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.


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.


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 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


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.


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 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 Beach is 11.2 km from home (7 miles)


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


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.


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)


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 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 is 17.3 kilometres from home.

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.

Distant Memories of Fishermans Beach (No 27 – 28 April 2013)

These beaches – the ones in this gap, the ones I visited during my old life, I had to wait to do them because I didn’t need anything extra to make me sad.

Now, however, it’s been so long (it’s now October 2014) I am the opposite of sad. I’m really very happy in my life and looking forward to the future. Going back to these beaches is now just sort of a pain in the ass rather than a pain in the heart. I don’t care. It doesn’t hurt to look at the pictures so much as it makes me gaze with wonder at this life of old.

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Now it’s a matter of just getting them done – the one’s without notes are difficult because I need to scratch away the barnacles and try to remember something of day.

Here’s what I can recall … it was warm but with something a bit cool in the breeze. We again collected Sabra for the journey north. I’d never been to Fishermans and it proved a weird sort of beach. It’s an ocean beach but not a surfing beach – there was a diving class going on, and there were – not surprisingly – fishermen.

We sat, we swam, we watched for the scuba divers. We went for a walk around Long Reef Headland and had coffees at Outpost Espresso – which I remember as good.


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Fishermans Beach is in Collaroy which is the Warringah Council LGA, Wakehurst State Electorate (Brad Hazzard, Liberal) and Mackeller Federal Division (Bronwyn Bishop, Liberal).

Aeroplanes and Surfing Nippers – Number 25: Eloura Beach (23 March 2013)

Another beach from under the shadows of last year … no picture to depict this as Number 25 because while I won’t remove pictures of Mitch from this blog, nor will I add any. Enjoy.

The best beach day all year, maybe, and here we are nearly to April. It’s already biting hot at 10:30, not oppressively hot but the hot that sends you into the surf, then back to your towel, then into the surf again.

The nippers have just wrapped up their session and the coach is talking with them and their parents; they’re the little ones – five and six year olds. When the official session is complete a Surf Life Saver takes a few of them, one at a time, out on the board to the buoy. A girl, who couldn’t be more than five, paddles all the way out by herself and rides in on the waves. I’m impressed and a little jealous. I’m neither that competent nor confident in the surf at 44. I was raised next to a giant lake which was frozen during part of each year – what should I know of surf?

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When we flew in over these waters a few weeks ago from our weekend away in Tasmania the sea had that hard gun-metal blue hue of autumn but it had been but a tease. Summer temperatures have returned and with it the sparkle, sparkle aqua blue of a shimmering summery sea. Gentle, simple waves break. I try bodysurfing into shore – missing a few waves before I catch one just right and I glide into the beach, head high and pushed by the eternal force of the ocean.

Eloura is the moniker attached to a stretch of beach between North Cronulla and Wanda beaches. My mate Adam warned me there’s not much here, but a good beach. When he moved to Australia from Boston as a little kid this was his beach, it’s where he learned to surf and that’s a big deal for an Australian.

Eloura is a beach without distinguishing features but its nice and full of people: families, teenagers, older couples. To our south the white and cream apartments of the Shire’s residents crowd the shore to snare their sea-views. Off to our north, the oil refinery of Kurnell and the aeroplanes appearing and disappearing behind the dunes lends an urban air.

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Eloura is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘pleasant place’.  It is 22.3 kilometres (16 miles) from home.

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Elouera is in the Southerland Shire LGA; the State Electoral District of Cronulla (Mark Speakman, Liberal) and the Federal Division of Cook (Scott Morrison, Liberal).

No 21: Dee Why Beach — 5 February 2012

A more-or-less perfect beach day was predicted for Sunday: mostly sunny and 28 degrees.  Although I was spending Thursday and Friday in Canberra at a bicycle tourism conference I put out a call for at least one beach-goer to join us.  We had reached 21 and would need a hand to make it work.

Things didn’t look good, we’d received a lot of regretful ‘no’s.  Then a twinkle of hope on Saturday from L1 and another from Dave M.  The day dawned perfect — sunny, warm – like Sydney’s entire summer had come at once.  L1 bailed but Dave was up for it so off we went.

We rode our bicycles to Burwood Station, caught the train to Wynard Station and got the L85 bus north to Dee Why.

Dee Why is just about 30 kilometres or 18.5 miles from our home.

From the bus stop on Pittwater Road down to the beach is about a 10 minute walk through a residential neighbourhood dominated by low-slung red brick flats from the 1970s and ‘80s.

Jim has often said, as we drive through Dee Why, that Dee Why is the Marrickville of the Northern Beaches.  I see what he means is that it is a bit more multicultural and a little less well off.  Or, as Dave would put it later in the day, ‘a bit of a ghetto and hot-spot for street crime’ – pointing out the main bus interchange as a place where a lot of robbery and fighting happens.
Can’t say it reminded me much of Marrickville but for having similar style flats which were, as some are in Marrickville, a little over lived-in: lots of stuff on balconies, furniture-sized rubbish left behind on the kerb by departing residents, etc.

Dee Why is a lovely beach.  A grassy reserve with playground hugs the beach.  The park slopes down from the headland to the south which divides Dee Why from North Curl Curl – a lush green parkland with a healthy towering row of Norfolk Island pines.  A local road divides the beach and reserve from a retail strip: good-looking cafes, fish and chips and burger joints, sit-down Italian and Japanese amongst others.  The beach is wide and long; at the southern end there is a splash pool and lap pool and surf break off the headland which was offering good waves to a dozen surfers.

As this was Sydney’s one day of summer for the 2011/12 season there were literally thousands of people on the beach, in the reserve and flushing money through the tills of the cafes.  The last beach we visited that was this chockers was No. 6: Bondi Beach (18 April 2010) and, frankly, Dee Why was even more crowded.

I had enjoyed Bondi in spite of, or perhaps because of, its busyness.  Dee Why, on the other hand, not so much – maybe it was the crowd, maybe because we’d arrived a bit late in the day and I was a bit hungry, maybe because we had other plans for later in the day.

The crowd was made somewhat worse by the rough surf conditions and rips which left the flags only about 10 metres apart corralling hundreds of swimmers into one narrow stretch of sea.  The Surf Life Savers were on high-alert and we saw them go in to pull several people out.  Not all these were ‘rescues’ but at least one was as the ambulance came to treat a girl who, I think, had been dumped on a sandbar.  Their high-alert kind of added a tension to the scene.

Having had No. 20: Currawong to ourselves last week the difference couldn’t have been more stark.  Which added to my … not dislike of Dee Why but more, just, I wasn’t as relaxed as I’d have liked.  We spent about an hour on the beach – Mitch and Dave caught a few waves (and got dumped by a few as well), I went in up to my belly or so, we took some photos and people watched for a bit.

Then I was too hungry to wait longer for food and we found a table outside of Sushi Kenzo: good warm, slightly salty edamame is a pretty perfect beach food, especially with a cold Asahi beer.  I had the California roll and Mitch the chicken teriyaki – all good.

Dee Why is in the local government area of Warringah; the state electorate of Wakehurst (Brad Hazzard, Liberal); and the federal division of Mackellar (Bronwyn Bishop, Liberal).

Next up will be beach number 22: Delwood.