Do you remember the first time you saw the ocean?
On Tuesday, December 11, 1951, The Sydney Morning Herald printed a front-page picture of aboriginal boys seeing the ocean for the first time. It has become one of my favorite photographs.
Just in case you can’t read the caption that accompanies the picture, it says, With leaps of excitement these aboriginal children rush down the beach at Collaroy for their first swim in an ocean yesterday. They are some of the 90 native children from the far west of the State who are holidaying at the Salvation Army camp, Collaroy, under the care of the Aborigines Welfare Board. They had never seen a boat, train or sea before they came to Sydney.
I first saw this picture about a month ago, and I have been obsessed with it ever since. The unbridled joy. The anonymity of the boys, many of whose faces you can’t see. The idea of it: seeing the ocean for the first time.
But it’s the context that makes this photo all the more powerful. This uplifting photograph, one of the best I have ever seen, is set against a backdrop of slow, pervasive, and systematic heartbreak.