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.

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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)

 

All of My Sisters in Burqinis are Enjoying Christmas Day at Lady Robinson’s Beach (No 44 – 25 December 2016)

In recent years, I’ve made the tradition of a Jew’s Christmas my own. In the United States that’s a movie and Chinese food. But this is Australia so: a swim, a movie, and Chinese food.

Lady Robinson’s Beach is on Botany Bay between the mouths of the Cooks River and the Georges River.

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European settlers (invaders) named this Seven Mile Beach but it was renamed during the tenure of the 14th Governor of New South Wales, Sir Hercules Robinson. He served from March 1872 to February 1879 and the beach was named for his wife, Lady Robinson, or Nea Arthur Ada Rose D’Amour. The fifth daughter of the ninth Viscount Valentia.

Sir Hercules’ career, Lady Robinson’s as well, reads like a stereotype of British colonial service: Administrator of Montserrat, Lt Governor of Saint Christopher (Saint Kitts), Governor of Hong Kong, of British Ceylon, of Fiji, of New Zealand, Acting Governor of British Mauritius, High Commissioner for Southern Africa, and Governor of the Cape Colony. Yet, he managed to get home to London to die in October 1897, aged 62.

Their daughter, Nora Robinson, wed Alexander Kirkman Finlay at St James’ Church in Sydney in 1878. The groom owned Glenormiston, a large station in Victoria. This wedding was the second vice-regal wedding in New South Wales and, as such, attracted much public attention – a crowd estimated up to 10,000 gathered outside the church.

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Wedding party for marriage of Nora Augusta Maud, daughter of Sir Hercules and Lady Nea Robinson, to A.K. Finlay, Sydney, August, 1878 (Lady Robinson is seated, facing the bride)

I do suggest reading Sir Hercules’ Wikipedia page. It’s both fascinating and a strange and unlikely tale to be tied to this stretch of beach – which, on Christmas Day 2016 is hosting families from all around the world – a few of whom, were surely, from other places touched by Sir Hercules’ colonial hand.

The day, while breezy, is otherwise a perfect Sydney Christmas Day: sunny, warm but not too hot, not too humid. Just lovely.

Every bit of shade in the reserve has been colonised by a United Nations of families: East Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, European, and African. Many are clearly Muslims, some probably Buddhist – the Christians come for a dip and go back to their parties and lunches at home.

Christmas is the day when I feel most Jewish, not that I practice, but on this day I usually feel very much an Outsider. But not here, not at Lady Robinson’s Beach, where today is, mostly, a day for non-Christians making the most of a holiday courtesy of the Christian majority.

There is a busy shark-netted swimming enclosure. Jet skis buzz along the shore. International flights circle, approach from the southwest, and land on Sydney Airport’s third runway while other planes queue for their turn to depart. In the distance, the cranes of Sydney’s port fill the horizon.

I love this beach. I love how it’s a bit gritty in a working class, working port, immigrant families way – the antithesis of the glitzy beautiful-people blonde-haired blue-eyed stereotype of Sydney’s beaches.

There are more women and girls on this beach in burqinis than bikinis.

And I love that too. I love that an Australian woman, Aheda Zanetti, started a company, Ahiida, to provide swimming attire that allows Muslim women, who choose to abide by dictates of modest dress, to fully participate in this most Australian of activities – swimming in the sea and enjoying the beach.

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I wade into the Bay – the water is cooling, refreshing but not cold. I move slowly to where I’m waist deep then dive in. Emerging I feel a wave of welled and condensed emotions – a rejoicing for my return home, finally, to Sydney, and the easy contentment that has brought me, also some nostalgia for the 19 months of travel and volunteering gone by and the knowledge I’m unlikely to have that kind of open-ended freedom again, and, too, some sadness, for hopes unfulfilled. All of that in the woosh of rising out of the water, raising my arms to splash the sea around me, and then feeling the heat of the sun on my wet skin.

I sit for a time on the beach and write – as I do, an excited family group arrives, first a dad and kids running past me into the water than the younger women, in colourful burqinis, then older women in flowing black hijabs and matching garb. They were all, seemingly, having a really lovely time – while making for a striking scene – these black clad women, wading in the shallows, the planes and port cranes in the background.

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I rode my bicycle home, enjoyed sweet and sour chicken at the Happy Chef then met some new Jewish friends for a screening of La La Land at Bondi Junction.

And so, another Australian Jewish Christmas in the books and a good beach from which to restart this blog.

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Lady Robinson’s Beach was an 13.5 kilometre (8.3 mile) bicycle ride from home.

The portion of the beach which I visited is in Kyeemagh, a suburb in the Bayside Council.

Kyeemagh is a wee little suburb – home to 780 people of whom 37.5 % were born overseas (Greece 10.5%, Lebanon 2.3%, and Cyprus 2.2%). English is the primary language spoken in 44.3% of homes. (All per the 2006 census.)

It’s in the Rockdale State Electorate (Steve Kamper, Labor) and the Federal Division of Barton (Linda Burney, Labor). (It has been a LONG time since I’ve been to a beach represented at both levels by the Labor Party.)

Naked Liberation at No 42 Lady Bay Beach – 22 February 2015

Until recently I was dreading Lady Bay. It is the second of, I think, three  ‘clothing optional’ beaches in Sydney (this one granted that status in 1976). The first in this project was beach No 13: Cobblers.

I am not generally inclined to get my kit off in public. Prior to Cobblers I never had and I found the experience fairly nerve-wracking. Back then (20 February 2011 – so almost four years exactly) I was not as well equipped, mentally, to look at things that made me uncomfortable, step back, and question why. But several weeks ago, thinking about Lady Bay, I asked myself what was the worst thing that could happen? My answers were: someone I don’t want to talk to might talk to me and I might get sunburnt is places I’d really rather not. I realised the former was nothing to fear as I’m perfectly capable of walking away from pesky people and the latter I could take precautions against.

So it was that my friends were more worried about Lady Bay than I was.

I rode my bicycle the 22 or so kilometres to Camp Cove in Watsons Bay from which I walked to Lady Bay. Sydney is an undulating city and this was an undulating ride – up down, up down – Google says ascended 265 metres and descended 276.

Camp Cove looks like a beach and is treated as a beach but is not listed by Gregory’s as a beach so I have not visited it as part of this project. But many, many people are visiting it today. There’s an adorable kiosk dispensing ice creams, lollies and coffee to a steady stream of customers. I have a coconut sorbet and a short black – neither is fantastic but both are perfect after the ride.

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The Camp Cove Kiosk.

 

With my courage enforced by cold creamy coconutiness I walk the 300 or so metres to the top of the stairs leading to Lady Bay. The beach is about 100 metres below the walking path but not far enough for me to miss a quite fit very naked man emerging from the harbour on the beach below.

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I’m here, no time like the present. Down the stairs I go. And along the beach looking for a spot to call my own which is near enough the cliff as to not be too visible to the strolling masses of clothed onlookers above and not too close to other visitors.

I am a little intimidated as nearly everyone on the beach is male – maybe 15 or 20 men and three or four women including myself. The men come in all ages, shapes and sizes. Including two quite heavy, quite furry and, if it’s not too much to say, rather, um, tiny, men who – not together mind you – stand about on the beach occasionally smoking cigarettes. But, you know, whatever. Lady Bay is, I understand, a mostly gay beach so it’s likely none of these men will look at me with even a passing glance of interest.

I am hot and sweaty from the ride and the harbour is calling. Off comes the kit, all of it – and especially the glasses leaving the world a soft blur. So in nothing but my tattoos I stride the 10 or so metres to the water and plunge in … knowing I’m visible to those above and, presumably, those in boats not too far off. And … so what? If they are judging me, what do I care? Not a whisper do I care.

 

It’s fantastic. The late summer water temperature is perfect – just cool enough to be refreshing yet warm enough to be inviting. Even out of focus I know the city is all around me and yet here I am naked and floating in Sydney Harbour. It is liberating and genuinely fabulous

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I wrap a towel about my waist and sit topless feeling the late afternoon sun on my wet skin and watching the light jewel off the water. A young bloke notices my “No 42 Lady Bay” sign and asks about it. He is not, I realise, someone I did not want to talk to – I am happy to chat and tell him about the blog. His name is David and he has a website devoted to Sydney’s nudist scene (www.sydneynudists.com).

It is strange but good – I’ve never met someone in the nude before. In fact I don’t think I’ve conversed in the nude with anyone ever who was not, at some point, a sexual partner. If you see what I mean. None of the gyms I’ve belonged to have been the sort where women wander about the change rooms naked, for instance. Ah, well … I have been to baths in Japan where I did exchange greetings while naked with other naked women but we didn’t converse for lack of a shared language. But David and I chat for a good 10 minutes or so, introduce ourselves and shake hands. All very civil. All very liberating … I can’t come up with an equally good word for it.

I swim again then sit and write for a while then swim again. I would stay longer but I hadn’t arrived until nearly 5 pm and it was now coming up on 6 pm. I was taking the ferry home but it would still take the better part of two hours to get there.

Waiting on the wharf I got some fish and chips and rang my best mate who was awaiting a report on Lady Bay and all I could say was that it was fantastic. Really fantastic. For days after it left me feeling fabulous and strong and like someone who had finally learned the value of asking of myself, of anything I’m feeling worried about, “What’s the worst that can happen?”

Lady Bay is in the Municipality of Woollahra, the state electorate of Vaucluse (Gabrielle Upton, Liberal) and Federal Division of Wentworth (Malcolm Turnbull, Liberal).

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You May Have Your Mansion But the Beach is There for All – No 41, Kutti (1 February 2015)

Kutti Beach is in Vaucluse, long the most affluent of Sydney suburbs and still in the top five. Prior to European colonisation the area was home to the Birrabirragal clan of the Dharug language group. They named the whole area, now called Watsons Bay, Kutti.

That the usual Sunday crowds are waiting at Watsons Bay is evident on the wharf at Circular Quay.

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I am set to meet Tom Allen, his wife Tenny and her sister Narineh under the big Morton Bay Fig in Robertson Park at 1 pm.  Tom is a bicyclist and all-around adventurer, blogger, filmmaker and bicycle advocate. I’d been following his blog for a while when he wrote a post saying he’d just arrived in Sydney and would be staying a while. I got in touch and invited him along to a beach outing and he, to my delight, accepted.

It’s not a perfect beach day – the sun comes and goes and its a bit breezy, but its summer, in Sydney, and two of our foursome have just arrived from the UK. (Narineh has been living in Sydney for a couple of years.)

Here’s the thing about the most touristic waterside places in Sydney – if you walk just that little bit further the crowds will drop away.

We walk south past the baths, past the crowded café at the adorable library, and past the Vaucluse Yacht Club. Gibbons Beach has maybe 15 visitors. As we pass through the reserve there I point out the house at the end of the beach of which I’d wondered, when I visited Gibbons, “what sort of life would I have had to live to live there?”

Up to the street, a right turn then another into Wharf Road, and we come to a dead end facing the Vaucluse Amateur Sailing Club.

Having Googled Kutti before coming I knew there would be a narrow stairwell down to the beach and so it was, there it is.

The secret to Kutti is finding the stairs.
The secret to Kutti is finding the stairs.

And so we arrive on an exclusive, obscure, quiet little beach in the heart of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.

Kutti is about 100 metres long, maybe less, and some 20 metres deep. A couple of very small sailing boats are pulled up on the sand and a dozen or so boats are moored in the bay. Just as we arrive man and his dog, on a paddleboard, return to the beach – both a bit wet and salty looking.

A man and his dog.
A man and his dog.

There are maybe four or five houses that front Kutti Beach. One is for sale if you are in the market of a multi-million dollar home. In many countries this little stretch of beach would have been divvied up amongst these few properties. But in Australia all beaches are public. Tom is impressed.

There are families using the “boathouses” (now more loungerooms/guesthouses with kitchens) of two of the houses – kids are running around, in and out of the houses, into the water and back again. I am sort of amused to see Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags strung on this house  which was recently on the market with an expected price tag of $25 million.

Revisiting the question of what it would take to live here Tom says “good fortune” and I suggest that even if the fortune has been in the family for a century I expect the wealth would have been gained in a way that offends my sensibilities at least a little. He laughs.

The clouds remain mostly at bay; its warm and lovely and very very Sydney. We all swim then sit on the beach and chat about the lives we’ve led, are leading, hope to lead. We swim some more. I take my obligatory photograph and then its time for cold beer back at the Watsons Bay Hotel.

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Before we went our separate ways I even remembered to get a group photograph.

Me, Tom, Tenny and Narineh
Me, Tom, Tenny and Narineh

Then the dark clouds begin to gather making for dramatic light through spray-splashed windows on the ferry ride back to Circular Quay.

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Kutti Beach is 19 kilometres (12 miles) from home. It’s in the Municipality of Woollahra, the state electorate of Vaucluse (Gabrielle Upton, Liberal) and Federal Division of Wentworth (Malcolm Turnbull, Liberal).

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A Riot of Kookaburras and Cerulean Seas – No 40 Jibbon (4 January 2015)

 

The strange summer continues as I’ve had to skip another (and hopefully the last) of the Hawkesbury beaches which can only be reached from the water. I will visit number 39, Hungry Beach, along with numbers 35 (Gunyah – Brooklyn) and 37 (Hallets) in due course.

***

I got up this morning and didn’t dawdle. I was going to the beach without delay.

I catch the bus to the Queen Victoria Building and the train from Town Hall Station to Cronulla Station and, from there, walk down to the ferry wharf. A riot of kookaburras are laughing their heads off in an oversize gum tree. The sun is hot. The air is steamy. A ferry’s worth of passengers await the 12:00 pm crossing.

With the arrival of the New Year my mind has finally turned fully toward my travel plans; my big bicycle ride begins in April with a hit out around Australia for a few weeks before moving to Europe in late May. I feel like I’ve opened myself to a traveller’s life and a traveller’s experiences even while still in Sydney.

On Friday afternoon I spent some time with Australian bicycle tourist and blogger Matthew Harris having drinks and talking travel – our catch up the result of good fortune and the internets.  In the evening while Jonathan Bradley and I had dinner we fell into conversation with Carla and Boris, recently arrived holidaymakers from Germany. (I wrote a thing about the day on my bicycling blog.)

Now here it is Sunday and I’m seated in the bow of the Bundeena Ferry surrounded by people speaking many different languages in many different accents. Opposite me two women of a certain age are chatting, they are wearing beach moo-moos and sun hats, gold jewelry compliments fresh manicures. What language are they speaking? Something Eastern European. At times it sounds German: und, nicht – but at other times it doesn’t sound like German at all. I am reminded I know nothing of Eastern European languages; I’m so ignorant I can’t even guess whether they are speaking a German dialect or Hungarian or Romanian.

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The water is cerulean, shimmering and beautiful. As we near the pier I can see both Hordern and Gunyah are crowded and many passengers await the return journey. Disembarking I am greeted by more laughing kookaburras; I never tire of that sound.

Jibbon is about a 15 minute walk from the ferry wharf. It’s 750 metres of curving beach stretching to a bush-covered headland which is part of Royal National Park and home to some Aboriginal carvings. A flotilla of pleasure craft are moored mostly at the eastern end of the beach while sun bathers and cricket players favour the western end. I find a patch of shade near the midway point. I sit and I write until a swim beckons.

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The water is cool but inviting and perfectly clear.

A dickhead arrives in his big motor boat, he is alone and middle-aged. He swims then sits in the sun with one of the worst radio stations in Sydney cranking from his sound system. “How’s the midlife crisis going?!” I shout but he can’t hear me over the doof-doof pouring from his speakers and making the water pulse with the bass. (Okay that didn’t happen – the shouting, the bass.)

The dickhead and his boat - I'll leave it to you to imagine the music.
The dickhead and his boat – I’ll leave it to you to imagine the music.

I sit on the beach trying to ignore the asshole and feel the sun and wind dry the sea on my skin into a fine dusting, a slight crust, of salt. I will enjoy feeling this on my skin the rest of the day and will sort of hate washing it off this evening.

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Jibbon is 30 kilometres (19 miles) from Five Dock. It’s in the Sutherland Shire Local Government Area, Heathcote State Electorate (Lee Evans, Liberal) and Cunningham Federal Division (Sharon Bird, Labor).

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It seems they may have forgotten this plaque.

 

 

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Is this heaven? No, it’s Bundeena – No 38 Horderns (21 December 2014)

Horderns Beach from the ferry landing.
Horderns Beach from the ferry landing.

This summer’s beaches have created challenges.

I should have begun with No 35 Gunyah (Brooklyn) – up on the Hawkesbury – but it can only be reached from the water so I need my mate and his boat at a time that works for us both and the weather is amenable. I broke my rules and skipped to No 36 Gunyah (Bundeena); No 37 is Halletts – another Hawkesbury beach with water access only – has been added to the boating list. Which brings us back to Bundeena for No 38, Horderns.

I’ve failed to find the connection but I presume Horderns Beach is associated with the Hordern Family – the 19th and 20th century retailing dynasty. They of the now defunct and demolished Anthony Hordern & Sons – once the world’s largest department store (on the site of what is now World Square); also, of course, the Pavilion, the Fountain (at the corner of Pyrmont St and Pyrmont Bridge Rd) and a scattering of heritage listed homes.

**

An American work colleague of mine, Joe, has taken an interest in this blog – which is lovely – he lives in Cronulla and his mother is visiting from wintery Michigan. I’ve taken the train to Cronulla, where we will meet and catch the ferry across Port Hacking to Bundeena.

Awaiting their arrival at Grind I spot a kid who couldn’t have been more of a stereotype if he tried: about 12-years old with sun-bleached, salt-sculptured nearly shoulder-length hair; his skin was golden, his eyes were blue; he strode barefoot on the hot bitumen like he’d never worn shoes. When he finished helping him mum and he rolled past on his skateboard it was to a soundtrack of Forever Young (in my head).

Joe is a big – as in tall and athletic – gregarious guy. He’s a genuinely nice fellow, interested in others and always smiling. I like that Joe, unlike a lot of the other Americans who come to work for the Australian Baseball League, determined to live near the beach, had chosen Cronulla and, once there, had thrown himself into life in the community and made a lot of local friends. His mother, Bianca – not surprisingly is equally outgoing with a big exiled Noo Yawka personality (life has taken her from the Big Apple to upstate New York then west to Michigan following her husband’s academic career – but it’s clear that “New Yorker” is very much a key part of her identity).

Horderns Beach from the Bundeena Ferry
Horderns Beach from the Bundeena Ferry

On the ferry Bianca regales us (and perhaps embarrasses Joe) with stories of her son, her daughter, her husband and life in Michigan. Once in Bundeena we wander up the hill to the RSL for lunch – I again have the fish and chips and they are, again, excellent. The RSL is exactly as it was two weeks ago … same Santa decorations and tinsel and baubles, but now they’ve added a Christmas tree beneath the plastic eternal flame.

Then we go to the beach. It is a good, if not perfect, beach day: hot in the sun but with a cooling breeze.

It’s busy but not chockers. There are family groups enjoying picnics and barbeques in the shade of the fig trees while others have erected tents and umbrellas on the hot exposed sand. The usual multicultural colourwheel of Sydneysiders are here: a Muslim family getting their charcoal grill going, a group of Asian students engaging is a supersoaker battle royale, European backpackers, and a ramshackle mix of mongrel Whitefella Australians.

Hordern is a long – 200 or 300 metres – shallow curve of sand stretching west from the ferry wharf. The eastern end, where we set up, is separated from the town centre of Bundeena by a park. Along the rest, houses, lovely enviable houses, face Port Hacking and Cronulla beyond with only the beach and scrubby dune between porches and the beach.

Horderns

We swim. The water is shallow and clear; it has warm pockets and cool ones; the breeze blows goosebumps onto my wet, exposed skin. Bianca speaks of snow drifts and compares Bundeena favourably with heaven.

I sit on the sand warming in the sun when my friend Jim arrives and we join the others back in the water. Bianca tells a tale of bringing baby Joe home for the first time just after a blizzard in Syracuse – “Remember that Joe?” she asks and Joe smiles that smile of resignation to a parent’s repetitive joke.

When we’ve been in long enough Joe and Bianca move on to Gunyah while Jim and I retreat to the RSL – I’m becoming a regular.

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***

Look, it was a nice visit but returning to the same suburb so soon (and knowing that the final beach in the Bundeena triptych – Jibbon- is just around the corner) took a little of the excitement and adventure out of the day. Still, it was lovely. It was Sunday, the sun was shining warmly, the water was mostly pleasant … any complaints would be frivolous.

 

 

Horderns Beach is 30 km (19 miles) from home (via the shortest route to Cronulla and the ferry). It’s in the Sutherland Shire Local Government Area, Heathcote State Electorate (Lee Evans, Liberal) and Cunningham Federal Division (Sharon Bird, Labor).

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