Drive north along the coast not quite all the way to Palm Beach, turn left, drive a bit further, park your car and get out. And then swim.
Welcome to Scotland Island
A few hundred of us live here. We like to say that we live overseas. We are the only boat people Australia lets come ashore.
When I tell people I live on an island I get one of two reactions – either their eyes go dreamy, they wax lyrical about how awesome it must be and you can practically see the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House they are seeing in their head. From that point on they put me on a pedestal of ‘goal achiever’ and introduce you to everybody by saying “This is Clea – she lives on an island!” To them I am an exciting breed of human and they talk about me with a slight air of jealousy, just like the self-fellating monkey they saw one time at the zoo.
The other response people have is a bowel releasing wave of fear. They can’t help but put themselves in my (dust covered) shoes. A picture forms in their mind of what living offshore would be like and it’s about as appealing as skinny dipping with a school of angry bluebottles.
Generally the island-doubters have two questions. Firstly – “What do you do when you need to cross the water and it’s raining?” To which I reply with the bleedingly obvious “You get wet.” Then their eyes widen even further and they whisper in a teeny frightened voice “But what about the shops? There are shops right?”
There are no shops on Scotland Island. There is no ducking to the servo in your ugg boots at 10pm because you have a hankering for a peppermint Magnum. In fact, there’s not much ice cream in your life unless you care to make your own, because the trip back from the supermarket takes so long that you’re only left with a litre of cream.
At dinnertime sometimes the neighbours have a jar of Dolmio to spare, but if not then your pasta dish just has to be what I like to call ‘rustic’. Whether people like the idea of the island or not, the barrage of questions keeps coming. Here are some of the classics and the real answers:
Do you have to have your own boat?
No. There’s a ferry and a water taxi and hitch-hiking is an acceptable mode of transport around here (just check your ride is sober). If you do have a boat you can guarantee it will come with the included adventures of falling into the water (more than once if you’re me and have the coordination of a newborn foal), sacrificing sunglasses, wallets and several sets of keys to the deep and being forced to paddle half the crossing with your bare hands because it doesn’t become second nature to remember to buy boat fuel for at least eight months. We are lucky because our boat has only been stolen once, and while I can’t go into details, I can say that my husband is a total bad-ass and we got the boat back. #YouDontMessWithTheShermans
Where do people park their cars?
All suggestions for a Wiseman’s Ferry style car transporter have been rejected by Pittwater Council. We have a carpark on the mainland. And when I say “we” and “have”, I mean there’s a carpark. Anyone can use it but residents have the privilege of paying for an annual permit. There are more permits than there are spaces so you have a much nicer life if you are able to finish work and get home by one pm. If you dare to have any form of social life that extends beyond sunset you’re condemning yourself to circling the completely full carpark and eventually squeezing your car into a spot so tiny that you either have to sit in the front seat for two days, starving yourself to a point where you can fit out the door, or call a specialised auto mechanic to come and install a sunroof – pronto.
But it must be a great community, right?
It’s fab being able to see and greet your neighbours in the street on a regular basis. When I was on maternity leave if I felt lonely I’d just go outside and wait. Still, every community has its weirdos who refuse to play by what other people consider bog-standard rules for living and Scotland Island is no exception. Plus when you get a lot of people who know a lot about each other there’s ample of room for gossip. So everyone will know what you paid for your home, what you do for a living and what you and your husband were fighting about on the deck last Sunday night.
What wildlife do you have?
Most of it. Actually, we only really have the crappy wildlife. There are cockatoos which screech every morning to herald the gob-smacking fact that the sun is rising and possums which devour your vision of an organic, self sustainable lifestyle heirloom tomato by heirloom tomato. In summer the kids next door only get excited if there are more than two diamond head pythons on their deck at the same time. If you’re paddling barefoot in the water there are stingrays to watch out for. One time, my husband forgot to do that. Helplessly holding his hand while he writhed in agony gave me a great insight into what a man goes through while his wife is giving birth.
Is it true you have to buy your household water?
Unless you’re ok drinking a solution that is part dirt, part rainwater, yes. And like the boat fuel scenario, you will forget. Your tanks will run dry while you have 25 people over for a party and you’ll only realise it when someone points out that your toilet won’t flush. For the next few days while you wait for a refill booking to come available the people swimming near your place had best do so with their mouths shut.
What about the rumour that it’s Wife Swap Island?
I have not seen any evidence of this. I keep taking my boat keys to parties – just in case.
PS In answer to the question “Why do you live there?” it’s because my heart sings with joy every time I turn the corner and it comes into view. I can’t imagine a conventional life with a driveway and a quarter acre block. Also, compared to the rest of the northern beaches, a lot of the houses here are relatively cheap.
Clea Sherman is a Sydney / Island based writer