Robert Drewe's Real Australia
Author Robert Drewe writes about the beach, an Australian passion
4 November 2015
What is it with Australians and the beach? Is there another nation so in love with its shoreline? To me—and I'm sure I'm not alone—that mysterious, sensuous zone where the bush meets the sea is the real Australia.
Of course locating the real Australia in a particular part of the country is a myth. You might just as easily find it in the outback; some traditionalists still think the bush is the centre of our culture. And, what about the suburbs? After all, they're where most people live.
These are reasonable alternatives. But consider these basic questions. When do you feel most Australian? What does that mean anyway? Perhaps for most of us it means feeling secure, contented, in harmony, at peace—maybe even happy. In this country, this is where the beach comes into its own.
I feel most Australian when I turn a corner on a bush track on the north coast of New South Wales and spot a patch of ocean framed in the branches of a eucalypt. Or I face a wild surf breaking against the cliff face on Victoria's Great Ocean Road. Or, on an early morning bike ride, I catch my first glimpse of Little Parakeet Bay on Rottnest Island, Western Australia.
Ah, the beach. To go a step further, as well as the beach being the real Australia, for many of us this real Australia has no other season but summer. The first hint of a summer breeze and the sweet scent of 30+ sunscreen can arouse certain feelings—and a theory about beaches that will surprise no-one raised in this country in the last century.
How shall I put this delicately? There's an overwhelming reason why a great many adult Australians regard the beach in a sensual and nostalgic light. It's because it was the place where they first made love.
For the rest of their lives, therefore, the beach, the coast, are not only a regular pleasure and inspiration but an idée fixe, one that resurfaces at each of the four or five critical physical and emotional stages in our lives: as new lovers, as honeymooners, as holiday-makers, and as the retired elderly.
After all that teenage canoodling in the sand dunes or beach shacks, on the offshore islands and in the camping areas, most contemporary Australians invariably honeymoon at the beach, preferably an island one. (When did you last hear of someone honeymooning at Meekatharra? Moree?)
Later, as parents, our ordinary Australian couples take their families on regular holidays to the beach—often to the same beach where those earlier events occurred. (Interestingly, these beach holidays give parents and children the opportunity to engage in a role reversal: the adults shed their ponderous grown-up habits, play games and ‘act the goat', while the children are permitted to stay up late, experiment with alcohol, eat junk food, and perform adult tasks with outboard motors.)
And, finally, in increasingly large numbers, Australians retire to the particular stretch of coastline befitting their class and superannuation.
Incidentally, those people who haven't moved voluntarily to the coast might find themselves there anyway, deposited by their children in one of the old people's homes which line the Esplanades and Ocean View Parades of venerable beach suburbs from Cottesloe, to St Kilda, to Manly.