Back in the old days visits to the beach were beautifully uncomplicated. Father used to wear a maroon and blue towelling beach gown. Our total equipment was a white hat with string fly protector plus the regulation bucket and spade. Now on our holiday trips to the beach we really suffer. Livingstone, when he mounted his deepest expeditions into Africa, could not have had more trouble.
Here is a somewhat reduced manifest prior to loading. We need transistor radio, snorkels, masks, flippers, beach umbrella, back rests, spades, plastic surf boards, sun glasses, inflated lifebelts, car frig, and a variety of aerosol sprays — one for insects and one for sunburn. Then, of course, there are the thongs. These are the greatest battle. Livingstone had several advantages in Africa. He had porters to carry all his stuff and before setting out he did not have to find six pairs of thongs.
But, to give you the real truth, we feel inadequate at the beach. We have not kept pace with modern trends. Our car is the only machine in the carpark which does not possess a surfboard rack. An oversight when you realise that these can be picked up for as little as $12, perhaps even with a facsimile fibreglass board made by the same people who used to make facsimile TV aerials.
Alas our rear window has no fancy labels to reveal the wonderful places where we have surfed ...Makaha Beach, Sunset Beach, Hawaii, Bell’s Beach, Byron Bay, Rottnest Island, Port Macquarie, Mooloolaba and all the rest. Here again our prestige could be saved so easily. By filling in a coupon taken from the surfing magazines it is possible to purchase a sheet of five transfers for $1.60 post free. On the same coupon you can purchase a surfing T-shirt with the legend on the front International Surfing Championship, Makaha Beach, Hawaii. T-shirts like that put one in the big league without ever having to go in the water.
Also, it is hard to know what to wear. I remember several years back it came to my notice that girls were wearing very little on the beach. In order to keep pace with this trend I bought a dashing pair of togs. They showed ...well, to be frank, they showed too much. The togs couldn’t have been more wrong. For the male species the trend was completely in the other direction. It was absolutely essential to dress like Midget Farrelly in thigh-length Makaha board shorts, which went from the navel almost to the knees.
But we continue to fall down in so many ways. Our beach umbrella looks charming, yet old world. This year you should have a canvas windbreak with a series of stakes set deep in the ground. You should also have a two-man American bell tent, which is not only useful for your three or four fashion changes during the day, but it is also a sort of camp five for all your provisions, both liquid and solid.
And there are a few more items not included in the aforesaid manifest. Tent, windbreaker and mallet for belting in stakes. A screw-in spike as an anchor either for dog or baby, or both, is also terribly handy.
Don’t you see it is impossible ever to catch up. Here’s a typical ad from a surfie magazine: Trade IN YOUR 1969 BOARD FOR X, OUR NEW TANK TESTED 1970 SHORTIE BOARD. KEEP PACE WITH MODERN TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTS.
So what hope do you have? There’s built-in obsolescence even with surf boards. Every year your surf board becomes hideously out of date. There is something about the sensuous attraction of sun, sand and water that is irresistible to Australians. More than seventy-five per cent of us live within fifty miles of the sea, a sea which is rarely unpleasant, rarely cold. In Victoria alone there are 40,000 actually registered power boats and the number is going up at the rate of fourteen per cent a year. And when driving off for the summer holiday often it seems that every one of those 40,000 boats is on a trailer and hogging the road immediately in front.
The fascinating thing is to fly over the Hawkesbury River near Palm Beach, NSW, or over the coastline of Port Phillip Bay ...there the parallel lines left by the water skiers go off forever into the distance. The beaches have lost all their old-time peace. When lying face down on the sand it is impossible to sleep for the eternal racket of the speedboats. Nor is the noise of the speedboats heard only along the coastline; there are even more inland. Eildon Reservoir in Victoria is used by more than 3,000 boats, and those who believe that travelling by boat is a method for getting away from it all should realise that boat building in Australia has become a $5O million industry.
Spectator sport has shown a big decline in Australia over the past ten years. The organisers, a little frantically, tear their hair and wonder where the crowds have gone. What’s wrong with their tennis players, cricketers and such. There’s nothing really. The greatest menace to spectator sport is the secondhand Holden or Falcon which can be bought for less than $1OO. So the great Australian hedonism now takes different forms. We have new sporting idols, board-riding champions of the world like Nat Young and Midget Farrelly.
The surfie cult has its greatest power in Sydney where for forty miles there is an unbroken chain of surfing beaches, unequalled anywhere on earth. The enthusiasts are there in their thousands and the keen ones will travel hundreds of miles daily in search of an uncrowded wave. They set out at dawn, surf skis on the roofs of their Holdens and Mini Minors, their radios tuned into those swinging stations which give half-hourly reports on the state of the waves up and down the coast.
After Easter the water starts to chill, yet in May and June the true surfie pulls on his wet suit, keeps his board well waxed and goes out to some of the best waves of the year.
There is contempt for the “hibernator”, the man who puts away his board for the winter. The urge to get away, the loathing for staying at home, eternally drives the Australian. He likes to set out by caravan and, according to the statistics, there are 100,000 caravans in the Eastern States alone. Every town, every little resort has its caravan park and the great procession goes right around Highway One, following the coastline for thousands of miles, from caravan park to caravan park, from Perth round to Darwin.
Often you hear the line, “Some of my best friends were met in caravan parks.” But caravanning is not all; in even bigger numbers you have the campers. The camping capital of the Southern Hemisphere unquestionably is Rosebud on Port Phillip Bay and it comes into its full glory over every Christmas and New Year. Rosebud has 1,000 registered camp sites, occupied by 5,000 people. For my money it is the biggest camp on sand since Hollywood filmed Beau Geste.
Applications to go to Rosebud open on September 15 and they close on September 15 with the opening of the first mail. I tell you, getting in to camp at Rosebud is as hard as making the big time at Portsea.
The true Rosebuddie always has his nameplate. This is placed on a stake in a prominent position on the Point Nepean Highway, so that friends can find his camp site. Nor is the same crudely hand painted. It is de rigueur among the old-timers to have the camp nameplate beautifully done by a signwriter.
What’s more, camping these times is competitive. One simply cannot afford to be in a high class camping community with a mere, common tent. The skilled hands bring down their “home” all in carefully numbered sections on a trailer, ready for assembly. Oh, they are fly-wired. They have carpet on the floor, electric ovens, TV sets, proper furniture, with kitchen dresser, wardrobe, chest-of-drawers and I have seen them even with L-shaped bar to separate the dream kitchen from the living area.
Make no mistake about the campers. In amongst the tea-tree one sees Jaguars, the occasional Mercedes Benz and even enormous Dodge Parisiennes. It is a quite remarkable test of skill, being able to squeeze a Parisienne into some of those campsites. But it must be conceded that Rosebud is not high society. There is more an air of classless bonhomie. For the ultimate in refinement the Melburnian goes to Portsea, the Sydney man to Palm Beach. After making his first $200,000 the Melburnian almost automatically moves into Toorak. Upon acquiring his second $200,000 it is utterly essential to acquire a summer residence at Portsea.
So Portsea in January is almost pure Toorak, the same people doing the social round that they do all the rest of the year. If you wish to rent a place there may be a little shack half a mile from the beach for $6O, but for something decent you will be paying $8O to $1OO.
Blocks of land sell for $2,000 and more, but if you wanted something on the cliff front you would need to find $20,000. Palm Beach has the same style but the good houses are more solid and even more elegant than Portsea. Here you see the old Vaucluse, North Shore crowd, but, instead of crowding to a cliff front, the higher up the mountain the more one pays, until the best houses have superb views across to the Pacific and the Hawkesbury. With a bit of luck, from your glassed-in patio you can see your motor yacht parked below.
The glitter resort, of course, is Surfers Paradise. At this time of year it is packed with humanity; a surprisingly high proportion of them Queenslanders. June, July, August is the best time to see the Victorian and South Australian number plates. So the Brisbanians flock to the Gold Coast for their summer holidays. The nice people of Indooroopilly insist that they prefer the peace, the refinement, and extra beauty of the North Coast resorts like Noosa, Caloundra and Mooloolaba, but there’s something irresistible about the vitality of the Gold Coast, and the same old faces get there just the same.
Surfers Paradise changes and yet it doesn’t change. More is done there to assault the eye and ruin the gifts of nature than anywhere else in Australia. There seem to be no laws regarding the shrieking vulgarity of the signs or the horrors of architecture. The names of houses and motels are still designed to convince the Australian that he is in heaven and the American that he has never left home ...Bel Air, Santa Ana, Aloha, El Dorado, Santa Lucia, Santa Barbara and Surfside 6.
But if you can stand all this there is much fun to be had, plenty of entertainment and the restaurants are better than at any other Australian resort.
Surfers is now striving after the Miami look with apartment towers rising 15 storeys and more. The Mayor, Alderman Bruce Small, also has a dream: an inland waterway where speedboats will travel by bay, canal, and river 100 miles, all the way from Brisbane to Murwillumbah. This will open up endless Venetian-type waterways for, as Barry Humphries would say, more and more glorious housing schemes.
Everybody has their favourite resort. Maybe you prefer Victor Harbour, or Port Lincoln, may be you like the genuine heat of Mackay, or are you one of those who insist that the finest beach climate ever created is on the New South Wales south coast and it is utterly essential to go to Merimbula, Bermagui or Bateman’s Bay. If you live in Perth you rest secure in your absolute surety that there is nothing finer than Rottnest Island.
Every year we get an idea. Why not spend these holidays in the mountains? Go to the Snowy, go to Bright or Mt. Hotham.
But come December you start to smell the salt. You wander out to the garage, pull down the kids’ plastic surfboards, check to see whether the moths have eaten through the beach umbrella and even stroke rather fondly the old fishing rod, and maybe put a drop of oil in the reel.
You know darned well it has to be the old beach house for the summer holidays again this year, but I wish someone would invent a big wheeled trolley, something like the proposed moon buggy, for getting all the gear down on to the beach.