Unaided the boy would play forever in the sand. Tenderly carving into the tallest of mounds with his fingers then smashing them in pieces to meet their maker. He digs his fingers in like penetrating the cool side of a pillow, and reaps his arms, giving life to the beach – shimmering sparkling movement – a serpent beneath the sand. He yelps at his assailant as if from toxic bite. Feigns disaster and death. Occasionally mum would get a light dusting of grit on her body, clogging up the spine of her latest book. Never mind, this is child’s play. Open and endless under a curved blue dome and a gravelly sun. It could be a scene on any of the 10,685 beaches in Australia from yesterday back to perhaps the 1960s.
I love this photo because in many ways it is what we see in ourselves that rouses interest. These are precise blips of innocence in our former selves that we struggle to recall. They are the saddest and the happiest because they allude to us to the company of ourselves we intensely loved and then abandoned. Those little worlds we played in, endless imaginative hours, chattering into each other, lost in texture and adhesive creativity. We had confident reserves of wonder and astonishment – to invent and liberate from boredom. A stick became a sword – or a pony if you’d prefer – a tree was an impenetrable fortress and the beach was as fluid and as tolerant as the world we loved. Watch him play a little longer to see where his world takes him. Watch him exhume more memories from the sand.