Saturday, February 21, 2009
Port Campbell, Australia
Can someone please explain to me the universal human urge to take the world’s most beautiful icons, our most sublime landscapes, and turn them into an Atlantic City boardwalk?
When I first visited the Victoria coastline 15 years ago, I parked along the road and made my way down a dusty track to the cliff’s edge. Scrambling down to the edge of a 200 foot drop into the Tasman, the view of limestone pinnacles emerging from a stormy sea greeted me. Known locally as the Twelve Apostles, I could never make out more than six, but with the setting sun, the ragged coastline, the prospect of falling to my doom, I was not one to quibble.
When I arrived this week, I was greeted by Wal-Mart sized parking lot, a new ‘interpretive centre,’ and a tax-funded paved pathway to fenced-in boardwalk winding along the cliff. Two hundred yards of platform may struck some as excessive, but only until the RV’s and tour buses started to pile up.
I showed up early enough to grab a spot for my cameras, but only just. As the sun dipped, an invading army joined me to meditate on nature’s spectacle. Their reverence took the form of jockeying for position, making out with their travel partners, and using cellphones to take pictures while yelling into the cellphone “I’m taking a picture...” And then the summer school camper bus rolled up and things livened up considerably.
I understand, in my darker moments, that I play some tiny part in this. I go to a place and take nice pictures. Those pictures are (infrequently) published and turn up in magazine advertisements that seduce a generation of armchair travelers to hop on a plane and see it all first hand. Even though the world might be a better place if they just stayed home and watched reruns of The Simpsons.
After a while, the sun set, the crowd cleared and silence returned. Stars appeared out of the gathering dark, and a lone wallaby appeared out of the shadows. We silently eyed each other and after a while I tried to apologize. “Dude, I swear. I had no idea...”