The car bumps along slowly, up and down every corregation in the road. I wonder if it would have been better to have ridden the bicycles the 30 kilometers, and hope the colony is worth the tedious drive. We are doing what we so often do. A brown tourist information sign attracts our attention, and we forget about what we were doing to go and have a look.
Today, it is a sign pointing to the only mainland sea lion colony in South Australia. We went swimming with the sea lions down in Port Lincoln, and find them captivating. Maybe not quite captivating to be convinced that a 30 kilometer trip down a heavily corrugated road is worth it. I mean, these are wild animals. There is no guarantee that they’ll actually be there just because there is a brown tourist sign pointing to their colony. Regardless of the grumbling about the drive, we all agree that it is worth it to check.
When we get there, the first sign I notice reads, “Sceale Bay Bush Camping”. We are so relieved that we will get to camp here tonight. The views are amazing. We are hoping there will be sea lions. Relief because it means that we don’t have to go back on that terrible road again tonight.
We race to the lookout platform. The sea lions are there! Lots of them.
“Look, Mum! There’s a baby drinking milk from its mum!”
“There are another four over there!”
“Oh, there are about twenty out on that farthest rock!”
Nine year old Susan sits watching the sea lions for hour after hour. Her ten year old brother, Peter, and six year old sister, Lucy, sit with her.
In the morning, Peter wakes up and pauses only to pull on some clothes and a hat before grabbing his notebook and a pen. He spends a while sitting quietly on the viewing platform before he approaches me. He gives me a big hug and kiss. I look at him suspiciously.
“Mum, I think this would be a really good thing for school today. I will learn about sea lions by writing down facts that I notice while I’m watching them. I’ll be doing my science, Mum, and I’ll be doing my English. What a great idea it is, Mum! What do you think? Could that be my school work for the day?”
I hesitate as I consider my options. If I agree, Peter will quietly and happily sit there watching sea lions. He will be writing, thus covering his handwriting, science and composition. If I say no, he will be doing maths, composition and spelling with me. I figure negotiation will work better. ”Are you going to write it up, as a proper article, or just leave it in note form?”
“I’ll write it up, I promise!” He responds instantly, a note of pleading in his voice.
I consider how far I can push this. ”You’ll write it up as a first draft, and then go over the spelling and grammar with me?”
“Of course!” The note of pleading is stronger this time. I nod in ascent, and he disappears out the door. As the door swings shut behind Peter, Susan appears from her bedroom. She’s already dressed, and holding her notebook and pencil.
“Can I do that, too, for school today, Mum?” Her voice is hopeful. She’s obviously been listening to Peter’s negotiations. I am much more hesitant this time, knowing that Peter and Susan are prone to arguing if they are both sitting down there together. I obviously hesitate a bit too long, as she continues, “Please, Mum. You said Peter can. We always learn so much from observing animals. No matter how many times we’ve seen them before, we always learn something new.”
“I’m worried about you and Peter arguing,” I tell her.
“We won’t, Mum. Promise!” I nod again, and she barely pauses to grab a hat as she runs down to sit next to Peter.
Predictably, Lucy then turns to me and says, “Can that be my school for today, too?”
“No! You can do some reading, spelling and phonics with me. Once you’ve done that, you can go and watch the sea lions. But that is not a suitable task for you to do as your only school work.” Lucy is still learning how to read, and needs help. She gets “Possum Magic” and starts reading it to me.
During the day, there is a steady stream of cars pulling in and out. I’m sure we saw about ten other cars that day. None of them stay for very long. A family with two teenage girls and a boy about Peter’s age pull up. Peter is considering whether he will go and say hello to the boy when the kid picks up a stone and throws it over the edge of the cliff towards the sea lions. We all feel ill, and slightly nauseous when neither of the parents or sisters react. He throws another rock, and then another. The rocks wouldn’t have actually reached the sea lions, but the intention was there. Neither parent reacts. We are very pleased to see them get back in their car and leave after only ten minutes.
As evening approaches we realize another advantage of the campsite. It is on a cliff of the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula. The sun sets over the water, and it is absolutely beautiful. Stunning!