The ginger kid really doesn’t want to jump. You can’t miss him, quivering up there, his pale skin slowly searing in the midday sun. This could well be the defining moment of his young life, one that he’ll tell his therapist about in 25 years. And the worst part? Everyone is cheering.
Ostensibly, Sydneysiders travel to Wattamolla, a secluded watering hole in the Royal National Park to get some much-needed downtime away from the crowded city beaches. But really, they’re here to mint new superheroes. The main attraction isn’t the sparkling shoreline that seems to emerge out of nowhere from the forest walkway, it’s what’s around the corner. Take a short stroll to the sandbank and you’ll come face to face with a lake, a spitting waterfall, and one of the most vertical natural cliff faces in NSW.
That’s where you meet our protagonist, 15 metres above. All around him, 12-year-old daredevils are taking the plunge in “One, two, three!”. He keeps looking down and backing off, much to the derision of his sister.
To get to this spot, marked with a sign that says “under no circumstances are you are allowed to jump”, you have to hoist yourself out of the water and along a precarious set of footholds, dug into the rock by years’ worth of scrambling young limbs. You follow a set of kids who can’t be more than eight years old –wondering where on earth their parents are – as you all confront mortality with every slippery crevice.
You’re halfway to the top when the cheering starts. It’s everywhere: his mates up at the top; the soon-to-be martyrs scaling the rocks; the hundreds of ethnically diverse families in the water below. The young boy now has a captive audience of teenagers speaking everything from Arabic to Italian to Cantonese. The clapping echoes around the natural paradise, melding into a dull roar as it bounces back against the cliff. And still, the ginger kid really doesn’t want to jump.
It’s enough to make you question your reasons for climbing up there. There’s ample time to consider the meaning of life as you plummet toward the water, which seems to take forever to greet you.
From the summit, everything glistens blue-green: skin, sweat, sea. No breeze, just the oppressive heat of expectation. The kids look over suspiciously as you arrive. This is their turf.
Then, without warning, the boy is gone. The Lost Boys of Wattamolla have had enough and he is flung unceremoniously from the precipice. He doesn’t make a sound as he drops right by you, barrelling down at an ungainly angle, completely against his will, landing with a huge splash.
Silence from the peanut gallery. He’s under for a long time. When he finally surfaces, the roar is so immense that it immediately engulfs the little valley. It’s like he’s won the Olympics. In the early afternoon on a random Tuesday, he is a goddamn triumph. Still stunned, the ginger kid paddles over to his mates, waiting for him on the banks.
Two minutes later, you follow him. As the air whooshes past, you now understand his fear. Impact happens like an afterthought; and just like the ginger kid, you are reborn beneath the surface, in a flurry of bubbles of your own making.
Time to try a backflip.