In Greek mythology, the sword of Damocles signified perpetual peril suspended over someone’s head, ready to fall at any moment.
Suzie and Joe Haddock know the story well — they’re living it — and are, so far, on day 120.
The couple’s home, in one of Sydney’s most remote suburbs, has been the subject of an evacuation order since October 25, when several boulders tumbled off a nearby escarpment and into their garden.
Authorities are worried there are more on the way.
The situation is so perilous, the Haddocks are only allowed to enter their home for 10 minutes a week.
“We’ve got the sword of Damocles hanging over us, literally,” Joe said.
“We live in limbo, and I just think — how can this have happened to us?”
On a stormy night at Great Mackerel Beach (or “Mackerel” as the area’s three-dozen full-time residents call it) the Haddocks woke to what they thought was thunder, then a crack and a thud.
When they peered outside, they saw a massive boulder had landed four metres from where they were sleeping.
Their neighbours weren’t so lucky.
Two doors down, Ray and Lorraine Kemp’s place was smashed by the rock slide.
They weren’t there at the time, but have seen drone pictures of the damage — walls and windows destroyed, furniture broken, the boulders even felled their fridge, leaving rotting food all over the floor.
“It’s all open at the back, so there’s going to be animals in there, doing their business,” Lorraine said.
“Everything is just going to be ruined.”
“It would only take one more to come down, and that’s my place flattened I’d say,” Ray said.
“Now the path is clear, there’s a good chance it could just be barrelling straight into our house.”
Another nearby home was largely destroyed in the incident, which has left an enormous scar on the cliffs that soar over Mackerel — a suburb wedged between Pittwater and the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, and accessible only by boat.
Four months after the incident, authorities remain unsure what to do.
A risk assessment by global engineering firm Jacobs shown to residents last week found “massive” rocks on the side of slope were “frequently overhanging”.
“Several detached blocks with maximum dimensions up to 5m are perched near the crest of the escarpment,” it read.
The assessment rated the risk of fatalities from a similar event in the future as “unacceptable” at three properties, including the Kemp’s and the Haddock’s.
The only solution proposed in the report to protect the houses — a fence — would be “challenging and expensive” to construct, and “onerous” to maintain, it warned.
In a statement, a National Parks and Wildlife Service spokesperson said the organisation’s priority was keeping residents safe.
They said a more comprehensive analysis of the slope above the homes, and potential solutions, was being planned.
“Specialist geotechnical engineers will complete the detailed analysis as quickly as possible to provide residents with the certainty they need,” the spokesperson said.
For now, the Haddocks are homeless.
“I’ve never been an anxious person, but I’ve discovered during this that I am,” Suzie said.
“When you start waking up each morning in tears, you know that it’s really affecting you.”
The Kemps have been living in another home they own, but insurance assessors have been unable to access their Mackerel property because it’s too dangerous.
The Haddocks, meanwhile, are caught in an insurance loophole — as their property is not damaged, they can’t make a claim.
Even if they could, it doesn’t solve the problem of their home being deemed too dangerous to live in.
They’ve been surviving on the generosity of friends, and crashing wherever they can.
“In May, Joe turns 70. I don’t think that he thought he’d be couch-surfing at that age,” Suzie said.
“We can’t sell our property, we can’t move on. We can’t do anything.”
The initial evacuation order was for a month, but it’s since been extended.
After a meeting with authorities last week, the couples now believe it could be years before there is a resolution.
Petrified the sword would fall, Damocles begged to be allowed to escape from under it.
While he eventually did, the future for these couples is more complicated.
Despite loving Mackerel, the Kemps and Haddocks are resigned to the fact they will likely have to leave and are even open to having their properties forcibly acquired.
But it’s not that easy.
“We don’t own two houses, like a lot of people do on Mackerel,” Suzie said.
“We’ve invested everything we own in that house.
“If this goes on for two years, I don’t know what we’ll do.”