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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 10: October 2021
Haibun: 196 words
By Alice Wanderer

Fossil Beach


The name draws me, and I go. Marine fossils in the limestone. But the cliffs only bounce back images I’ve brought here: ravaged pharaoh look-alikes—huge figures, carved by forked erosion channels. This land’s scant history of royalty. Industrial economy.

The site of Victoria’s first cement works. I scan. There must be limestone somewhere. Narrow and rocky, not a swimming beach. Dark iron-bearing rock jumbled on a gravel bed.

All unlikely.

I clamber to a greyish section of the cliff. Soft greasy scabs are heaped around its base. I touch but am afraid to press in harder.

not one fossil—
thumb and finger bones curl
to form a shell

I try the internet again. Calcareous Balcombe Clay beds. Abundant fossil fauna. Sea snails, corals, sponges, sharks lived here 15 million years ago in warm and shallow seas. Where are they now? How many pulverized? How many pocketed?

My phone, it seems, cannot run out of stories. Baxter Sandstone. Deeper Ordovician base-rock and Silurian strata. Life surging from the sea. Five great mass extinctions. The wildly changing profiles of continents and oceans.

not one fossil—
the whole fluid beach
turned to stone



Publisher’s Note:

Fossil Beach is a narrow, rocky cove on the Mornington Peninsula located about 35 miles south of Melbourne in the Australian state of Victoria. The cove “has a rich natural and cultural history including Aboriginal middens, fossils, and the remains of Victoria’s first cement works. It was named after the 15-million-year-old fossils found here, examples of marine animals preserved in fine gray clays known as Gellibrand Marls or Balcombe Clays, which can be seen in the cliffs to the north.”

The description at the Mornington Peninsula website continues, “The Patent Septaria Cement Company operated here from 1862–1864. They didn’t have enough quality raw materials to continue and the site soon fell into ruin. In the late 1960s, eminent Melbourne University historian William (Bill) Culican joined with local architect John Taylor to begin an archeological excavation of the cement works. They worked with volunteers to expose and restore the original rock work that can be seen around the site today...” (Parks & Reserves: Fossil Beach; link retrieved 09-24-2021).

See also Beach clues to ancient and modern history by Keith Platt in The News Mornington Peninsula (11 June 2019).

Alice Wanderer
Issue 10, October 2021

lives in Frankston, Australia. Her haibun, a patchwork of responses to her local environment, have appeared in Presence, Bloo Outlier, Drifting Sands, Failed Haiku, and World Haiku Review, with more forthcoming in Modern Haiku and Contemporary Haibun Online. Her translations of the haiku of Sugita Hisajo were published by Red Moon Press in August, 2021.

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