No 33: Grand Flaneur – 9 February 2014

I have been looking forward to this: the westernmost beach in Sydney.  Grand Flaneur Beach is on Chipping Norton Lake in Liverpool.  This would be different.

Twenty-two kilometres from home (13 miles).
Twenty-two kilometres from home (13 miles).

The day is hot and a heat shimmer dances along the tracks as I await the train to Liverpool.  What, I wonder, might I expect?  A parkland?  Yes.  Picnicking Muslims? Almost certainly.  Children swimming in a lake health officials would discourage you from swimming in?  Probably.  Beyond that I have no ideas.

Unusual destination for a beach.
Unusual destination for a beach.

This is truly Sydney’s west and a mix of faces and cultures greet my arrival: a saffron-robed Cambodian monk with his mate; tall, thin Sudanese teenagers; women of various backgrounds in hijab.  The Anglos I see are all a little broken in one way or another – like the ancient-looking woman in her thirties nodding off in the bus shelter.

I am the only passenger on the bus as it winds through suburban streets past modern, but not too new, houses set in neatly mowed lawns, many with more than two cars, some with boats and caravans.

Reminded me of the 'Brady Bunch' house.
Reminded me of the ‘Brady Bunch’ house.

From the bus stop I walk a few blocks to the park and, sure enough, children and teenagers swimming in the lake and a large party of picnicking, gender-separated, Muslims – Afghanis perhaps.  Some of the women, in ankle-length covers, are using the outdoor gym equipment provided by Liverpool Council.

Not a bad spot for a workout.
Not a bad spot for a workout.
Beach number 32 - Grand Flaneur.
Beach number 33 – Grand Flaneur.

It’s a lovely park – green open spaces, trees, and, of course, the lake.  Much of it literally rubbish strewn.  Wrappers, food scraps, drink bottles just left scattered on the ground – often within twenty metres of a bin.  WTF people?

Rubbish Rubbish Everywhere
Rubbish Rubbish Everywhere

The sounds of a Sunday arvo in the park: voices in Arabic and English, hollers from the blokes playing soccer in the beating sun, jet skis on the lake, small planes coming and going from Bankstown Airport, children laughing and splashing, cicadas screeching and crows complaining.

Better here than on the Sydney Harbour.
Better here than on the Sydney Harbour.

I had looked forward to Grand Flaneur for its name alone.  The French Flâneur’ is to stroll or wander, generally aimlessly with an air of casual discovery, generally in an urban context.  A flaneur was a creature of the 19th century Parisian literary scene.  A figure of the modern era, Balzac described flanerie as ‘the gastronomy of the eye’.

I like it – I like the idea of flanerie.  I cannot claim this project is one of flanerie as each visit is planned but upon arrival I definitely engage in casual discovery.

My visit to Grand Flaneur was filled with casual discoveries: shop windows full of saris in Liverpool’s business district, the intense neatness of the homes of Chipping Norton, and the utter disregard for putting litter in its place shown by many visitors to the Lake.

Of course, and not surprisingly, the beach was not named after gentlemen who wandered the Parisian literary scene of the 19th century.  This is Australia.  It was named after a race horse.  Grand Flaneur won the Melbourne Cup in 1880 and died at the Chipping Norton Stud in 1900.

The champion horse after whom Grand Flaneur is named.
The champion horse after whom Grand Flaneur is named.

The original residents of the area were the Tharawal people.  European colonisation began in the 1880s.  Farming as well as sand and topsoil mining were common until modern suburban development.  Industrial uses had left the area around the Georges River degraded and in 1977 the Chipping Norton Lakes Authority was set up to rehabilitate the area and develop park lands.

Number 33
Number 33

Grand Flaneur Beach is 22 kilometres (14 miles) from home.  It’s in the Liverpool Local Government Area, the state electorate of Menai (Melanie Gibbons, Liberal) and federal division of Hughes (Craig Kelly, Liberal).

They haven't taken it to heart.
They haven’t taken it to heart.

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No 32: Gibson’s Beach – 2 February 2014

Living in Sydney brings joy to my life.  Even when all else is shit, when plans fail, promises are broken and my mood is sour to see Sydney Harbour, the Bridge, the Opera House brings me joy.  Perhaps especially when all else is shit the magic of my own joyful response to the sheer beauty of Sydney Harbour and my endless wonderment at making my life here lifts my spirit and brightens my day.

I love, love this city.
I love, love this city.

I was in a fine mood on Sunday to begin with – slightly disappointed no friends were free to join me at Gibson’s Beach but excited for my first solo visit of this project.  It was late afternoon when I boarded the ferry from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay.  The steel blue water glistened, reflecting the nearly flawless bowl of blue sky above.  The Louise Savage skimmed eastward through a harbour busy with Sunday afternoon sailors and cruisers.  Standing on the open deck smelling the saltiness in the stiff wind we buzzed past Fort Denison and Garden Island.  Sightseeing sea-planes circled overhead preparing to land at Rose Bay.  I felt a rushing visceral happiness which made my heart beat just a little bit faster.  I love, love this city.  I love that opportunity and choice have led me here.

Seaplane preparing to land at Rose Bay.
Seaplane preparing to land at Rose Bay.

From the water, Watson’s Bay looks very much the fishing village it was in the 18th and 19th centuries.  It has maintained some of that charm while now being a very well-to-do suburb.  Disembarking I am met by a crowd of day-trippers awaiting the return journey.  Doyle’s Fish and Chippery is doing its usual roaring trade.  Chilled out Sunday session music is pumping from Watson’s Bay Hotel.  Families, backpackers, teenagers and tourists are lingering under the giant Morton Bay fig tree in Robertson Park enjoying ice creams and cold drinks in the still hot afternoon.  It feels very much that we are all ‘away’ from the city but looking west, there, on the horizon is the arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Watson's Bay still kind of looks like a fishing village.
Watson’s Bay still kind of looks like a fishing village.

Gibson’s Beach is a five minute walk southwest of the ferry wharf.

Turn right and walk five minutes for Gibson's Beach.
Turn right and walk five minutes for Gibson’s Beach.

I pass the shark-netted Watson’s Bay Baths, a small municipal library (surely one of the most prettily situated libraries in the world) and the charmingly simple Vaucluse Yacht Club.

Charmingly old-school Vaucluse Yacht Club.
Charmingly old-school Vaucluse Yacht Club.
Yachts at anchor near the club.
Yachts at anchor near the club.

Gibson’s is pleasantly busy with families and teenaged couples.  I expect most visitors are locals but there’s a large Spanish-speaking family and a trio of Russian-speaking swimmers – all of whom may now be locals, of course.

Lazy Sunday arvo - Gibson's Beach style.
Lazy Sunday arvo – Gibson’s Beach style.

The flat quiet water is just the sort I find imminently inviting.  I waded in and then dove under to wash the summer city heat from my body.  The water is crystalline in a way that always amazes me.  There are schools of little minnows dashing about.

Houses open onto the end of the beach and border the associated reserve.  It’s hard to imagine the lives led here.  Well, no, it’s hard to imagine the life I would have had to have led to now find myself being able to afford a house that opens onto Gibson’s Beach.  It is nice to visit.

It's seems a charmed life to have one's front gate open onto Gibson's Beach
It seems a charmed life to have one’s front gate open onto Gibson’s Beach
Number Thirty-Two: Gibson's Beach
Number Thirty-Two: Gibson’s Beach

The beach was named after Henry Gibson, a shipping pilot who worked and lived in the area for 50 years from the late 1830s onward.

Gibson’s Beach is 23 kilometres (14 miles) from home.  It’s in the Woollahra Local Government Area, the state electorate of Vaucluse (Gabrielle Upton, Liberal) and federal division of Wentworth (Malcolm Turnbull, Liberal).

Twenty-three kilometres from home.
Twenty-three kilometres from home.
Sunday Arvo Session at Watsons Bay
Sunday Arvo Session at Watsons Bay Hotel
From the City of Sydney Archives - it says 1904 but more likely nearer 1894.
From the City of Sydney Archives – it says 1904 but more likely nearer 1894.