We have visited the 17th beach, Coogee, to officially get the 2011/12 beach going season under way.
We’re in the midst of the chaos of moving houses but I thought it important and worthwhile to breathe salty air, feel the sand in our toes, watch waves rolling in from the South Pacific and, as it turned out, bear witness to thousands of nippers participating in a surf carnival.
For the non-Australians amongst you, or those not fully literate in Australian culture – nippers are children, specifically children participating in Surf Life Saving. Surf Life Saving Clubs have been responsible for much of the life saving patrols done on Australian beaches since the early 20th century. They also do an amazing job teaching kids surf safety while they participate in the sport of Surf Life Saving — which incorporates swimming, paddle-boarding, running on the sand, etc. The Coogee Beach Surf Lifesaving Club was founded in 1907.
We began our visit with breakfast at Morning Glory Café. I had grilled haloumi cheese served with a poached egg on toasted sourdough with wilted spinach and a roasted tomato; Mitch had the big breakfast – scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, grilled mushrooms and a tomato, baked beans and Turkish toast. All was good including the coffees.
After breakfast we got the toes in the sand and wandered amongst the masses to watch the nippers in combat. What good fun! Frankly it just doesn’t get much more Australian … well, in the sense that we could have been nowhere else. Surf Life Saving is essentially peculiar to Australia. If you are surrounded by little kids wearing swimming costumes with beach names across their bums and colourful cloth caps tied beneath their chins – well, you are in Australia.
Coogee Beach is 13.8 kilometres (8.6 miles) from home. It’s a place I’ve been many times in the 11 years I’ve lived in Sydney – including celebrating Thanksgiving with a barbeque there in 2001 (perhaps). Thanks to Midnight Oil I’d been familiar with a key geographic feature of Coogee Beach, Wedding Cake Island, since, oh, the mid 1980s. But until I moved to Sydney I had no idea it was here … giving Coogee crappy surf.
Wikipedia has a lot to say about Coogee but here are a few key items. The name may come from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘smelly place’ in reference, perhaps, to the kelp which washes up here and, if left uncollected, rots. European life in the area began in 1838; the first school was built in 1863 but became the Coogee Bay Hotel in 1873 – a place where beach-goers have drunk themselves silly for 138 years now. Coogee was the end of a tram line back when Sydney had trams (1883-1960).
On the headland on the northern end of the beach stands a memorial to the victims of the terrorist bombings in Bali, Indonesia on 12 October 2002. The memorial is specifically dedicated to the 20 local residents, including six members of the Coogee Dolphins Rugby League Team, who were killed; all together 202 people died, 88 of them Australians.
Inland, also at the northern end, is Coogee Oval home to the Randwick Rugby Union Club (go the Galloping Greens) and the Randwick-Petersham Cricket Club.
Coogee Beach is in the City of Randwick, the state district of Coogee (Brice Notley-Smith, Liberal) and the federal division of Kingsford-Smith (Peter Garrett, Labor).