I love the sea full stop and end of Post! Just kidding of course. Though I love plunging into the sea, roaring surf or tranquil harbour, I have some mixed feelings about Australian beach life. When it’s warm enough (sea not necessarily air temperature). I’ll plunge right in and savour the sea minerals covering my body and rinsing my scalp of any hidden stress. I always feel so good after a swim as I walk back on the hot sand, my body crusted in sea salt. Maybe this love comes from my childhood as I grew up not far from the sea and every summer Saturday, my brother and I would walk down the hill to the baths and I, being competitive and loving the sea, would participate in swimming races. Happy Times! Occaisionally we would go to the beaches at Manly to enjoy the surf which was non existent at Balmoral!
Being fair skinned and freckled but yearning for an olive complexion ( no wonder my first boyfriend was Italian!), I would usually end up lobster burnt and suffer for days at being excluded from the sun and sand. It was usually during these times of forced reflection in the shaded garden at home that I started to become aware of aspects of beach life that I didn’t like and felt alienated from. It was probably a time when I was going through puberty and acutely conscious of my body as I started to notice people parading on the esplanade actually enjoying exhibiting as much of their flesh as possible. Later at Uni, I learnt about narcissism and exhibitionism. Not long after that, I started to become more and more aware of the importance of having the right “gear” that’s to say designer swimwear, towels of a certain brand, beach bags, boogie boards and even swimming goggles all of which defined you as a member of the “tribe” (yes, I also studied Anthropology at Uni.).
It was when I was a young mum who still lived in the same suburb as the one she grew up in, that I became conscious first hand of the Us v.Them mentality played out on the beach of my childhood. The new leader of the local playgroup, herself a migrant, decided on behalf of the group, to petition the local council to establish a residents only section of the beach. In that way she explained to us, “those people” – insert any group who is different here-wouldn’t be allowed in. She wasn’t successful thankfully.
Currently I’m enjoying a lovely house sit with a 19 year old feline companion, on a Gold Coast beach. The sea is Divine, though the currents a bit dangerous but I only swim in the safest area. Many people seem so happy at the beach, walking, swimming, surfing or playing. It’s delightful to see children squeal at the waves then run back for more. Here, more than most parts, Australia feels like a lucky country and yet I wonder at the brittleness on some faces as they display as much flesh and “bling” as possible.
Until the advent of flight, the beach was a place where every wave of migration crashed ashore, Indigenous, European, Refugee. Yet the fear of the other, the different is now
calcified, hardening so that many Australians seem to have forgotten that we are all boat people on this island continent.