It's not every day that you hit the beach resplendent in a flynet topped with a head torch and sporting a backpack bulging with empty specimen jars, but then again Billy's Beach is no ordinary beach.
Tucked away on the south coast near aptly named Mystery Bay, Billy's Beach gained international notoriety late last year when a video shot in a sea cave at its northern end went viral, receiving over 140,000 views within days.
The video, shot by Sydney man Billy (no connection to the name of the beach) Conditis features his uncle furiously fighting his way through a swarm of unidentified flying insects which he'd unsuspectingly disturbed while exploring the cave.
Following circulation of the video, entomologists from around the country attempted to identify the mystery bugs. While Dr David Yeates, Director of the Australian National Insect Collection, told Stan Gorton, editor of the Narooma News, "they are probably seaweed flies (Coelopidae)", there was also speculation that dance flies (Empididae) might be the culprits.
One thing all the experts agreed upon was that a specimen would be required for a positive ID. Conditis explains that his uncle was so freaked out by the unexpected encounter that once free of the swarm, trying to collect one of the offending insects was "the furthest thing from his mind".
Aware of this column's penchant for investigating unusual phenomena, it was the ever-vigilant newspaper man Gorton who, during my recent pilgrimage to the coast, tracked me down and enticed me to Billy's Beach with the prospect of helping him "solve the mystery of the swarming insects".
"If the insects are still in the cave, you can dash back up the Clyde and deliver a specimen to the experts at CSIRO in Canberra for a positive id," was Gorton's logic.
As we approach the cave, the first thing I notice is its diminutive size; you'd easily miss it with a cursory glance over the beach. It's also clear that it's only accessible at low tide either via wading through the water from the sea-side or crawling through a hole in the cliff.
We opt for the former and splash in waist deep waves towards its entrance. Gorton suddenly stops short of entering the cave's opening and mumbles something about "being polite" and "allowing visitors to go first". Yeah, right. With his Go Pro camera running, it's clear he's after a scoop of the Yowie Man being attacked by a swarm of unidentified insects.
Not wanting to show myself up as a cowardly hack from the big smoke and bracing for an onslaught to rival the killer bee invasion of Texas in the 1978 horror film The Swarm, I grit my teeth, pull my Akubra down as far over my ears and eyes as it will go, and enter the abyss.
First it's one nervous glance. And then another. Phew! There's nothing obvious flying around. Gorton asks me to wave my hands around, no doubt hoping it'll stir the insects out of wherever they are hiding.
Thankfully, my animated arm gesturing doesn't flush them out, and eventually, having realised the coast is clear, brave Gorton finally clambers in with me. A close inspection of the cave walls with our torches confirms the insects have flown the coup. There's no sign of them.
"They must have heard us coming," quips Gorton, adding "either that or conditions aren't right for them today".
With the tide coming in, we both scurry to the exit through the hole at the back of the cave, where, like two over-grown boy scouts auditioning for a Benny Hill skit, we clumsily bump into each other and unceremoniously tumble out of the cave and onto the beach.
An elderly lady on her morning constitutional looks at us in astonishment, her mouth agape. "We were just looking for flies," I splutter while still coughing sand out of my mouth. She scurries in the opposite direction shaking her head in disbelief.
We leave Billy's Beach empty-handed, but as we traipse back up the path to the car park Gorton pledges "to check the cave every day" and vows to call me "as soon as the insects reappear".
I can't wait for that phone call, as it'll be Gorton's turn to go in first next time.
Billy's Beach: A 10-minute drive south of Narooma, the beach is best accessed by parking at the Mystery Bay campground from where it's a 200m walk north.
Did You Know? On the northern side of Billy's Beach is a rock face indented with dark-coloured "folds". Some artistic beachgoers have highlighted the folds by decorating them with thousands of white pebbles. On the day of my insect quest many of the pebbles had tumbled off. If anyone has a photo with all the pebbles in situ or can explain the origins of this geological formation, please let me know.
The case of the vanishing beach
Regular readers may recall back in the winter of 2012 this column was perplexed at the appearance of Billy's Beach which was then covered in a thick layer of pebbles (Shore Thing, August 25, 2012).
Apparently the pebbles were a result of a massive storm in 1974 which uplifted tonnes of stones onto the beach from a gravel pit, leaving it looking more like an English beach than a classic golden sand beach that we are accustomed to in Australia.
In response to this column's investigations, Dr E. Anne Felton, Research School of Earth Sciences at the Australian National University, indicated that it wouldn't be long before the beachscape would change again. "Sand erodes rapidly from beaches during storms/large wave episodes often occurring in winter, the sand moves offshore, returning to the beach in conditions of fair-weather waves such as during summer," advised Felton in 2012.
I must admit the pebbles were so thick back in 2012 that I didn't share Felton's confidence of the pebbles making way for sand. However, on my recent quest to collect insects, most of the pebbles, apart from a large shingle dune at the back of the beach, had disappeared from view, and were covered in a deep layer of sand just as Felton predicted.
Last week's expose on Cooradigbee Homestead and the "trout-laden' Goodradigbee River (A serving of rural charm) prompted Matthew Higgins of Ainslie to reminisce about a camping trip "down the 'digbee from Brindabella to Wee Jasper with two friends in November 1983", during which time the trekking trio caught an incredible 54 trout, of which "only four were large enough to keep".
The well-known outdoorsman didn't take his camera on the five-day river trek, which was probably a good thing for "owing to blackberries on the banks" he was forced "to often wade in the river quite a bit". However, with gentle persuasion Higgins did manage to dig up a somewhat youthful photo of himself during a fishing trip to Wee Jasper, a year earlier in October 1982. "The landing net and billy are still in use," reveals Higgins who has spent several decades exploring the Brindabellas and surrounding river valleys.
Meanwhile, contrary to popular belief, feral carp aren't the only piscatorial species lurking in the murky depths of Lake Burley Griffin. During the week, several local anglers, including David Vincent of Weetangera, caught native murray cod and golden perch (also known as yellowbelly) during the Native Fishing Competition (catch and release) which is held every Thursday (6.30pm-9.30pm) until the end of March. For more information, contact Adam on 0422 717 077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CONTACT TIM: Email: email@example.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write c/- The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick. You can see a selection of past columns at: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/by/Tim-the-Yowie-Man-hvf8o
WHERE IN CANBERRA?
Clue: Not the first box to appear on this hill in recent years.
Degree of difficulty: Medium
Last week: Congratulations to Peter Kercher of Holt who was first to correctly identify last week's photo as "the dilapidated shed on William Howell Drive, Belconnen". Only a handful of readers recognised the shed, which as Kercher articulates, "is on the left-hand side of the road before Coppins Crossing Road and within 200 metres east of the Coulter Drive intersection". Kercher just beat Matthew Rensch of Wanniassa and Michael Andrews of Casey to the prize.
Given the thousands of cars which pass the shed every day I must confess that I was disappointed at the lower than expected number of correct entries. It probably means that drivers who read this column focus on the traffic rather than what's in the surrounding paddocks. And I guess that's a good thing.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday February 27, 2016 with the correct answer wins a double pass to Dendy cinemas.