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).

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Beach No 51: Milk (Sunday 11 February 2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wade into the Harbour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m ready to head home.

A BIT ABOUT MILK BEACH AND VAUCLUSE, MAINLY VAUCLUSE

Milk Beach is in Vaucluse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carrara, August 1903
Carrara, August 1903

VAUCLUSE PEOPLE

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

Vaucluse & Woollahra, 1895
Vaucluse & Woollahra, 1895

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

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

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

VAUCLUSE POLITICS

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

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

MILK BEACH LOCATION

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

Beach No 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.

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.

imgp6555

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.

finlay_wedding_bridal_party_7_august_1878
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.

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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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