surfing town. Like a ski resort, there is only one reason you are there: to ski or not to ski, that’s the only question. Cooly is sort of midway between the crass hypertrophy of Surfers (see previous post) and Byron’s upmarket hip. Coolangatta, QLD, is twinned with Tweed Heads, NSW, so we were regularly time travelling over the border: Woolies is just across the street and an hour later, in NSW. Cooly, a semi-shabby coastal town with a few hirise rental apartments, is where greater Brisbane starts — it strings against Tugun and Currumbin (and a dream of elsewhere: Palm Beach, Miami, Mermaid Beach); the buildings don’t stop for the hour’s drive up to Brisvegas.

In Cooly people walk around with surfboards and wetsuits. There are no shopping opportunities, no gambling palaces, no gourmet options (it’s a struggle to find any kind of food after 8:30 pm), no spiritual retreats, no daylight saving. There is only surf.

The sea is an exquisite shade warmer than at Byron, like cool jade on a hot day. Lolling in the Coral Sea you can turn east to gaze upon the enchanting outcrop of Greenmount Hill, or turn north to see floating on the horizon the unexpected skyline of Surfers — a scifi fantasy, a distant beautiful spectre.

A man is standing on the waves. No, he is standing on the board and wielding a paddle and climbing the crest. He looks almost still. What is the colour of sea green here? It has patches of inlaid sky and in the distance tends to indigo and violet. Up close as it swells and collapses above you it is a liquid sunshot teal — that 80s decor crime become suddenly resplendent.

The other night I caught on TV part of the profoundly idiotic Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. This surfing immmortal, actually matt black in the movie, swoops frictionlessly through the universe. (Byron is where you find silver surfers and silver foxes.) Watching the bronzed surfers carve up the waves as they exultantly ride past makes me think that friction is the key to the joy. The woodengraving genius M. C. Escher said something like, I pity those artists who have it easy and do not have the woodgrain to fight against. It’s that battle for control, for that passing moment when the resistance  between your blade/board and the wood/sea joins in the same direction and energy is released, when the battle becomes the capricornia dance.

In the night the tide roars its lullaby. At daybreak birds rave and shriek and all heads turn to the sea. For the non-surfer, this place would be hard to tolerate for long, but perhaps a touch of paradise is all we mortals can bear.

 

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