Letter from Sydney: Remembering Gary at Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach, Sydney

Shelly Beach, Sydney

Gary, my late husband, loved this small patch of Australia where ocean, headland and beach meet on the eastern edge of Sydney.

Within months of arriving Down Under, Gary completed his first scuba diving course.  That December, when we composed our family Christmas letter, he included, ‘scuba diving at Shelly Beach, eleven minutes’ drive from our house’. We bought our own home here a few years later and, much to his delight, halved that time and distance.

Gary scuba dived at multiple Australian locations, including two Great Barrier Reef islands, but his favourite dives of all were Saturday morning shore dives at Shelly Beach.

He felt most comfortable walking into the water – he once told me he felt anxious when he had to ‘fall in’ backwards from the side of a boat – and the Shelly Beach reef offered great variety of marine life in a beautiful and relatively sheltered setting.

Gary enjoyed telling people Shelly Beach is the only west-facing beach on the east coast of Australia. The way the headland curves around gives a view from Shelly back to Manly and the stunning string of crescent-shaped Northern Beaches. An easy walking track leads from the beach up through the bush and around the headland for more beautiful views of the Northern Beaches and out to sea.

View from Shelly Beach headland to Sydney’s Northern Beaches

View from Shelly Beach headland to Sydney’s Northern Beaches

Gary didn’t have a lot of Saturdays free for diving – he was, among other things, a baseball coach and umpire, a gifted gardener and a home-improvement/DIY expert – but whenever a Saturday morning was available, he eagerly joined the shore dive at Shelly.

After the dives, he enjoyed chatting with the day’s group. He’d tell me about them, always an international mix: ‘three guys from Germany’ or ‘a group of women from Japan’ or ‘a couple from South Africa’. It tickled him no end that we lived so close to a dive location sought after by global travellers.

He loved, too, Shelly Beach’s proximity to Manly Beach, where he would get a post-dive coffee and stroll through the weekend outdoor markets, relaxing and soaking up more sunshine before driving home. Over the years, he gave me several gifts from the markets, one a hand-made, square pottery dish with a red heart in the centre.

Shelly Beach, looking toward Manly Beach, Sydney

Shelly Beach, looking toward Manly Beach, Sydney

Gary always came home from Shelly Beach smiling, happy, energised, talking of the dive’s conditions and what he’d seen. One Saturday afternoon we went out in the car and as he drove again towards Manly, he said, ‘I just want to say one thing.’ ‘What?’ I asked. ‘I love where we live,’ he said.

On the evenings after a dive, Gary would sit quietly on the sofa — usually with one of our cats curled on his lap – and page through his ‘Australian Sea Creatures’ book, noting the date beside ones he’d seen and updating his dive log. He’d sometimes lean over to show me a picture and point to an exotic creature he was excited about. I admired and appreciated his enthusiasm though never felt the urge to join him underwater. Now I treasure the book and dive log that meant so much to him.

Gary named Shelly Beach in the last days of his life. We had always talked openly with each other about many things, including life and death. One afternoon when I was sitting beside him in his hospital room, he said in a quiet voice, ‘Scatter my ashes into the sea somewhere. Maybe by Shelly Beach.’

At sunrise five days after he died, that is what we did.

Shelly Beach headland

Shelly Beach headland

Thank you for reading. Today we changed location. Next week’s letter will be from the Central Coast of New South Wales.

5 Responses

  1. A warm and moving tribute Carolyn.

  2. Thank you for sharing more of what made Shelly Beach so special to you all and why you go as often as you are able to commemorate the spreading of his ashes there. I know you have had a hard life losing your brother and Gary too early, but you have been incredibly blessed too with the love that you had with him, the life you made for yourselves, and the love you have with Clive and the life you have built together. Your appreciation for all this is indeed very moving.

  3. Dear Carolyn,

    I don’t know if this was for everyone or just me (and ben), but thank you.

    The years I knew Gary were not the length of time that Ben did, and not as well.

    All these years I (we) have wondered how things are/were with him, and you. We had only met you less than a handful of times. One thing we were sure of, was he was madly in love with you. We were so very happy because he had been so hurt and unhappy before you came into his life. He probably told you how happy he was after you came into his life.

    We moved around a lot and had the kids, and shamefully I did not keep in touch with the two of you. I now regret that.

    While Gary was a social person, Ben certInly was/is not. There are a variety of reasons which I will not go into here. I thought perhaps that this could have been a disappointment for Gary. I want you to know, (even at this late date) how much we both liked him and respected him.

    We did get to Australia one time I think before you moved there. I so much enjoy the blog and photos you keep posting. It both reminds me of the wonderful time we had when we were there, and of good times spent with Gary.

    Thank you for sharing some beautiful memories and thoughts of his time as well. I never wanted to ask about it because I did not want to cause you an upset.

    You seemed to have hit the jackpot again in a husband. I am so happy for you.

    Have a great time and a safe trip. Love Lynda


  4. Thank you for your very kind words, John, Kim and Lynda – much appreciated.

  5. […] developed to scatter red rose petals in his memory each August 2nd – at Shelly Beach in Sydney, his favourite place, or wherever I may […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: