Since 2010 I’ve been visiting Sydney’s beaches in alphabetical order. I’ve reached number 50: Maroubra.
We’re set for record-breaking heat today. It’s supposed to be in the high 40s in the Western Suburbs. My old schoolmate, Tracey, is visiting from Chicago – and no heat is too much heat for her. My friend Matthew is coming along too – he’s becoming a regular here at Sundays the Beach with this to be his third (after Little Congwong and Manly).
The Maroubra Beach high street, the shops, the reserve behind the beach, the beach itself, and the area between the flags are chockers. The heat is all encompassing. I’m swimming through air a bit warmer than my blood.
As we arrive there is a Westpac rescue helicopter low over the water at the southern end. There are a heap of Surf Lifesaver dinghies out there as well.
We find a bare patch of beach not far from the flags and set up camp. My new red beach umbrella goes up, and in its shade all is good. Our phones say it’s in the mid-40s but it doesn’t feel that hot at all – more like the high 30s.
There are thousands of people on the beach. Hundreds in water between the flags.
I notice there are two ambulances near the pavilion – one with its bay doors open.
I love Sydney beaches which draw the whole world. There are people here from every inhabitable continent. I’m sure among the masses are even some who have worked in the Antarctic. Yes, it’s crowded and messy, but really beautiful – all these people, all their various swimming costumes, their umbrellas, tents, beach towels.
There is a gaggle of very dark boys, pre-pubescent, lanky, sinewy, laughing in the waves for the whole time we are there. The sea sparkles against their matt-dark-chocolate skin – they are beautiful in that way that happy, healthy, youth is always beautiful, here, with the added aesthetic loveliness of the contrast between their dark brown skin and the pale blue and white of the surf.
We take turns coming and going from the water. Tracey is a life-long swimmer, competitive in her youth. She dolphins under the waves and swims out, tries to catch some waves back to shore with mixed success. In my usual way, I wade in slowly, feeling the strength of the push and pull of the surf coming and going.
The surf lifesavers – perhaps on higher alert owing to whatever was happening when we arrived – are on their game, regularly whistling stray swimmers back between the flags.
From under my umbrella I gaze out past my recently repainted toes to the sand and sea. The water is the palest of blues – azure really, to aqua, to cobalt at the crisp hard line separating the sea from the sun-bleached pale blue upturned bowl of a sky.
After about 90 minutes and several swims – the gaggle of girls to our left light cigarettes and young men – these seemingly American – arrive with music. Matthew goes to tell the girls they are not allowed to smoke on the beach and is in a bit of a stand-off with them. He goes to talk to the Surf-Lifesavers and is told he’ll have to call the police if he wants something done about it. (Maybe on a quieter day they may have acted.) As it happened one of the lifesavers walked past the girls to the pavilion – coincidental probably – but they did put their cigarettes out briefly.
From the lifesavers Matthew learns the helicopter was collecting a body found in surf. Not a swimmer who had drowned but, from the newspaper story I read later, a suspected suicide.
Matthew tells us this after we’ve left the beach and are heading someplace to find food. We wind up at The North End Café where we have really fantastic salads – well Matthew and Tracey have salads and I have their salmon poke – which was so very good.
While we were waiting for our food, my friend Steve comes in to order drinks. He and Amanda are sitting outside. Steve lives in Coogee, Amanda is visiting from the UK, I know them through entirely separate channels (I met Steve on Facebook and Amanda through my friend Tom – who, I should note, doesn’t, as far as I know, know Steve) – and here they are at the same café as us in Maroubra. You know you’re in your hometown when you run into people you know at random places.
Lunch done, we nip into the convenience store next door for Golden Gaytimes – Matthew’s all-time favourite ice creams and one I like to introduce all visitors too because it’s tasty, and it’s called a Golden Gaytime.
A BIT ABOUT MAROUBRA
The residents of the Maroubra area, at the time of European invasion, were the Mura-ora-dial people who spoke Dharawal. The name Maroubra comes from this language and means place of thunder, presumably in reference to the crashing surf. There are rock carvings on the northern headland and evidence of an extensive tool-workshop was found at the south end of the beach in the early 20th century.
After the 1788 arrival of Europeans on Sydney Harbour it took a while to get this far south. The first house was built in the area in 1861 and by the 1870s wool scouring works had been set up at the northern end of the bay. Apparently this is a fairly smelly process and, at the time, Maroubra seemed just the place for the ‘noxious trades’.
When the 1,513 ton, full-rigged, iron ship Hereward was caught in gale-force winds and wrecked on the northern end of the beach in May 1898 – Maroubra was suddenly in the headlines and Sydneysiders flocked to have sticky-beak. Because in 1898 going to look at the shipwreck was as a good a day out as any. As I suppose it still would be today, really.
After the lifting of the ban on daylight bathing was in 1902, Maroubra Beach became a popular destination for swimmers – and with in a few years had surf lifesaving clubs at both ends of the beach.
Residential development began in earnest in the 1910s, the tram line from the city was extended to Maroubra Beach by 1921. And during the depression many Sydneysiders who had been pushed out of rental accommodation in the inner city set up camp in the sand hills and dunes at the southern end of the beach. Then, after World War II, the NSW Housing Commission built the Coral Sea Housing Estate in the same area. This opened in 1961 and the residents of the estate make up a significant part of the Maroubra Beach community.
Edgar Froese, German electronic music pioneer best known for founding Tangerine Dream wrote this sort of trippy yet enjoyable nearly 17-minute piece Maroubra Bay after visiting.
MAROUBRA BY THE NUMBERS
According to the 2016 census, Maroubra South (which takes in the beach and points west as far as Anzac Parade) is home to 10,683 people. They have a median household income of $1529 per week, which, well slightly higher than the state ($1486) and federal ($1438) median is $920 per week lower the median household income in Manly (beach number 49).
There are 210 people in Marobra South who identified themselves as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander – that’s 2%. Their median household income is $771 per week (compared to $1214 in NSW and $1203 for Australia). Notably this is $1678 per week less than those identifying as Aboriginal a/o Torres Strait Islander in Manly. The gap is more than the overall average median weekly income for people in Maroubra.
The typical denizen of Maroubra South is 38 years old, Australian-born, but with at least one parent who was born overseas. They’ve at least completed year 12, and are quite likely to have a bachelor degree or more. They live with 1.3 other people with whom they form a family. They live in a flat or apartment which they rent. Most are working full-time at jobs they drive to.
35.2% of households speak a language other than English at home – no one language is dominant, in fact none makes up more that 3.3%, but these are the most common, in order: Greek, Mandarin, Spanish, Portuguese, and Cantonese.
I thought this was interesting – the median rent is $450 per week. The households where it takes less than 30% of their income to pay rent was 78.4% (compared with 87.1% for NSW and 88.5% for Australia) the households spending more than 30% of their income on rent was 21.6% (12.9%-NSW, 11.5% AUS).
Maroubra is in the Local Government area of the City of Randwick, the State electorate of Maroubra (Michael Daley, Labor) and the Federal Division of Kingsford Smith (Matt Thistlethwaite, Labor).
In the recent national postal-poll on same-sex marriage 80% of Kingsford Smith voters returned their ballots with 64% voting in favour (compared with 62% nationally).
Maroubra Beach is 11.2 km from home (7 miles)