IN THE AFTERMATH of 2020 – a year that outstripped description, so broad and deeply felt were its tragedies and crises – I stood on the foreshore of Pambula Lake looking out across the water at wavering gumtrees. Rows of molluscs crosshatched the shining water, their culinary destinies having been delayed by a zoonotic virus that put pause to their apex predator and slowed the steady increase of carbon emissions that threatened their habitat. The sun was high and hot. Men carried fishing rods to boat ramps and a young family picnicked on the hill behind me. There was no visible wreckage here, no demonstration of how small and disparate communities, economies, environments and ecosystems relate to one another in and through crisis.
It had been two years since I was last on the lake – perhaps the last time I’d felt uncomplicatedly happy. Back then, I’d travelled up the coast road to Pambula from Melbourne to learn how to oyster farm. Oysters were a recent and fierce obsession. Oysters with wine and conversation. Oysters as a guilt-free food source, devoid of nervous systems and high in iron. Oysters as filtration systems, filtering pollutants through their small bodies. I was dreaming up a story about oysters that detect and digest a pathogen deadly to humans. I was simultaneously dreaming up a standard Australian sea change: that my love and I might move somewhere close to water and find the happiness that seemed so elusive in the city. That we might find a new life somewhere rendered vivid and simple by distance.
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