Beach No 52: Mona Vale – A winter solstice beach (23 June 2018)

Since 2010 I’ve been visiting Sydney’s beaches in alphabetical order. I’ve reached number 52: Mona Vale.

Replicating a structure I’ve been using in my recent posts from my bicycle trip over Anzac Day Week – I’ve split this post into three sections: my story of visiting the beach – which in this case is an annual review of how life is going, a bit about Mona Vale, and then the practical details of how I got there and where I ate, etc.

The Story

My first winter solstice beach visit had real substance. I was closing out a year in which my marriage disintegrated and looking towards a year in which I would reset the direction of my life. My following winter solstice was a northern one – I was in Krakow, Poland, so no beaches. I missed 2016 – I simply forgot how good it is to go to the beach on the winter solstice. Last year I remembered and made the journey to Malabar Beach (No. 48).

When I’d gone to Great Mackerel (No. 22) in 2014 I went with a ceremony in mind, one I replicated at Malabar. I noted the best and worst things of the year gone and, then, destroyed the list. The good and bad alike were equally past. With the solstice comes the beginning of more light coming into the world, well my half of the world, and a good time to be expansive and hopeful.

This year is a bit different I was to find.

When I set off for Mona Vale (No. 52) I hadn’t quite, as yet, finished reading through my diaries from the year. I read them on the long bus ride up there. And read them over lunch. And I read them with coffee. And I didn’t find ups and downs as much as patterns.

Let me tell you about the day and what I found.

I meant to get to Mona Vale during the summer but, honestly, it’s a long way from home and I just never got the momentum up to make the journey. But I like the Winter Solstice beach tradition and that put the oomph in my get up and go. That and the glorious winter sun and clear blue sky which greet me on the morning of 23 June (two days after the solstice).

It takes a couple of hours, and two bus rides, to get from my home in Newtown to Mona Vale. As I get my bearings, I’m struck afresh by the culture variations found within this thing called Sydney. I’m not speaking of ethnic variation, even, although that features prominently across our many suburbs. Newtown residents are mostly white; Mona Vale residents are mostly white – in both places many people are Australian born. But the innate vibe is so different – this is a classically suburban place full of single-family homes, and car-commutes, by the beach.

Armchair Collective looked promising on line and more so in person. My salad is hyper-healthy and tasty (details below). To my left a young family with a fussing bub, to my right two young uni students studying for a test, at a nearby table a couple in their 60s lingering over their coffees and the weekend newspapers. A surfer – wetsuit peeled down off his torso – wanders in for a coffee. The scene is not that different from a café in Newtown – except for the surfer, of course – but yet it feels different, just a bit foreign for me.

Surfers and swimmers come from the beach. I’m impressed how many are in the water – most so by this quite mature man in nothing but his Speedos and drops of drying ocean. I do love Sydney’s 365-days-a-year swimmers.

Mostly the beach is empty and quiet. Some families with small children poking around in the tidepools, a freckling of surfers waiting on waves, a pair of fluro-clad rock fishermen. The pale, gibbous moon hangs ghostly in an almost cobalt sky.

I like this variation on marking the ending of (and the beginning of) the year. New Years is too close to Christmas, too summery, too full of existing imposed ideas of closing and opening. My winter solstice beaches are quiet, personal, and peaceful.

I breathe and watch the waves roll in and think of the year gone by.

I’ve spent the year employed, full-time, in an office role – for the first time this century. One of the first things I notice in reviewing my diaries since June of 2017 is how often I’ve been battling with my own discomfort in the role, my own unhappiness at being in a full-time job. The diaries are full of observations about how fast time is moving, and not in a good way. Of how I’m just not finding my way to excel in, and enjoy, the gig.

I take this unease with me to Bronze Kiosk for a coffee in the lengthening shadows of the Norfolk Island Pines.

I suppose the best things of the year have been: I have begun to settle into the job and the idea of having a job even if I still fight with it. I’ve become a lot, or a bit, better about [a man who shall remain nameless and distant]. I can see that – even as it still plagues me some. My finances are improved and less uncertain; I’ve paid something like A$12,000 to my US student loans. I’ve read a lot. I’ve written a lot – or, well, I have written and improved my relationship with my writing. I’ve seen a lot of movies. I’ve socialised. On balance, I’ve looked after myself reasonably well.

I suppose the worst thing of the last year are the flip sides of many of the good things: I’m still a bit plagued by [a man who shall remain nameless and distant]. I still fight with my job. I still berate myself for not doing a better job making and following plans. For not getting more done. For not eating better, being fitter, etc. I still haven’t met any men who are available and local.

I walk back to the Mona Vale shops into the setting sun and have a quick beer at Modus Operandi Brewing before beginning the long journey home – bus to Manly, ferry to Circular Quay, train to Macdonaldtown.

As I push on in my review of my diaries I’m struck how internal they are – they are almost entirely about my internal life: my thoughts about my job, [the man who shall remain nameless], the absence of opportunities to meet local men. There is little about the world around me, current events, movies seen, meals eaten, etc.

They are also way too self-critical – not getting up early enough, not writing enough, not trying hard enough to make dating apps work for me, not loving my job. I need to do less of that – I’m good, my life is good – berating myself for its imperfections won’t make it better.

So, I’ll end on the positive – it has been a lovely day. I get a lot of what I wanted to get done, done: I wrote, I ran, I went to Mona Vale – had a nice lunch, a visit to the beach, a coffee, a beer.  Came home via Manly and the ferry. Did my laundry, changed the bedding, watched a little Masters of Sex, a little Rugby, and did some work on my bookkeeping.

Addendum

In the weeks following my visit to Mona Vale, I slowly finished reading through my diaries and at the end here were the themes: an unease in my work and a deep loneliness. I have a wonderful circle of friends who are loving and supportive but I’m no one’s First Person – the first person they want to share good news with, the first person they want to share bad news with, the first person they want to see in the day. My marriage collapsed just about five years ago. I’ve grown and learned and travelled. I’m good in my own skin and in my own company. I do believe that you aren’t ready to fully be with someone else if you aren’t comfortable being on your own. Now, I’ve done that – I’ve been complete, on my own, for half a decade. I want more, I think I’m ready for more.

And, ironically, the Monday after that Saturday trip to Mona Vale I was made redundant. Since the initial shock wore off, I’ve been a much happier person. Poorer, but happier. No more fighting to try to like that job more. In a way, that’s one problem solved.

A bit about Mona Vale

Mona Vale was known as Bongin Bongin to the Aboriginal inhabitants of the area prior to the English invasion.

The first land grants were made in April 1813 to Robert Campbell (1769-1846) who possessed 700 acres that extended from Mona Vale to the end of Newport Beach. It developed into a market gardening area specialising in tomatoes grown in glasshouses – an industry which attracted many Croatian migrants. After World War II it was transformed into the residential community we see now.

The 2016 census counted 10,670 people in Mona Vale, of these 71 (0.7%) identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander heritage. Seventy-one percent of Mona Valeans were Australian born, but 30% had both parents born overseas. Eighty-five percent only spoke English at home with other languages including Serbian (1.1%), German (1%), and Croatian (1%).

Mona Vale is in the Northern Beaches Council Local Government Area, the State electorate of Pittwater (Rob Stokes, Liberal) and the Federal Division of Mackeller (Jason Falinski, Liberal).

In the 2017 Same Sex Marriage Postal Survey 84% of voters in Mackeller returned their ballots with 68% of them voting Yes and 32% voting No. Across NSW it was 58% Yes, 42% No, and nationwide it was 62% Yes and 42% No.

Details 

To get to Mona Vale I took the M30 bus from Newtown to Neutral Bay, and the B1 to Mona Vale ($4.09).

I had the Armchair Collective Salad with added grilled chicken (kale, carrot, red cabbage, cos lettuce, crushed toasted almond, avocado, cherry tomato, quinoa, sunflower seeds, preserved lemon dressing, garlic infused goat cheese) with a flat white coffee for $25.80.

At Bronze Kiosk I had a piccolo latte ($3). Then, lastly, a beer at Modus Operandi ($7).

I took the a bus to Manly, the ferry to Circular Quay, and train home ($15.42).

Beach No 49: Manly – 10 December 2017

Summer has arrived and the beaches beckon.

It’s a gorgeous, golden, shimmering day. There’s heat in the sun and cool in the shade. It feels, as it should, like early summer.

I meet Aaron, Giancarlo, and Matthew for a late breakfast at Kansas City Shuffle in The Rocks. We eat, drink coffee, talk of politics, and life, and whatever else comes to mind – an enjoyable, engaged, all-in conversation. This was just the sort of thing I missed while I was travelling alone through France – this sort of free-flowing dialogue among people with enough in common to understand one another yet who have had different enough lives as to make for fascinating observations. We order more coffee, and a sweet to share, and then its time to move on.

Matthew, Aaron, Giancarlo and me (my camera seems biased towards me) at Kansas City Shuffle.
Matthew, Aaron, Giancarlo and me (my camera seems biased towards me) at Kansas City Shuffle.

Aaron, Matthew, and I walk to Circular Quay and find a dispiritingly long queue for the standard Manly Ferry. We are about to walk back to Wynyard to get the bus when we decide to see how bad the situation is for the Fast Ferry – it’s okay so we splurge out ($8.70 one way) and join the United Nations of holiday-makers, a large number of them in Santa hats, zipping across the harbour.

Silly season in Sydney
Silly season in Sydney

Manly itself is, not surprisingly, chockablock. The Corso heaves with people. We stop into the Hotel Steyne for a pre-beach beer (and an opportunity to use the pub’s toilets to change into our swimmers rather than the overused beach ablution block). I like the light in the front bar and the courtyard – it somehow carries a reflection of the sea, which probably isn’t quite literal but the salt in the air does something to the light, the glistening blue beyond is present.

Camera favouring Aaron this time.
Camera favouring Aaron this time.

The courtyard is full of people in Christmas costumes and Santa hats. There is clearly some organised event going on but it’s not obvious what it is. Maybe just a viral thing – “wear your Santa gear to Manly” – the message may have been.

Happy Christmas - Manly style.
Happy Christmas – Manly style.

We make our way to the beach and walk amongst the crowds. The sea is rough, dumpy – the flags are narrowly placed at the southern end of the beach. There we find a spot on the border of sunshine and the shade thrown by the Norfolk Island pines lining the seawall.

The Pacific is all of the blues – from the palest aquamarine through to a green-tinged cobalt on the horizon.

Mohammed is missing. An announcement is made.

Mohammad is a six-year-old boy who’s gone missing in the area behind the flags. He’s wearing red shorts.

I imagine how terrifying this moment must be for Mohammed’s parents.

He must have been found. There is no second announcement. No police or frantic searching by Surf Lifesavers.

I wade into the surf, among the crowd. I dodge the incoming kids on boogie boards. Share smiles with a three-year-old bobbing in a rubber ring – laughing in the waves. His parents are near, but not hovering. There is a joyful freedom in his giggles. There are two-women, in saris, who’ve waded in knee-deep. As usual I ease ever so slowly in, letting my body get used to the water temperature – which is fine, but cool. And then, when I’m finally mid-torso deep – I dunk under.

It’s always a great feeling – cooling, freeing, briefly emptying my mind of thinking and planning. And yet I always take forever to wade into that moment. Perhaps that symbolises something. Or perhaps I am just, as ever, over-thinking it.

Aaron and Matthew have stayed on the beach – laying quietly. I join them – cooling, drying, listening the Babel of voices, the sound of the waves folding onto the shore, the softness of the breeze in the boughs of the pines.

Number 49 - Manly
Number 49 – Manly

“Hungry?”

I thought first of fish and chips but a wish for something healthier wins out and we have sushi instead.

I leave the boys then and collect lamingtons at the bakery on my way to Jim’s. Christabel is there too and we have an afternoon of catching up and chatting – sharing lamingtons and tea before moving to cocktails – and, when Tim and Alex arrive, and dinner served up, a bit of wine as well.

I dash for a ferry but just before boarding I have a reply from Tyler that they are home and decorating the tree – so one more stop on my Sunday in Manly. Lisa Marie is due with their first child in the coming weeks so this is likely the last chance to see them for a while.

Then I’m dashing again – now in a bit of drizzle – to a late ferry full of the sunburned and salty, the tipsy and costumed, and families laden with exhausted toddlers. There’s a lot of sleeping done between leaving and arriving.

Me? I’m feeling … alive and happy. It’s been a perfect sort of day – full of easy, comfortable socialising, and the beach, and a swim – the first of the season, always a bit like a fresh baptism as a Sydneysider.

A BIT ABOUT MANLY

I was going to open this section on the history of Manly with the story of Bennelong because the Dictionary of Sydney led me to believe he and Colebee had been kidnapped from Manly Cove. However, the Wikipedia page about Bennelong says he was a member of the Wangal Clan of the Eora people connected with the south side of the Parramatta River. Such, I suppose is the nature of the relationship between the invaders and the invaded that basic information about Bennelong is confused.

The Dictionary of Sydney says that he, and his fellow, Colebee, were kidnapped from Manly Cove on the orders of Governor Arthur Phillip in 1789 “so that Europeans could learn more about their culture and language”. These men were from the Kay-ye-my clan of the Guringai people. The name “Manly” is derived from Phillip’s description of the people he encountered here in 1788, “their confidence,” he said, “and manly behaviour made me give the name of Manly Cove to this place.”

Taking of Colbee (Colebee) and Benalon (Bennelong), Manly Cove 25 November 1789
Taking of Colbee (Colebee) and Benalon (Bennelong), Manly Cove 25 November 1789

In any case, Bennelong was the most famous Aboriginal man in early Sydney history. After escaping from captivity, he re-established contact with Governor Phillip as a free-man, learned English and served as an interlocutor between the British colonists and the Indigenous people of Sydney Harbour. In this service he also travelled to England in 1792 – taking in the theatre, meeting with various gentry, and getting sick. The location of his Sydney hut is now occupied by the Opera House – on what is known as Bennelong Point.

Even while advising the colonists, Bennelong retained a prominent position in the Eora community – including participation in the last recorded initiation ceremony in Port Jackson in 1797. By the turn of the century he led a large clan living near Kissing Point on the north side of the Parramatta River in what is now Putney. It was here that he died on 3 January 1813. There is a plaque at the end of Watson Street, Putney, about 60m from where his grave is thought to be located.

Emerging from that rabbit hole … by mid-19th century Manly was being envisioned as the Southern Hemisphere’s answer to Brighton Beach, a seaside resort for harried city-dwellers. A wharf was built and paddle-steamers, eventually run by the Port Jackson & Manly Steamship Company, delivered the people. It was this company which coined the advertising slogan touting Manly as “seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care.”

Manly Beach c 1868 by George Penkivil Slade
Manly Beach c 1868 by George Penkivil Slade

It was between the World Wars, and especially after the latter one, that Manly boomed as a commuter suburb. Today it retains elements of the seaside resort while also being a well-off sought-after suburb, and being home to world class surfing and surfers. It is the sister city of Bath, England. I visited Bath during my midlife gap year. It’s twinning with Manly seems both entirely logical and a bit wrong.

Surfers, Manly Beach 1957 (photo by Raymond Morris)
Surfers, Manly Beach 1957 (photo by Raymond Morris)

In 2012 a four kilometre stretch from Freshwater Beach (No 31) and Shelly Beach (yet to come) was named the Manly-Freshwater World Surfing Reserve. I mention this mostly so I can include this from the dedication ceremony – as I thought a photo the then Governor of NSW, and always fabulous, Her Excellency Professor The Honourable Dame Marie Bashir with world surfing champion Kelly Slater would be fun – the lurking presence of Tony Abbott and Mike Baird only adds to the composition, I think.

Duke's surfboard, Kelly Slater, Marie Bashir, Tony Abbott and Mike Baird
Brad Farmer, Jean Hay, Duke Kahanamoku’s surfboard, Kelly Slater, Marie Bashir, Tony Abbott and Mike Baird (Photo: Henry Wong, Manly Council)

MANLY BY THE NUMBERS

According to the 2016 census Manly is home to 15,866 people with a median household income of $2449 per week (almost double the NSW average of $1486 and the Australian average of $1438).

Sixty-nine (69) Manly residents identify as of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage – that’s 0.4% of the total. Like their neighbours, these folks are better off than their fellows living elsewhere – with a median household income of $2291 per week – NSW average for people of Indigenous heritage is $1214 and Australian is $1203.

The average Manly person is of European heritage (most likely descended from people from the UK), they’re in their mid-30s, and live in a flat (just as likely rented as owned). Half of them have a Bachelor’s Degree or more, half had at least one parent born overseas, most likely they have no religion but if they do they’re probably Catholic. If they speak something other than English at home – and not many do – it’s French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, or Italian.

MANLY’S POLITICS

Manly is in the local government area of Northern Beaches Council, in the State Electorate of Manly (James Griffin, Liberal) and the Federal Division of Warringah (Tony Abbott, Liberal).

In the recent national postal-poll on same-sex marriage 84% of Warringah voters returned their ballots with 75% voting in favour (compared with 62% nationally).

MANLY’S LOCATION

Manly is 17.3 kilometres from home.

No 34: Great Mackerel – 22 June 2014

2014-06-22 13.07.31 (2) On Friday I woke to a radio program about ceremonies people create for themselves. A caller described a women’s winter solstice ceremony she had been conducting for some years. The Winter Solstice marks the moment when more light begins to fill your days. It is the beginning of a new cycle of growing then diminishing sunlight – it’s the nadir. The caller’s ceremony involved acknowledging the events of the past year and letting them go while looking ahead to future plans. It got me thinking.

I’m so keen to close the door on the past year – to set aside both what was bad and what was good and say of it all: done. Let more light shine, let new challenges present themselves, let’s go. I began to mull over a little ceremony for myself.

Of course the winter solstice in Sydney is not exactly a short, dark, cold day. Anything but – we had a gloriously sunny warm weekend. As a one-time resident of colder climes I find Sydney’s winter deliciously decadent and I was happy to incorporate the next beach in our tour into my Solstice plans.

Google was wrong - three hours from home to beach.
Google was wrong – three hours from home to beach.

Great Mackerel Beach is about 50 kilometres from home. It took just shy of three hours for me to get there by train, bus and ferry. The beach is backed by a small community of mostly-holiday homes – no shops, no cafes, just the beach and a few houses.

Free community library on the wharf.
Free community library on the wharf.
Beach number thirty-four: Great Mackerel
Beach number thirty-four: Great Mackerel

When I arrive other passengers from the ferry make their way up the beach to the walking track into Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and an elderly man is fishing with his grandson, otherwise the beach is deserted.

The ceremony I settled on is this: I will take a few minutes to write down all the bad stuff which has happened in this past year – and then burn it; I will then write all the good stuff – and burn it too. 2014-06-22 12.57.25 (2) 2014-06-22 12.59.08 (2)

The thing about ceremonies is you don’t know if you’ll feel different for doing them, you just do them as a way to mark something. I didn’t really expect to feel differently for having burned some bits of paper.

After the ceremony I went for a long walk in the National Park. The first long walk by myself in the bush in way too long. The last was probably in December when I visited Uluru. And I have to admit to feeling released, feeling like that the past year was really over that I could say “Right that’s done now, what’s next?” and mean it.

It helps to feel fresh air in my lungs and my body working hard; it helps to look out to a turquoise-to- lapis-lazuli sea which glistens in the sharp sunlight of Sydney’s winter.

Winter in Sydney - so tough.
Winter in Sydney – so tough.

The walk takes me to a shelter used by Aboriginal people for thousands of years and also a site of Aboriginal rock carvings. I sit on a rock in the sun and think of how long people have sheltered here – experiencing love and loss, the rising and falling of hopes.

Carving of a man made by Aboriginal Australians up to a couple thousand years ago.
Carving of a man made by Aboriginal Australians up to a couple thousand years ago.

Such places help me put things in perspective: my problems are not original or unique to humanity, my life is but one infinitesimally small strand in the story – what I say and do is unlikely to matter much beyond me and the people I know and love. And that, for me, is both a liberating idea and one that brings the focus back on making the most of my time and not stressing too much about the concerns, the rules, and the expectations of others.

As I walk I think about plans for the future and commitments I might make to myself about the coming year. I’m not looking for resolutions or to-do lists but something more general and here’s what I come up with:

To cherish and nurture my existing friendships and leave my heart open to beginning new ones; and to cultivate habits which are in alignment with my values and serve my goals.

That’s it – a pretty good way to think about life, for me, for now.

Three coloured soils/sands
Three coloured soils/sands
I didn't swim but I did dip.
I didn’t swim but I did dip.

2014-06-22 14.10.56 2014-06-22 14.09.58 2014-06-22 13.52.43 (2)

Great Mackerel is in the Pittwater Council LGA, Pittwater State electorate (Rob Stokes, Liberal) and the Federal Division of Mackellar (Bronwyn Bishop, Liberal).

 

No 31: Freshwater Beach – 5 January 2014

I would have posted Freshwater sooner but I got distracted by Duke Kahanamoku.

Kahanamoku, a native-Hawaiian, Olympic swimming champion and sometime-movie star, is credited with introducing board surfing to Australia.  Australia without surfing is unimaginable; surfing culture is, to many, synonymous with Australian culture.  Board surfing surly would have arrived by another route but we can credit Duke for surfing starting when it did and where it did – Freshwater Beach, Christmas Eve, 1914.

This from a report in The Daily Telegraph of 25 December 1914:

Going out into the water some distance, the Hawaiian laid full length on the board, and, waiting for an inrolling wave, he propelled himself beachwards with his hands.
As the roller gathered momentum, he raised himself on to his knees, then stood up, and rode gracefully for a considerable distance.

Duke surfing Freshwater as depicted in the Daily Tele on Christmas Day 1914.

When Laura and I arrive at Freshwater the local denizens are readying for Duke’a Day, which is to be held the following Saturday.

The beach itself is utterly chock-a-block.  I haven’t been to Freshwater often but I’d never seen it this crowded.  At a guess there were a thousand people there.  Swimmers, including a great gaggle of children, are massed between the flags with more filling the rock pool at the northern end of the beach.  Surfers fill the rolling waves at the south end.

It’s steamily hot in the sun and I cower beneath my beach umbrella.  New arrivals wander about looking for an empty spot to make their own.  The waves land rhythmically on the shore with a sprinkling of excited children’s voices greeting each arrival.

I go for a dip.  This will be the last surf beach for a while and I can’t avoid getting in it.  I wish I had grown up with surf and had learned to read the ocean and feel comfortable with its power.  Without my glasses I’m not blind but I can’t see well and that undermines my confidence in the sea.  So I don’t spend long in the surf – I fight with the muscles of my legs and torso against the pull and push of the current, the power of a wave knocks me off balance.  It’s all good but it’s also enough.

We finish our visit to Freshwater with a coffee at the Pilu kiosk.

Although a land grant was made in 1818 by Governor Macquarie the area wasn’t really settled by Europeans until the 1880s.  From 1900 a working-men-only camp was established at the beach with tents soon giving way to huts.  After World War I working-class families began establishing camps in the area.  In the early 1920s the camps were viewed as disreputable by the local burghers – they were particularly concerned with those who flowed in at the weekends.  They lobbied to have the destination sign-board on buses coming to the area to read ‘Harbord’ rather than ‘Camp City’.  The beach didn’t regain the name Freshwater until 1980.

Freshwater marks the northern end of the Manly-Freshwater World Surfing Reserve which was declared on 10 March 2012.  Its one of only five reserves so-dedicated worldwide, the others are: Malibu, USA; Ericeira, Portugal; Santa Cruz, USA and Huanchaco, Peru.

Freshwater Beach 30 kilometers (18 miles) from home.  It’s in the Warringah Council Local Government Area; the Manly State Electorate (Mike Baird, Liberal); and the Warringah Federal Division (Tony Abbott, Liberal).

Mateship means helping each other with the sunscreen.
Deceptively peaceful … thousands await over the horizon.

No 30: Forty Baskets Beach – 28 December 2013

I’ve been to the beaches but not blogged about them.  It’s been quite a year for me.  Sundays the Beach was our project and now it is my project.  Change is hard and change is good.

I’ve decided that counting the beaches with fingers is fun and worth doing when I can but failing to have sufficient numbers is no excuse for not going to the beach on a good beach day.

So I’ll tell you about the latest beach, Forty Baskets, today, and fill in the missing beaches over time.  This season I will post the beaches as I go and make this a more active blog.  Bear with me.

I’ve been trying to get to Forty Baskets for a week or so.  Some friends and I were going to do the Spit to Manly Walk, stopping at Forty Baskets, and finish with a Manly Ferry ride home.  But one friend’s plans changed and another was sick.  I thought I’d go on my own on Christmas Day but it was not a beach day – overcast and cool.

But Saturday dawned a gem of a beach day – sunny, warm, not too hot, breezy but not too blowy.  Laura and I drive to Manly and walk the two kilometers to Forty Baskets – passing Delwood and Fairlight Beaches and through North Harbour Reserve.

We are greeted by an informational sign which tells us that the original inhabitants of this area were the Boregal and Gorualgal groups of the Gatlay family group of the Gai-marigal clan who made their homes in what is now northern Sydney.

The first land-grants were issued to settlers in 1834 but the first homes weren’t built until 1887.  Being remote from Sydney it remained lightly populated until the 1940s when modern development began.

The name derives from the forty baskets of fish caught by local fisherman to deliver to soldiers from the War in Sudan who were being held at the Quarantine Station upon their return to Sydney in 1885.

I was intrigued by the name even before I learned the source but … the War in Sudan??

Yes.  In brief, the British Empire got involved in a bit of a fuss in Sudan involving a Muslim sheikh separatist.  The British thought they’d ride in and sort it out but were out-manoeuvred, defeated and got bogged down (sounding familiar?).  They sent a famous general in to get them out of the quagmire.  He decided the British might yet win but he too was outsmarted by the locals.  He was quite famous and the Empire was impassioned about his predicament.  New South Wales was keen to help out and offered to raise a contingent to come to his aid and so they did.  These were the first Australian troops to depart for a foreign war and they are sort of a big deal in Australian history.  Many New South Welshman and women supported the raising and sending of these troops – thousands turned out to see them off.  But many others thought it a lark and a tugging-of-the-locks towards the Empire and opposed the raising of funds to support the effort.

The NSW contingent went to Africa, did a lot of marching and practicing, didn’t see much action and came home.  When they arrived they were quarantined for a few days to make sure they weren’t disease-ridden.  It was then that the fisherman caught and delivered the Forty Baskets of fish.

Soldiers returned from Sudan … having had the Forty Baskets of fish.

A 1966 movie, Khartoum, staring Charlton Heston and Lawrence Olivier is set in this 1885 Sudan War – I haven’t seen it but when I do I will add a review here.

The river runs red … they say.

Forty Baskets is the perfect sort of beach for this project.  I’ve walked past every time I’ve done the Spit to Manly Walk and never stopped.  It’s just a pleasant little spot: a caged harbour beach, family friendly, boat-y.  Not a place you’d make a point to visit if you weren’t a local – and most of the visitors seem to be just that.

There are loads of picnicking family groups, little kids splashing in the shallows or building sand castles, bigger kids bombing off the jetty.  We’ve just missed the ice cream man in his tinnie and melting treats are clutched in sticky little hands.

Forty Baskets of inviting beachy goodness.

Laura enters the water boldly – I mean, it is quite warm, but I’m still tip-toeing in while she’s splashing about like an otter.  It’s so clear – the water, it’s striking because we’re in a busy harbour surrounded by one of the world’s great cities and yet the water is clear as glass.  It shimmers and sparkles, the boats at their moorings bob, an expanse of dark sapphire sea stretches toward Manly proper.

Offering the Sydney summer soundtrack, cicadas screech and pulsate hidden in the Norfolk Island pines.  When they quiet: the laughter and cries of children, the rumble of loads of different conversations near at hand but not near enough to hear clearly and the light jingling of boat rigging in the wind.

We’d stay longer – it invites lingering, but we’ve forgotten our snacks and its well past lunch time already.  We retrace our steps back to Manly and into Four Pines for a late lunch and cold refreshing beverages.

Forty Baskets is 26 kilometres (16 miles) from home.  It is in Balgowlah, a suburb within the Manly LGA, the state electorate of Manly (Mike Baird, Liberal) and the federal division of Warringah (Tony Abbott, Liberal).

Twenty-six kilometers from home.

All that and a Naked German too – Beach No 29: Flint & Steel (24 November 2013)

If I were ranking the best named beaches Flint & Steel would be near the top. That I can’t find anything explaining the source of that fantastic moniker adds mystery – maks it even better. I can tell you it was already called Flint & Steel by 1832.

Flint & Steel was an exciting beach for me for three four five reasons:

One, it was the first beach of the 2013/2014 season.

Two, it was the first beach I visited after the demise of my marriage

Three, it was the first beach I was visiting with my old mate Laura whom I was grateful to have back, and more central in my life, since the demise of my marriage.

Four, the beach is called Flint & Steel – which is awesome

Five, there was a fine looking German boy (well, mid-to-late 20s) doing what Germans do – enjoying a nackt (nude) swim. He was there with his girlfriend/wife – and, physically anyway, she had nothing to complain about.

It was an utterly perfect day – sunny and warm but not too hot.

We drove to the Resolute Bay Picnic Area car park, on the Lambert Peninsula, in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and before heading for Flint & Steel Beach we visited Red Hand Cave. It’s a rock shelter with a 5,000 year old Aboriginal hand stencil. To be reminded of a wholly different life that was lived right here so recently, and which had been so lived for so long, is always grounding and connecting yet saddening and remorse-inducing – a reminder of our tenuous place on earth and the damage we do to one another (with intentional cruelty or ignorant carelessness). Live now – the future is unknown.

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We began the walk down to the beach. It was pleasant – shaded with occasional views of Broken Bay, Lion Rock and Patonga on the opposite shore – and, in part, steep. The return trip would be a thigh-burner.

Flint & Steel, like all of these northern non-surf beaches I’ve visited so far, is a shallow-curve of maize-coloured sand buffering the bush from the bay. It collects driftwood and man-made detritus from the soft waves – waves driven as much by the wake of boats as tide and winds.

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There was a young family on the beach and the aforementioned German couple. We walked to the far end and took up comfortable spots on the rocks from which to enjoy the sandwiches Laura had brought and the sight of the nackt German as he came and went from the water.

It was a lazy, summery late Spring Sunday. Other visitors came and went from the beach; all manner of boats cruised or rushed past. In due course it was time for a swim for Laura and a wade for me – the water was still a bit cool for me.  But Laura strode purposefully into the water up to her neck, plunged in, and floated about. It is the most wonderful sort of nothing – to be in gentle salt water, floating or wading, looking back at the sand and the bush (and the nackt German) under a Sydney-spring-blue sky with the sun glittering off the greenish water.

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As expected the climb back to the plateau and the car is a rigorous effort. We stopped for a salty selfie and to visit with a big-ol’ goanna.

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Flint & Steel was 44 km (27 miles) from my suburb of Concord. It’s in the Hornsby Local Government Area, the Hornsby State Electorate (Matt Kean, Liberal) and the Federal Division of Mackellar (Bronwyn Bishop, Liberal).

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A Bush Walk and Apple Strudel (No 28: Flat Rock Beach – 12 May 2013)

At the Austrian Club.
At the Austrian Club.

Here’s an interesting and unexpected story from Killarney Heights, the suburb where you’ll find Flat Rock Beach:

In February 1979, a Lithuanian couple who believed they were being chased by Soviet agents were discovered in bushland adjacent to the suburb. Stepan Petrosys (81) and his 68-year old wife were discovered after having lived in a cave for 28 years.

That small discover was too good to bury deep in my post. Now that is out of the way, let me tell you about Flat Rock Beach.  This is the last of the beaches I visited with Mitch and I have contemporaneous notes to work from – which is good because it’s just been so long and really feels like a lifetime ago. Just to make it feel a little closer I’ve put this in present-tense.

The day dawns cool and very foggy.  I wish the fog will remain to give our bushwalk and beach visit an atmospheric air but know it won’t.

Crossing Sydney Harbour Bridge
Crossing Sydney Harbour Bridge

We leave home around noon to collect Sabra – fighting Mother’s Day traffic en route.  Flat Rock Beach is in Garigal National Park and on the upper reaches of the Middle Harbour. We park and join the Flat Rock Track climbing from the waterside to a ridge-line overlooking the harbour. We have views of the water all along the walk and it is glorious. The sun in warm in heat and light; it sparkles. Sail boats, motor boats, kayaks and canoes crowd the calm green water.

Middle Harbour
Middle Harbour

The track is busy with families and groups of friends. Strangely, for a track that seems pretty obscure, most walkers we encounter do not have Australian accents but hail from Europe and North America.

On Flat Rock Track.
On Flat Rock Track.

We negotiate the stairs down to the beach and find there are three or four boats at anchor in the bay of the beach. Across the water is a rising green landscape peppered with suburban houses.  A waterfall of a sort sounds in the bush behind us, trickles onto the beach, and into to the harbour.

We sit and snack and look.  It is a glorious autumn day.  We wade into the still-warm water and it is lovely.

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On the drive over I’d spotted a nearby little black square marked ‘Austrian Club’ on the map.  I think ‘Let’s see what that is.’

We find a typical Australian club building but with Tyrolean touches and a big Austrian flag dancing in the breeze. Emerging from the car we hear Austrian music playing and we think this is promising. Entering, we find a large hall with a stage, dance floor and a bistro on a platform looking out on the park. There are hand-painted plaques in German, a mounted deer head and a big display devoted to the World Cup. The far wall is decorated with the club shield flanked by the Australian and Austrian flags. An old tv in the corner is showing Austrian music videos.

Say it with me: Austrian-Australian
Say it with me: Austrian-Australian

There are a couple of families in the bistro including one with one bloke in lederhosen and another in an awesome sort-of Tyrolean cap with a feather.  A woman greets us in German to which we reply in English.  A bloke wanders over from another table – a fellow in his 70s, maybe 80s.  He proves to be a bit of a fly who hovers about us chattering away but moves on when our food comes only to return when we finish.  He is an Austrian-Australian – which I like a lot, just to say it: Austrian-Australian.  He’d come to Australia, then went back to Austria, then to New York for a time, back to Austria then moved here permanently 57 years ago.  He goes back to his village between Salzburg and Innsbruck every year.  He was wearing a very Austrian-looking green sort of cardigan.

They have Stiegl and Erdinger Weissbier on tap – wunderbar.  The food comes – Sabra and I both have the goulash with spätzle while Mitch has roast pork with sauerkraut and potatoes. I love my goulash.  The beef just falls apart and the sauce is spicy and gravy-like.  The spätzle is buttery with a few crisp bits which are very nice.We don’t need to have dessert but we do: Sabra and I have the apple strudel, Mitch has the Sacher torte.

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We speak with one of the waitresses – they’d just had some new people take over the kitchen – I see on-line its Erich and Kitty Koenigseder.  It is all good reviews for them and we can only add our own.  I explain how we’ve been at the park and spotted them on the map so came to see what they were about and how glad we did.  It is really like a little quick trip to Austria in a lot of ways.

Flat Rock Beach is in Killarney Heights, part of the Warringah Council Local Government Area. It’s in the Wakehurst State Electorate (Brad Hazzard, Liberal) and Warringah Federal Division (Tony Abbott, Liberal). It lies some 32 kilometres (20 miles) from Croydon Park, where I was then living.