A Day in the Life of Barwon Heads
By Roslyn Hames

The Winter Walkers

      For the winter walker, Barwon Heads is not a distracting town, apart from the greater glory of nature that aids the walker’s communion. It is just a small beach boomtown like so many. Local cultural identification is forging anew and economic development sprints ahead, but the loam beneath remains the same, unassuming and tangible, ready for the needy walker.
      They come from all over to walk the walk, rugged up to the nines to take on the south-westeries. There are strollers engaging with their environment, and there are steam engines marching up the Bluff to suck in the ocean air from the peak lookout. Others pick their way around the Bluff’s base with a Jack Russell or Labrador by the side. Some remain private and others still walk in pairs and groups. Walking a deserted beach in winter relieves secrets and epiphanies, aids reconciliation or a hangover, and accommodates silence without discomfort.
        For us sea-changers, Barwon Heads is a town of suburban childhood Australian dreaming. It was the summer destination far enough away but not too far that the kids or the dog would get carsick. In the tangy tones of nostalgia, Barwon Heads holds memories of dangling your legs over the pier and dropping a line, of chasing seagulls along the edge of the river, and jumping over a deposit of seaweed or the body of a lost little penguin while running towards the surf with board underarm. It is uncluttered and blissfully beautiful in all its lack of Mornington Peninsula sophistication.
        It is the place of contemplation and solitude, when the summer residents and tourists depart and the town is handed back to the full-timers. To the staunch local, autumn king tides seem to cleanse the beaches of millions of summer footprints and demolished sandcastles, the echoes of tourists. In the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, an old man donning a worn cap sits on a park bench looking out towards the heads at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. At night, the crashing waves break the silence and when it is clear the stars pierce through the darkness and the Milky Way swirls across the sky.
        The tides reward the walker: nature’s sculpture at work. One day the water covers a huge area where people walked a week before. Then what was underwater is there again, but a different shape to the winter before. Bays carve themselves into smaller deep bowls of slushing water churning up clouds of sand. Tiny waves ripple up the river like a length of ribbon, teasing small dogs and children. The whole area is transient. The things one observes while winter walking.
        The secret of winter walking is that you can be the only person on the beach when the sun is setting. It is then that the ocean may confide in you and you’ll never want to leave. Far from the city with car fumes burning your nostrils and the routine, and stress and noise levels on volume ten, Barwon Heads in winter is paradise.