In Australia, of our approximate twenty five million inhabitants, the vast majority of us hug the coast, mainly the east coast. We’re an island, after all, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of kilometres of coastline. There’s far fewer of us in the remote centre or the dusty outback. We love water in any form ~ rivers, lakes, public pools, dams, the harbour ~ and many of us have a pool in the back yard as well.
And, especially, we love the beach.
There’s something truly Aussie about lying in the sun on a beach towel, then running into the waves and cooling off. There’s that dizzying sensation as the cold water hits, and the exhilaration of body surfing, barrelling to the shore. How many of our childhood and youthful memories centre around the beach? Tourists flock to famous sites like Bondi Beach, Sydney, and iconic art works revere it. See Max Dupain’s famous photograph below, a holiday snapshot of his friend Harold Salvage taken in 1937 on a camping trip to Culburra Beach, on the NSW south coast.
In out baking hot climate, water does more than quench our thirst. We immerse ourselves in it, on it and by it. We freestyle, breast stroke, back stroke and paddle in the shallows. We snorkel and deep sea dive. We surf, kayak and canoe. Every day, life savers, fishermen (and women), and swimmers flock to the beach. We crest the waves in sailing boats and linger in dinghies in secret inlets along estuaries. We picnic beside it, squelch in the wet sand alongside it, sit mesmerised by it.
We love the beach in all weathers, when it’s a vast turquoise blue, banks of frothy waves rolling in, the sun glittering so brightly it makes your eyes hurt. Or grey and stormy skies, and huge dangerous waves crashing the shore. And we live with the consequences of our harsh climate and our worship of beach culture, with record levels of sun cancers. Now we protect our children (and ourselves) and “Slip, slop and slap” with long-sleeved clothing, sunscreen lotion and hats.
In my story Collison, Stella is at home in and near the sea. An injured runaway, she’s isolated, fearful and angry. Water is one thing that soothes Stella, and she walks the length of the beach frequently. From a suburb near Red Head beach in Newcastle, NSW, Stella’s a competitive swimmer as well. When she sees the rolling waves at Horseshoe Bay at South West Rocks, and the clear depths of Trial Bay, she dives in, and immediately feels better.