Steven Spielberg has a lot to answer for. In directing the 1975 hit movie Jaws, he ensured a generation of kids couldn't take to the surf without worrying about a great white shark encounter.
But Spielberg was far from my mind when I travelled to Glenelg Beach on a hot Sunday in 2004 in Adelaide, South Australia.
I’m from Melbourne, and the prospect of enjoying a day at a real beach, and swimming in a real ocean, had me dizzy with anticipation.
Glenelg is a distinct and pleasant Adelaide experience (and also a palindrome). It was the place where the first British settlers landed in 1836, and aspired to be Adelaide’s main port. In the end, it settled for sustaining the role of a charming Victorian-era seaside town.
I had, of course, little idea of the adrenaline rush waiting beyond its shores.
The tide was out when I arrived, so it was a long way to deeper water. As I waded, I thought about my wife Narrelle’s aversion to sea bathing, attributable to the terrifying aquatic stylings of the aforementioned Hollywood director. I noted the reassuring presence of surf lifesavers, and their clearly visible flags.
As I got deeper, I regretted Narrelle not being here. If she came to Glenelg one day, I thought, I would point out the lifesavers, the flags, the clarity of the water. There would be no need for fear, and she would laugh off her girlish fears.
Then, chest-deep, I gazed out toward the horizon. About 20 metres away, a large fin cut suddenly out of the water, attached to the back of a sizeable sea creature. As quickly as it had arrived, it disappeared beneath the waves.
I froze. Then I looked around. No-one else was panicking, on the nearby jetty or in the sea around me. Everyone on the beach looked pretty relaxed. And, come to think of it, that fin had been elegantly curved, in the style as worn by dolphins. It must have been a dolphin. Surely.
Still, discretion beat valour and I trudged back to the sand as quickly as I could manage without looking like a coward. There were plenty of people between me and the mystery creature, after all - surely it would chew one of them first, and the jig would be up?
On the way, I asked a stout young lifesaver if they saw a lot of dolphins in these parts. He confirmed that they did, following the coastline. I laughed in a careless, knowing way, but I suspect it came out a bit thinly. Well, I had to know if the alarm should be raised, didn’t I?
It was a faintly embarrassing episode, but thank god Narrelle wasn’t there after all. It would’ve taken ten years off her life and put her off seawater forever.
So thanks a lot, Steven. Thanks to you, I’ve had a dose of that strange modern syndrome in which your life has no meaning until it feels like you're part of a Hollywood movie. Fish and chips, anyone?