No giant tankers on the horizon here, just sleek pleasure yachts clustered near the breakwater where the fairy penguins come to barrow at dusk. At St Kilda the beach is a narrow, curved band of sand that backs immediately onto the town itself. Used to the expanse of vegetation at East Coast (not to mention expressway) that bounded and buffered beach from suburb I muse that I had never till now understood just why towns were referred to as seaside. Young people going about mostly, in jovial groups, on a Tuesday afternoon: Melbourne's unis have just let out for the holidays. Someone has left a large swan float near the boardwalk, squat and ugly and slightly grotesque. Later along the beach I come across its miniature double -- a plump white gull that did not join its compatriots in their waddling and squawking and sandwich-scuffles near the humans' picnic mats, but sat snugly in a hollow in the sand, as if nesting on a clutch of eggs, unskittish and bored and blinking and plainly not budging. I considered that it mightn't have legs but Minyin shooed me sternly away when I made to go up close and peer at it. It was gone when we (still squabbling about abnormal behaviour in birds) came back the same way on the boardwalk later, no doubt borne away by the tide, or eaten by a puppy (I cling, you see, to the legless theory.)

Steve had told me (he waded) that at East Coast the shelf drops away steeply before you're very far out. Here, it must slope away quite gently: small children paddle in ankle-deep water metres from the low water line, and grownups further out still, the water lapping mildly at the back of their knees.

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