We chugged out past Nobby's Head Whibayganba. I pointed to the great headland.
'I hope we see some whales, for you Darcie,' said Dad. His eyes crinkled. I guessed he forced a smile, though it was hidden by a black face mask that stretched over his cheeks and beard.
I was cold and cramped on the little plastic chair of Dad's modest boat. I scanned the horizon for a gregarious Humpback whale or, better still, a pod of Humpbacks. It was their annual migration along the northern inland current to the balmy waters of Queensland.
The big sky I hoped for was obscured by heavy cloud. That didn't help my mood. Dad mentioned there was rough weather predicted for later in the day, though it mattered little for now, as we fled lockdown. Once past Whibayganba, Dad killed the engine of the small boat and pulled out his deep sea fishing rod. He lifted his face mask off his mouth and beckoned for me to do the same. He muttered something about being worried. I looked past him, to the horizon.
The rod I had retrieved from our garden shed lay under my feet. Under Dad's instructions to look the part, I brought it along. It had taken Dad a bit of talking to get me to pull on a jumper and tights, rather than wearing my pyjamas. My listless lounging in my pyjamas extended to online zooms for uni tutes. Over the lockdown, I found it harder to go out for a run or to shop for the essentials. I preferred my room and my pyjamas.
Despite the change in height Whibayganba had maintained its strength as a land feature for a century and a half, withstanding cyclonic winds and rain and the equally fierce force of salt.
My appetite dropped, though I tried to eat to stop Mum's concern. I slept after most zooms and online conferencing. There were times I woke late afternoon with the day's study abandoned. I hesitated when Dad suggested going out on the boat. What about the mandated Public Health Authority orders that demanded compliance? But Dad reassured me recreational fishing was permitted, all I needed to do was take the fishing rod, regardless of my fishing ability and interest. I finally agreed.
My lethargy was debilitating even to me. After many terse refusals the chance to see the limitless horizon, to feel the openness of the sky and the expanse of the sea, so rapturously described by Dad, was the drawcard I needed.
The grey ceiling of the sky draped and dropped into our boat. Dad tossed the line in a well-practiced arc, to the waiting sea. The bait splashed into the water. We both watched the line dangle limply. He threw back his line time and time again. The breeze began to pick up. The boat wrestled the waves as they slapped and sloshed the sides.
Behind us Whibayganba jutted out in the mist that now marooned us. I knew of the history of this landmark reduced to half its size by man to accommodate the lighthouse and to assist the safe passage of ships. Despite the change in height Whibayganba had maintained its strength as a land feature for a century and a half, withstanding cyclonic winds and rain and the equally fierce force of salt. Unfortunately for us, the automated beacon of the lighthouse was redundant in daylight, though I dreamed of the beam reaching us, to implode the mist with light. I rubbed my hands together for warmth.
Tiny wet beads appeared on Dad's ruddy cheeks and dotted his long dark beard. I brushed my sunnies against my jumper to wipe away the moisture. It was difficult to see past the boat, and impossible to know if whales were passing, as the sea and mist had merged to a blanket of fuzzy grey. A dreary silence had fallen around us. No sound to suggest a whale nearby with a big slapping of their fins or flukes. There certainly wasn't enough visibility to see their footprints, a circle left by the actions of their flukes. Nothing. Even the seagulls were absent.
Despite the desolation we were experiencing, my mood lifted. There was something about being out there in nature, in amongst the elements regardless of the weather.
My stomach grumbled. I was surprised as I hadn't experienced hunger for weeks now. A thunder clap rang out. Dad looked around.
'Darcie we best head back in, that storm's coming in. Nothing's doing here, nothing's biting.'
'Bad luck Dad. But I'm feeling heaps better though for coming with you. Something's shifted. Even if I didn't see a whale.'
'Glad to hear it. We will get through it Darcie, the human spirit prevails.' He patted my shoulder with his hand.
We replaced our face masks. Against the rising waves and wailing wind we battled towards Whibayganba. Dad kept the boat on course, powering towards the long, pale stretch of sand.
White waves pummelled against the boat, we shifted our weight from one foot to the other to balance against the tug of the sea and the menace of the wind. Finally we approached the mouth of the Hunter River. I thought about which friend I would text to ask to go out for a run with me.
The chiselled, rippled front of Whibayganba stood strong.
Sally Egan, of Charlestown, the author of this piece, is a finalist in this year's Newcastle Herald short story competition. 'Even the Seagulls were Absent' first appeared in the pages of the Newcastle Herald on January 14, 2021, under the title 'Whibayganba Rises'