Throughout Winton’s life, the ocean symbolizes both boundless freedom and unidentifiable danger. As a child, Winton feels that the ocean is his backyard—he’s less afraid of it than of the prospect of losing it. And even as an adult, the ocean’s offerings of life and action unleash his imagination to roam free. In “High Tide,” he observes the bustling traffic on a reef and compares it to a scene by Kubrick, whose 2001: A Space Odyssey similarly opened up the world of creativity and story for him. Winton’s deep connection with the ocean leads Winton into activism as an adult. For instance, he participates in the battle to protect Ningaloo Reef from prospective developers. Winton is compelled to save this vast expanse—and its corresponding freedom—for his grandchildren to enjoy just as he did before them.
But the ocean also symbolizes dread and danger. As a boy, a trailer at the cinema instills in Winton a peripheral fear of sharks—a fear that seems to hold sway over much of Australia. Consequently, the ocean symbolizes the potential danger at the edges of Winton’s everyday life. His inability to resist getting close to whales and sharks, along with his obsession with the documentary Blue Water, White Death, demonstrates that danger, like the ocean, is a constant presence in his life.
The Ocean Quotes in The Boy Behind the Curtain
If you can ever know something you’ll understand it by what it has given, what it owes, what it needs. It has never existed in isolation. And ghosting forever behind its mere appearance is its holy purpose, its billion meetings with the life urge in which it has swum or tumbled or blossomed, however long or however briefly.
Ashore there’s a wary osprey astride a bleached stump and beneath him the charred remains of a bonfire from last winter. Drop your face back in and it’s something out of Kubrick, all hurtling colours and shapes and patterns so intense as to be slightly mind-bending.
Waiting and flowing were anachronistic notions, they’d nearly become foreign concepts, but to me they were part of an imaginative lexicon, feeding something in me that had to do with more than surfing. The child of a pragmatic, philistine and insular culture, I responded to the prospect of something wilder, broader, softer, more fluid and emotional. It sounds unlikely but I suspect surfing unlocked the artist in me.
I show up. I wait. When some surge of energy finally arrives, I do what I must to match its speed. While I can, I ride its force. For a brief period I’m caught up in something special, where time has no purchase, and my bones don’t ache and my worries fall away. Then it’s all flow. And I’m dancing.
It seemed to me at the time that this movement might have been named after the wrong colour, that nothing was as likely to stir the imagination of Australians so much as the sea. With Save Ningaloo we stumbled onto the only sacred site in the mind of mainstream Australia—the beach. Somehow the childhood memory of clean seas and the workaday longing for respite in salty air and the dream of retiring to a still-living coast resonate in the suburbs like nothing else.
In the wake of that cold, sweaty minute in the Astor it wasn’t as if I was consciously and constantly afraid of sharks but they were a liminal presence thereafter, something lurking in the water beyond the pleasure of the moment. It hardly ruined my life but it did divide the mind in a way that was new. For along with the creaturely joy of snorkelling in the open water behind the reef there was now a twitch of anxiety. The eye searched for something even when I wasn’t looking.
When anglers like the legendary Alf Dean “fought” tiger sharks and great whites they did it for pleasure, for some sense of mastery, then they dragged them ashore and hung them from gantries. I remember enormous, distended carcasses suspended from meat hooks and steel cables on jetties on the south coast. The dead sharks often had their lengths and weights painted on their flanks as if they were machines.
The good old days may be long gone, yet here we are, as ever, launching a boat from the beach in a quiet bay under cloudless skies, bobbing on clean water. In an hour we’ll have enough sweet-tasting fish to feed two households.