Living by the Sea

I caught the ferry to Manly (a beach suburb of Sydney) with my friend Donna today. We walked along beside the ocean, watched waves splash against rocks, up on to the sandy beaches, watched hundreds of people snorkelling, swimming, splashing, playing in the water. But we couldn’t help trying to imagine what it would be like if all the water was sucked away and then a ten-metre high wave moving at 70 kph came crashing in on us all. Swimmers gone, snorkellers gone, hotels and bars gone.

What happened to the coasts of India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, the Maldives, Malaysia, Burma, the Seychelles, Kenya, Somalia and Tanzania yesterday is past imagining. So many thousands of people dead and missing and dispossessed, many of them doing the things people were doing in Manly today: playing, fishing, out on their boats, living by the sea. I have lived by the sea for the majority of my life.

My grandparents came to Australia in the late 1930s. They were jews from huge families, each with nine or ten brothers and sisters. Each of those brothers and sisters had children. After the war only four of their many nieces were left alive. Their parents, brothers, uncles and aunts, cousins, nephews and other nieces—everyone else was dead. Once, I asked my grandmother if she ever thought of going back to Kolomyya. "Why would I do that?" she answered, looking at me as if I was stupid. "Everyone I knew who lived there is dead. All my family, all my friends, what is there for me?"

All my life I’ve tried to understand what that must have been like. The majority of your family and friends dead, your world gone. I’ve never been able to. Now in parts of Southeast Asia, the subcontinent and Africa thousands of people have to face the life of a survivor who has nothing and no one. There are many places online where you can donate money to help them. I’m going to. I hope you will too.

Sydney, 27 December 2004