A day at the beach: ‘The ashes kept washing in again. It was clear my husband didn’t want to go’

I used to live in Manly in Sydney and was on holidays at Byron Bay with my husband, Merv, when he said “I’m not going home”. So I went home on my own, packed up and we bought a place up in the hills at Federal [in the Byron Bay hinterland] for $235,000. I sold that after he died 22 years ago and I came into town to be closer to the beach.

Merv was a big smoker but when he died after an 18-month battle with bone cancer they found disease everywhere except in his lungs. He would have said “I told you so”. Men always have the last say.

He died in the winter and it was raining. He would have been very happy about that because he loved having rainwater in the tanks.

Feather at the beach in Byron Bay, northern NSW, Australia
‘I absolutely miss it when I don’t go, but I still get to the beach most days:’ Feather at Byron Bay. Photograph: Natalie Grono

The first time I went to the beach, about a month after Merv died, it was pretty good. I was with his brother and we scattered some of Merv’s ashes in the water. His brother said “bon voyage” but the ashes kept washing in to the beach again. It was clear Merv didn’t want to go. We had a bit of a giggle about that.

That was the day I started seeing the birds in the sky. When Merv was in hospital he used to watch the kites flying outside his window. That day a big kite eyeballed me all the way along the beach. It was amazing.

I was married for more than 60 years, and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of him. He’s my anchor. He was a sailor and he keeps me bound to the earth and he’s not ready for me just yet.

He always said he’d come back as a sea eagle and I always look up when I’m at the beach. They are so often above me and I think “There he is, he’s there”.

I used to be called Lorraine. When my mother died she left me some money and said I needed to go to Africa. The day I was due to leave, I got out of the shower and there was a feather on the floor. I put it in my wallet and still have it. After Merv died I started writing poetry and would sign it “Lone Feather”. The kids around town started to call me Feather. Whenever I went down to the beach there were always feathers. I’ve still got heaps of feathers in the house, they are everywhere.

I’ve always loved the beach, because I didn’t have to wear many clothes. I used to go topless and was still going topless two years ago but the place – the Goddess pool – where I used to sit is no longer there, so I’ll leave going topless up to the young people.

I used to get my middle finger painted at the salon and I’d just give people the finger if they stared at me. I don’t have to give them the finger any more.

I’ve got a few health problems – turning 80 seems to be the magic number when things go wrong. I had to give up riding my bike to the beach but I have friends who take me and we sit there for a few hours.

We lost a lot of the beach with the erosion. I absolutely miss it when I don’t go, but I still get to the beach most days.


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