Beach No 51: Milk (Sunday 11 February 2018)

As I hop on my bicycle to ride to Milk Beach at 9:30 am I’m thinking of a recent conversation with a friend about Being more and Doing less. The irony of spending my leisurely bicycle ride through Sydney on a beautiful Sunday morning thinking about how to Be rather than Do isn’t entirely lost on me.

But, obviously, I am off in the shrubbery of my mind as I ride through Centennial Park. The road is one way and I ride right past my exit, so I do a full extra circuit of the park.

I spend so little time in these harbourside Eastern Suburbs that, in my mind, once I’ve left Centennial I think I’m nearly to Vaucluse, home of Milk Beach. I’m barely half way there. This second half of the ride is on a mix of major and minor roads, all of them decidedly hilly. Climbing one, my chain comes off – I find a flat bit of footpath, remove the panniers, flip the bike, and put the chain back on, leaving traces of grease on my hands.

Finally, 90 minutes from home, I’m locking my bicycle to the National Park sign at the end of Tingara Avenue and walking the remaining 200 metres to Milk Beach along the Hermitage Foreshore Walk.

After the big names beaches with their big crowds, Manly and Maroubra, Milk is a nice reminder that part of the mission of this project is to visit the more obscure beaches.

It’s a little beach: fifty metres long by, maybe, 20 metres deep. It’s a shallow crescent of sand with eroding chalk, maize, and rust coloured rock formations at either end. Women in bikinis sun bathe on some of the rocks. A family splashes and plays in the shallows. There are kayaks and paddleboards pulled up on the beach and boats are anchored not far from shore. There is a very dark brown white man in speedos roasting in the sun.

A path to South Head traverses the beach and walkers stroll through sprinkling the air with words in Italian, Mandarin, German, etc.

I manage the change from riding gear to swimming gear beneath the modesty cover of my beach towel. To me, it’s a very Australian manoeuvre. The first time I did it, years ago now, I felt like I’d ticked a box on my list of things which made me more Australian. Now, every time I do it I am reminded of that feeling. It’s nice. Which is good because the contortions involved are a bit of a pain in the arse.

I wade into the Harbour.

I’m still hot from the ride. The coolness shocks then relieves and, finally, is lovely.

Two grandfathers with two grandsons, a teenager and a toddler, throw a ball around. One grandfather finds a small silvery fish, dead and floating. He throws it further from the shore while speculating it hadn’t survived catch-and-release. It’s upturned belly glistens in the sun. I don’t want it anywhere near me.

Back on the beach I let the sun and breeze dry my skin, pour myself hot sweet black tea from my Thermos, and enjoy the view of our harbour. The wind is picking up making the surface choppy and frothy. Yet the water is pale pale green and cobalt with forest green under tones.

Last night I met a lot of people at a party who, while they live here, are originally from overseas and mostly had arrived more recently than me. In talking with them about Sydney, a place I, a lot of my friends, and the media complain about regularly, I was reminded just how magical this city is.

Sitting here now those impressions of other people are made manifest. Just look at this place. I am in a major city. I can see the urban skyline just there to the right. Seaplanes depart and arrive. The ferry comes and goes from Rose Bay Wharf. This gorgeous crescent of beach and the parklands behind are in the public domain and look at all the people who’ve come to enjoy it. It’s magnificent.

Tea done it’s time to take some photos. Which is when I fall off the boardwalk and tumble into the bushes. No injury but a bit of an abrasion. And no harm to the ego either as it went unnoticed.

I’m ready to head home.

A BIT ABOUT MILK BEACH AND VAUCLUSE, MAINLY VAUCLUSE

Milk Beach is in Vaucluse.

This area was home to the Birrabirragel people of the coastal Dharug language group until their homeland was invaded and they were displaced. Their sovereignty was among the first to be disrupted after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. A rudimentary signal station was established on the ridge separating the sea from the harbour, it was formalised by 1790 and a bridal trail connected it to Sydney Cove. By 1811 that trail had become South Head Road.

Vaucluse House is one of the suburbs main tourist attractions and the source of the name of the suburb. It was built by Sir Henry Browne Hayes who had been transported as a convict for kidnapping the granddaughter of a wealthy Irish banker.

Let’s delve into that one a little more, shall we? Sir Henry was born into a wealthy family in Cork, Ireland in 1762. In 1790, at age 28, he was knighted. Following the death of his wife he became acquainted with Miss Mary Pike, heiress to over £20,000. On 22 July 1797 Sir Henry abducted her, took her to his house, called in a man dressed as a priest to perform a marriage ceremony – to which Miss Pike objected and which she never considered legitimate. She was eventually rescued by relatives and Hayes fled. Wikipedia doesn’t say as much, and it’s probably not recorded anywhere, but I’m going to guess that between the ceremony and her rescue that Sir Henry raped Miss Pike. What I’ve read indicates that her wealth was his main interest. Perhaps. I’ve also read that she never fully recovered from the ordeal and experienced “bouts of madness” through the rest of her days.

In discussing the convicts, we often focus on the many who were sent out for either the petty crimes of poverty and hunger (stealing food or small items to sell to be able to buy food) or political crimes. Sir Henry Browne Hayes committed a vile crime.

He was on the run for two years. His trial in 1801 garnered much attention. He was found guilty and initially was condemned to death later commuted to transportation for life. He arrived in Sydney in July 1802. Still with his title and his wealth even as a convict. He had paid his way into a softer passage from the England but along the way made an enemy of Surgeon Thomas Jamison. Upon arrival in Sydney he spent the first six months imprisoned “for his threatening and improper conduct.” Governor King found him “a restless, troublesome character” and was glad to grant permission for him to purchase land and a cottage well distant from the main colony of Sydney.

So, in 1803 he bought a home and property from Thomas Laycock. Sir Henry, an admirer of the 14th century poet Petrach named his cottage after a poem about the Fontaine de Vaucluse near the town L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in France.

The house was later purchased by William Charles Wentworth (in 1853). He was a barrister and explorer – one of the colonists who first crossed the Blue Mountains in 1813. He made many structural changes and additions, so it is his house and gardens you visit if you visit Vaucluse House.

Closer to Milk Beach, in fact in the parklands adjacent to it, is Strickland House – originally called Carrara and built in 1854-6 for the first Lord Mayor of Sydney, John Hosking. The name was changed in 1915 when it became a convalescent home for women.

The only reference I can find for the naming of Milk Beach says it was so named at the location of milk deliveries to Strickland House.

Carrara, August 1903
Carrara, August 1903

VAUCLUSE PEOPLE

In colonial times rich men and men holding important positions built their homes in Vaucluse. While all the Birrabirragel people’s land has long been stolen and extensively built on, still the wealthy flock to Vaucluse. As of 2016 the 2030 post code (which includes Vaucluse) had the 5th highest mean taxable income in Australia ($154,010) – note that that only counts taxable income not accumulated wealth or income for which the tax man does not cometh.  The median household weekly income is $2741 (compared with $1486 for New South Wales and $1438 for Australia).

Vaucluse & Woollahra, 1895
Vaucluse & Woollahra, 1895

On the 2016 census night 9,337 people called Vaucluse home. Of these 25, or 0.3%, identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders heritage. (As compares to 2.9% of residents of New South Wales and 2.8% of all Australians.) These 25 people had a median household income of $2550 or $191 less than their non-Aboriginal neighbours, which over 52 weeks would be $9,932 less per year. But that $2550 is twice the average of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in NSW ($1214) and Australia more generally ($1203).

Most Vauclusians are Australian born (57.5%) though for nearly half (48.3%) both parents were born overseas. Those born overseas themselves hail from South Africa (7.8%), England (5.2%), China (2.3%), New Zealand (1.9%) and Israel (1.4%).

Vaucluse is probably one of very few suburbs in all of Australia where the most common response about religious identification is Judaism at 23.2% followed by No Religion 22.6%, Catholic 19.8% and Anglican 11.5%. Across the state of NSW 0.5% people identified as Jewish and in Australian 0.4%.

VAUCLUSE POLITICS

Milk Beach is in the Local Government Area of Woollahra, the State electorate of Vaucluse (Gabrielle Upton, Liberal) and the Federal Division of Wentworth (Malcolm Turnbull, Liberal).

In the recent national postal poll on same sex marriage 81% of Wentworth voters were in favour (compared with 62% nationally).

MILK BEACH LOCATION

Milk Beach is 13.7 kilometres (8.5 miles) from home.

Beach No 50: Maroubra (7 January 2018)

Since 2010 I’ve been visiting Sydney’s beaches in alphabetical order. I’ve reached number 50: Maroubra.

We’re set for record-breaking heat today. It’s supposed to be in the high 40s in the Western Suburbs. My old schoolmate, Tracey, is visiting from Chicago – and no heat is too much heat for her.  My friend Matthew is coming along too – he’s becoming a regular here at Sundays the Beach with this to be his third (after Little Congwong and Manly).

The Maroubra Beach high street, the shops, the reserve behind the beach, the beach itself, and the area between the flags are chockers. The heat is all encompassing. I’m swimming through air a bit warmer than my blood.

As we arrive there is a Westpac rescue helicopter low over the water at the southern end. There are a heap of Surf Lifesaver dinghies out there as well.

Bright colours, harsh sun
Bright colours, harsh sun

We find a bare patch of beach not far from the flags and set up camp. My new red beach umbrella goes up, and in its shade all is good. Our phones say it’s in the mid-40s but it doesn’t feel that hot at all – more like the high 30s.

There are thousands of people on the beach. Hundreds in water between the flags.

I notice there are two ambulances near the pavilion – one with its bay doors open.

I love Sydney beaches which draw the whole world. There are people here from every inhabitable continent. I’m sure among the masses are even some who have worked in the Antarctic. Yes, it’s crowded and messy, but really beautiful – all these people, all their various swimming costumes, their umbrellas, tents, beach towels.

There is a gaggle of very dark boys, pre-pubescent, lanky, sinewy, laughing in the waves for the whole time we are there. The sea sparkles against their matt-dark-chocolate skin – they are beautiful in that way that happy, healthy, youth is always beautiful, here, with the added aesthetic loveliness of the contrast between their dark brown skin and the pale blue and white of the surf.

We take turns coming and going from the water. Tracey is a life-long swimmer, competitive in her youth. She dolphins under the waves and swims out, tries to catch some waves back to shore with mixed success. In my usual way, I wade in slowly, feeling the strength of the push and pull of the surf coming and going.

Everyone is at Mourbra
Everyone is at Mourbra

The surf lifesavers – perhaps on higher alert owing to whatever was happening when we arrived – are on their game, regularly whistling stray swimmers back between the flags.

From under my umbrella I gaze out past my recently repainted toes to the sand and sea. The water is the palest of blues – azure really, to aqua, to cobalt at the crisp hard line separating the sea from the sun-bleached pale blue upturned bowl of a sky.

Tracey makes me feel short - not many women do. Nice to have an overseas visitor for Number 50.
Tracey makes me feel short – not many women do. Nice to have an overseas visitor for Number 50.

After about 90 minutes and several swims – the gaggle of girls to our left light cigarettes and young men – these seemingly American – arrive with music. Matthew goes to tell the girls they are not allowed to smoke on the beach and is in a bit of a stand-off with them. He goes to talk to the Surf-Lifesavers and is told he’ll have to call the police if he wants something done about it. (Maybe on a quieter day they may have acted.) As it happened one of the lifesavers walked past the girls to the pavilion – coincidental probably – but they did put their cigarettes out briefly.

From the lifesavers Matthew learns the helicopter was collecting a body found in surf. Not a swimmer who had drowned but, from the newspaper story I read later, a suspected suicide.

Matthew tells us this after we’ve left the beach and are heading someplace to find food. We wind up at The North End Café where we have really fantastic salads – well Matthew and Tracey have salads and I have their salmon poke – which was so very good.

Poke at North Beach Cafe
Poke at North End Cafe

While we were waiting for our food, my friend Steve comes in to order drinks. He and Amanda are sitting outside. Steve lives in Coogee, Amanda is visiting from the UK, I know them through entirely separate channels (I met Steve on Facebook and Amanda through my friend Tom – who, I should note, doesn’t, as far as I know, know Steve) – and here they are at the same café as us in Maroubra. You know you’re in your hometown when you run into people you know at random places.

Lunch done, we nip into the convenience store next door for Golden Gaytimes – Matthew’s all-time favourite ice creams and one I like to introduce all visitors too because it’s tasty, and it’s called a Golden Gaytime.

Ya gotta love a Golden Gaytime
Ya gotta love a Golden Gaytime

A BIT ABOUT MAROUBRA

The residents of the Maroubra area, at the time of European invasion, were the Mura-ora-dial people who spoke Dharawal. The name Maroubra comes from this language and means place of thunder, presumably in reference to the crashing surf. There are rock carvings on the northern headland and evidence of an extensive tool-workshop was found at the south end of the beach in the early 20th century.

After the 1788 arrival of Europeans on Sydney Harbour it took a while to get this far south. The first house was built in the area in 1861 and by the 1870s wool scouring works had been set up at the northern end of the bay. Apparently this is a fairly smelly process and, at the time, Maroubra seemed just the place for the ‘noxious trades’.

When the 1,513 ton, full-rigged, iron ship Hereward was caught in gale-force winds and wrecked on the northern end of the beach in May 1898 – Maroubra was suddenly in the headlines and Sydneysiders flocked to have sticky-beak. Because in 1898 going to look at the shipwreck was as a good a day out as any. As I suppose it still would be today, really.

The wreck of 'The Hereward', May 1898
The wreck of ‘The Hereward’, May 1898

After the lifting of the ban on daylight bathing was in 1902, Maroubra Beach became a popular destination for swimmers – and with in a few years had surf lifesaving clubs at both ends of the beach.

Maroubra Surf Bathing c 1910
Maroubra Surf Bathing c 1910

Residential development began in earnest in the 1910s, the tram line from the city was extended to Maroubra  Beach by 1921. And during the depression many Sydneysiders who had been pushed out of rental accommodation in the inner city set up camp in the sand hills and dunes at the southern end of the beach. Then, after World War II, the NSW Housing Commission built the Coral Sea Housing Estate in the same area. This opened in 1961 and the residents of the estate make up a significant part of the Maroubra Beach community.

Edgar Froese, German electronic music pioneer best known for founding Tangerine Dream wrote this sort of trippy yet enjoyable nearly 17-minute piece Maroubra Bay after visiting.

MAROUBRA BY THE NUMBERS

According to the 2016 census, Maroubra South (which takes in the beach and points west as far as Anzac Parade) is home to 10,683 people. They have a median household income of $1529 per week, which, well slightly higher than the state ($1486) and federal ($1438) median is $920 per week lower the median household income in Manly (beach number 49).

There are 210 people in Marobra South who identified themselves  as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander – that’s 2%. Their median household income is $771 per week (compared to $1214 in NSW and $1203 for Australia). Notably this is $1678 per week less than those identifying as Aboriginal a/o Torres Strait Islander in Manly. The gap is more than the overall average median weekly income for people in Maroubra.

The typical denizen of Maroubra South is 38 years old, Australian-born, but with at least one parent who was born overseas. They’ve at least completed year 12, and are quite likely to have a bachelor degree or more. They live with 1.3 other people with whom they form a family. They live in a flat or apartment which they rent. Most are working full-time at jobs they drive to.

35.2% of households speak a language other than English at home – no one language is dominant, in fact none makes up more that 3.3%, but these are the most common, in order: Greek, Mandarin, Spanish, Portuguese, and Cantonese.

I thought this was interesting – the median rent is $450 per week. The households where it takes less than 30% of their income to pay rent was 78.4% (compared with 87.1% for NSW and 88.5% for Australia) the households spending more than 30% of their income on rent was 21.6% (12.9%-NSW, 11.5% AUS).

MAROUBRA’S POLITICS

Maroubra is in the Local Government area of the City of Randwick, the State electorate of Maroubra (Michael Daley, Labor) and the Federal Division of Kingsford Smith (Matt Thistlethwaite, Labor).

In the recent national postal-poll on same-sex marriage 80% of Kingsford Smith voters returned their ballots with 64% voting in favour (compared with 62% nationally).

MAROUBRA’S LOCATION

Maroubra Beach is 11.2 km from home (7 miles)