The 10 days of summer

Climate change is responsible for intimidating waves hitting the wall at St Clair but, equally, when Pakeha settlers planned the city they could never have anticipated our bleak environmental future, writes Talia Marshall. 


Talia Marshall
Talia Marshall
A couple of weeks ago I was sitting eating blue cheese and drinking a nice red with my cousins in a bougie esplanade apartment at St Clair, writes Talia Marshall.

The waves were hitting the wall over the road over and over and seemed to almost smack me in the face with their nearness. I have not been out to St Clair, the gracious suburb by the sea, for a while and do not remember the sea being this close.

In the early ’90s there was still enough sand at St Clair beach to have teenage boys slicked with oil playing volleyball in the sun. There was enough room to run to the water past the mass of people lying on their towels. My crush was swimming in the surf with my friend Timo from church and I tried to impress him by emerging from each wave as elegantly as possible. My best friend snorted at me and told me I looked ridiculous.

For the 10 days of the year it is possible to go swimming outdoors in Dunedin without a wearing a wetsuit and catching hypothermia we made the most of it. This was our summer. Baywatch was popular and my friend plucked her eyebrows as thin as Pamela Anderson’s.

My mother was in the water during one of the shark attacks of the ’60s. I used to look at the shark bell near the old stairs down to the beach and wonder if the shark nets installed after the attacks really worked. Marine scientist Mike Barker is quoted in this newspaper saying the nets ‘‘do nothing except provide swimmers with an illusion of safety’’. Civilisation’s collective illusions are being eroded as much as that wall.

So much sand that was never meant to be there. Yes, climate change is responsible for those intimidating waves hitting the wall but, equally, when Pakeha settlers planned the city they could never have anticipated our bleak environmental future.

My adolescent summers at the beach seem more halcyon now that those days are numbered. Maybe St Clair will briefly be like the Riviera before we all fry and the waves finally have their way.

Cheery stuff!

One street back from the beach and the illusion of safety is restored. I used to go on walks with my nana from her house in Hargest Cres around the suburb and we’d stop and be nosy at the gardens and the blue mountain ceramics hiding behind the muslin curtains. We’d catch the bus to town and then back again, waiting for the bus in the Exchange with the beautiful destination on its front. St Clair always sounded slightly elevated to me.

We would often get off before our official stop so we could be nosy again on the way home. Especially the huge gingerbread mansion behind the brick wall near Leckie’s butchers. My mother spent so long as a little girl peering through the gate that the owner invited her in for a tour.

Every Sunday Grandad would drive us to the Mormon church up on the hill overlooking the city. We would pick up Mrs Leckie on the way, who seemed ancient to me and wore a fur coat and had curls set tight as lambswool. She smelled like face powder and benevolence. Mrs Leckie made my grandparents a tooled leather phonebook cover, which my nana still uses, even though phonebooks are nearly obsolete.

Clearly, I find it much easier to peer into the past than to properly consider the future or absorb the present. Mrs Leckie’s garden with all the roses beside the bus stop has been asphalted over now.

Timo, my friend from church, died earlier this year. And I found out the way everybody learns about death these days: on social media. He was a larger than life kind of character and now he is gone. One of the boys slicked with promise nudging a ball into the sun.

St Clair might be sort of posh but the beach was classless. Anyone could head out to St Clair for a swim and then brave the hot tar of the road for an ice cream from the dairy. This was before the esplanade was overrun with bougie eateries and apartments, and before I developed a palate for blue cheese. It was before the groyne started losing its wooden legs one by one to the sea.

Instead of the looming climate tsunami, I try to imagine a different future. The baby I had with my crush is 21 now. And one day he will take his own children to the beach where the sand stretches for miles, and the sun isn’t too brutal. I will be vigilant and make sure the new baby doesn’t put sand and whatever else they can get their chubby fists on into their silly mouth while their tired parents feel the brief freedom of the water. I will make sure the baby doesn’t take off their hat and is plastered in sunscreen.

When we get home there will be sand in everything, sand in the car, sand behind baby’s ears, sand in the leftover picnic, sand in the sheets. Summer will still be summer and not an inferno. It will last longer than 10 days.

The difference between a dream and an illusion is that a dream can still come true.



I am quite jack of every weather event being blamed on climate change.
Does the writer even understand why the St Clair wall was build in the first place? In my 60 year memory of Dunedin, storms have often crashed waves into and over the sea wall. I remember as a child playing in those splash over events.

Climate change is real, but lets not let our imaginations get carried away with the cause of every downpour and storm.

Pakeya settlers filled in and built upon the eeling ground from Anderson's Bay to the Coast.

We need the Dutch.

Keith, don't address the author like that. She is a professional writer, whom you are reading free online.

Perhaps the lack of silt coming down the Clutha has a major impact on what now gets carried up the coast and used to add or protect the beaches. Plus, the flooding wash that used to happen with silt. Climate change is not the only major impact happenening and that has happened to the ecosystem.

The dream can still come true.

Those iconic poles can be repaired back to the sand-trapping groyne they once were, then we can all see right in front of our own eyes just how well they work these days.

There is plenty of sand just offshore, all we have to do is trap it on the beach so waves do not hit the wall and scour it away. Just look how much sand is mined at Tomahawk every year yet still the beach and dunes remain the same.

The website at has more detailed information...

Interesting how people remember past events differently.
My memories included the stairs down to the beach stopping short, with a big drop to the rocks below, before they were made unsafe by the wave action
Salt spray, covering cars park at right angles to the wall
The salt water pool being filled with sand and other debris after storms and questions as to whether it should be kept for the few that use it
Further along the beach, walls of sand caused by wave action against the dunes so step you couldn't climb them
No mention of climate change then

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