The invitation of gold and red announced a beach wedding in late December- but I have to admit I received it with a little trepidation.
My lack of love for the beach is at odds with my identity. As an Australian we are supposed to love the beach. But with my ancestral memory of five generations of inland dwellers, it leaves me a little intimidated, especially Indian Ocean beaches where waves smash against rock and sand in a deafening dissonance.
As a child, I had seen my aunt dumped by the surf on one such beach. She emerged struggling for breath, bathers askew and sand in her hair.
“Look out for dumpers!” my cousins warned.
I was wary of waves that heaved themselves up on the beach. I have felt them grab at my ankles and tug hungrily, trying to swallow me up.
So wrapped in a shawl against an unseasonable southerly blast and waiting for the arrival of the bride and groom on Redgate Beach near Margaret River, it was not hard to become absorbed in the drama of the surroundings.
Here you could again become embroiled in the sight and sound of the wild surf, thumping against granite outcrops.
It was easy to visualise the fate of the Georgette on December 1st 1876, drifting into the surf and slowly sinking because of a leak. The ship has entered local legend. With its pumps not working and boiler room flooded, the crew and passengers tried valiantly to bail the rising seawater but it was futile and the lifeboats were lowered.
Up on the cliffs, Sam Isaacs, an aboriginal stockman working for the Bussell family, saw the foundering vessel. He galloped to the Bussell homestead and returned with sixteen year old Grace Bussell. Armed with ropes Grace and Sam rode their horses down the cliff face and swam them into the boiling surf alongside the steamship where passengers and crew faced the perilous seas. After four hours Grace Bussell and Sam Isaacs, with their horses and ropes had rescued fifty men, women and children. Twelve were lost.
One hundred and twenty nine years later, although the weather conditions may have been similar, there were no riders on the cliff tops with heroism in their hearts. Instead, a string of children dressed in traditional Indian outfits of red, threaded their way carefully down the cliff path, tinkling bells, shaking maracas and clashing cymbals.
They heralded the arrival of the bride and groom who were warmly greeted by their families and friends gathered on the windblown sand and spray drenched rocks under a cloudy sky. Vows were taken and blessings made as the waves smashed and sprayed the wedding party as if to remind us, just a little, that this was once a scene of tragedy.
Everyone laughed and cheered and spirits were high. This was a wedding day and Redgate Beach was, on this day, the backdrop for joy and celebration.