A Travel Vignette

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From an Australian Travel Diary (1999)

Once in a Blue Moon, at Meelup

A Bob Djurdjevic Column, February 1999

WESTERN AUSTRALIA - We've all heard of girl-watching; bird-watching; crystal ball-gazing; watching a toast that never pops; watching your step, or your manners... But have you ever heard of moon-gazing? Well, it happens. But only once in a blue moon. At the Meelup beach - the place of the moon - in Western Australian Aborigine language.

So moon-gazing is not a western tradition. The Aborigines were well aware of the beauty of the Meelup moon. Too bad there aren't many of them left these days to share the moon with us. Maybe we'd be able to find out if they also knew about the blue moon?

I didn't. Not until a professional moon-gazer, a banker, explained it to me. If a full moon happens twice in a single month, it's called a "blue moon." Since that's a rare event, thence the expression, "once in a blue moon." Simple. Logical. Useful. For a game of Trivial Pursuit.

"It's late," declared a local Naturaliste expert, the name of the nearby cape first discovered by the French, almost two centuries ago.

"What's late?"

"The moon."

"Really? How do you know?"

"It was supposed to rise at 7:44 (PM). And now it's close to eight o'clock." Then posing to reflect on the significance of the moon's tardiness, the expert declared: "It will rise two inches above the horizon tonight."

"Really? Why two inches?"

"Because of the mist in the air."

"Hm?" I still wasn't getting it. Two inches on a horizon as wide as Indian Ocean's could mean literally two inches; or two thousand miles; or two million miles... depending on the distance from the observer. But I realized I was being way too pragmatic for a setting so sensory; so entirely "out of this world," that it seemed almost surreal. Several hundred people huddled on a beach, waiting for a blue moon to break the dusk and rise over the ocean. So I shut up, and let my senses take over.

"Want a piece of chicken?" my wife asked. Now that's letting a sense take over - a sense of survival!

"Sure, thanks."

As the seconds ticked away, I noticed that just about everybody was also chomping on "chooks," Aussie-speak for chicken. "It's the easiest thing to make for a picnic meal," one lady explained.

"Look at the stingray," the Naturaliste expert exclaimed, pointing to a distant part of the beach.

"Stingray? You can see a stingray in this darkness?," I asked, figuring he was pulling my leg. All I could see was a two-masted sailing boat which was trying to move in closer to the expectant moon.

Then, as if he hadn't made a comment about the stingray, the Naturaliste continued, looking across the ocean horizon. "Just think, it's so beautiful and peaceful here. But somewhere out there, there are people killing each other. Isn't that bizarre?"

Having quickly snapped back to my pragmatic mode, I was thinking fast and furiously what countries lay due north from us which could have elicited this comment. Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Russia, New York, Colombia, Brazil... I was mentally following the 110 or so meridian up and around the globe.

"I guess, so," I replied, not wanting to pursue a political discussion at such a moment.

"There it is!" someone shouted excitedly from behind us.

Indeed, a tiny glow of orange light flickered due north above the ocean. And yes, it was about "two inches" above the horizon. So now I got it. The ocean mist blocks the light until the moon rises high enough above it, making it seem as if the moon actually jumped, like a ball bouncing off the ocean.

From there on, the moon rose fairly quickly, gradually shedding its orange glow, and taking on a milky color which streamed across the ocean like a giant silver runway. The Meelup moon-gazers cheered for the sail boat to hurry up and glide with its sails across the moon. But to no avail. This moon was just too fast for a little schooner to catch it. The boat had to settle for a silver - crossing the moon's silver runway. Back on the beach, cameras were clicking furiously.



Suddenly, the mournful sound of a saxophone penetrated the night's stillness. "Oh, no! Don't tell me that Slick Willie has followed us all the way down here?," my wife exclaimed.

I laughed. But I was the only one who laughed. Guess that was an "in joke" for Americans only? I decided to leave it that way, as the rest of the people were happily humming along with the saxophone's tunes.

To say that it was a romantic moment was to understate its beauty. The scene was pure magic. Meelup magic.

"Well, the beer's gone, let's go," a burly male voice said. And so was the magic. Gone. Until the next blue moon, at Meelup.

As if on command, several hundred people got up, packed the remains of their "chooks," and headed for cars and buses. Yes, the buses. Moon-gazing is such a popular sport down here that the shire (county) even laid on some buses to take those who opted for a 5km (3 miles) shoreline walk from the nearby town to the beach, back to their cars in the parking lot.

"See you next year," we waved goodbye to some of our new friends. For, friendships minted by the Meelup blue moon are "forever," the Aborigines used to believe.

"How do you know that?" someone asked.

"Because I used to come to this beach in one of my former lives."

A look of incredulity showed on my friend's face. "What loony house did this guy come from?," the face wondered.

So I added, "Just kidding. I don't know that. But it's got to be true. Just ask the Meelup moon."

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