I was keen to read The Beach Caves by Trevor Shearston when I learned that the story had been set around Batemans Bay on the south coast of NSW, where I lived for many years before moving to Melbourne.
While the Clyde River, the national parks and the beaches settings around the Bay rang true, I was disappointed that the town itself didn’t feature apart from a reference to a Post Office Box at a Licensed Post Office that I was very familiar with!
The Beach Caves told the story of a group of university students on an archaeological dig in 1970 led by a glamorous husband and wife-team, Aled Wray and Marilyn Herr, when one of their group mysteriously disappeared.
The main character was Annette, who was an honours student studying Aboriginal lifestyles prior to European settlement under Aled’s guidance. Also on the dig was Annette’s best friend Sue.
The first site the group camped at was up the Clyde River past Nelligan, where a group of huts had been found that were older than European settlement in Australia. If I had been on the dig, I would have visited the Steampacket Hotel at Nelligan, but the group didn’t, not once during their entire stay at this location.
When a new site was discovered in caves at a beach near Batemans Bay, the group relocated there.
Then, another site that eclipsed both of the other sites in importance was found and the group divided, with Marilyn and her team heading off to the new site and Aled, Annette and the remaining students staying at the beach caves with the friction between Aled and Marilyn filtering down to their students.
Brian, a young man whom Annette had been growing fond of chose to go with Marilyn’s group and Annette was disappointed. Soon after, she realised that Brian was infatuated with Marilyn and became jealous.
When Marilyn disappeared everyone was a suspect. Annette’s awareness of Brian’s crush left her in the difficult position of having to decide what to tell the police and what to keep to herself.
The story then skipped ahead thirty four years, to resolve the mystery and to show the impact of Annette’s decision when she spoke to the police.
I was surprised that the characters on the dig did not engage with local Aboriginal people to discuss their findings, particularly when it became obvious to them that there had been a continuity of use of the area right up until the time of the dig. Perhaps that was how things were done at the time, although it seemed like a massive oversight on the part of the team not to have gone straight to the source for information.
I enjoyed the setting of The Beach Caves and found the descriptions of the area to be realistic although as I have already mentioned I would have liked at least one visit into Batemans Bay itself. I particularly enjoyed reading about the discoveries the team made during the first half of the story, but lost some interest in the story after Marilyn’s disappearance.