I wake to another grey Sunday but when I leave for Newport Beach, the sky has mostly cleared.
The #423 bus takes me from King Street (Newtown) to Martin Place. I walk to Wynyard and catch the #B1 bus to the end of that line in Mona Vale. There, I use my 15-minute wait to eat most of the lunch I’ve brought along and then get the #199 bus to Newport Beach. It’s taken me about two hours. On the one hand, that’s a pain in the ass. On the other, straight forward, efficient, clean, and safe public transportation has delivered me clear across town for a Sunday afternoon at the beach.
I’m the only passenger to alight at Newport. I later realise the spot where I was dropped off is surely only metres from where Trudie Adams was last seen alive (more on Trudie below).
An ugly car park (are there any other kind?) serves as a buffer between Barrenjoey Road and the berm of sand that then sweeps down to a golden beach and the crashing waves of the Pacific beyond.
I find the ladies room at the Newport Surf Life Savers Club and change into my swimmers. The beach is busy but not crowded. Clouds cast passing shadows as they scuttle quickly across the sky in a blustery wind. I plant my gear near the Surf Life Saving marquee beneath which a gaggle of five or six yellow and red clad volunteers is in a state of relaxed readiness.
The flags snap in the wind and the ocean is folding and dumping its way to land. Further out, swimmers and would be body-surfers bob in the dark blue waters, waiting. As I wade timidly in, I realise I haven’t been in the ocean since I visited Maroubra nearly a year ago. I have swum several times in the Manly Cove recently but not the ocean proper. The push and pull, the power of the surging water, is both familiar and familiarly just a little bit frightening. Not in any serious way – I’m between the flags, there are 10 lifesavers on hand – there is no actual danger. It’s more in that way of knowing a very sharp knife can do mortal damage if you’re not careful.
I wade further in. There is a trough, then a sand bar. All around me kids blithely leap and play, catching waves on their boogie boards, getting dumped and spluttering to the surface. I envy their ocean childhoods. I duck under and then stand for a time being buffeted by the force of the waves.
Back on the beach, I lie in the sun with my cap over my face while letting the droplets of ocean turn to salty patches on my skin. Over the sound of wind and waves I pick up snatches of conversation from the Surf Life Saving marquee – they are swapping turns reading fortunes from cookies. Mostly I just lie. Still. Taking in all the small joys of the sea and sand and sunny breezy day.
When I sit up, I see a young girl running back and forth holding her towel aloft as a cape which flies in the wind.
I find myself thinking, as I have at previous beaches in this project, about the people who emigrated to Australia from a devastated Europe in the aftermath of World War II. What a worker’s paradise it must have seemed to them. Sydney had plenty of working-class jobs then and houses were being built which could be purchased on a working-class wage. And on summer weekends you had these wonderful beaches freely accessible to everyone.
A bit about Newport
Some suburbs offer a treasure trove of odd and interesting stories of Aboriginal people, early settlers, artists, musicians, inventors, and business people. Others, like Newport, not so much.
The name, not surprisingly, came from when it was a “new port” for passenger and cargo steamers in the 19th century.
I did find two bits of local history worth mentioning.
The first is a serendipitous discovery given the thoughts I was having about workers while sitting on the beach.
In the early 20th century a Scottish carpenter and upholsterer made his way to Sydney via New Zealand. David Stewart arrived a socialist and unionist and quickly became a delegate on the Labour Council of New South Wales. He believed in the importance of education for working people and used his position within the labour movement to establish a branch of the British Workers’ Educational Association in Sydney in 1913. It grew quickly and within a year there were 55 affiliated organisations.
In 1924, the WEA – and Stewart himself, as carpenter – built a residential summer school in Newport.
Here’s the first meeting at the school – I’m pretty sure the fellow on the left with his hand on his chin is Stewart.
Here’s a group enjoying a marine biology weekend in 1929.
The building is long gone but the WEA is still going strong – they offer over 1,300 short courses per year to some 15,000 students. You can learn more about Stewart from his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.
The second Newport story I learned is not as uplifting. On 24 June 1978, 18-year-old Trudie Adams attended a dance at the Newport Surf Life Saving Club. A bit after midnight she left to hitch a ride home – she was last seen getting into a panel van and then she vanished. She is still missing. No one has been arrested. No one has faced trial. The ABC recently made her disappearance the subject of their podcast Unravel and, subsequently, a 3-part documentary, Barrenjoey Road. I’ve watched the first episode and it’s, as you might expect, infuriating and depressing while also offering a fascinating glimpse into the culture of the Northern Beaches in the 1970s.
NEWPORT BY THE NUMBERS
The 2016 census counted 9,301 people in Newport, of these 39 (0.4%) identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander heritage. Seventy-four percent of Newporters were born in Australia, with only 26% having both parents born overseas (compared with 37% in NSW and 34% in Australia). Eighty-nine percent only spoke English at home – which must be one of the highest percentages for an urban community in the country. No other language clears the 1% mark and the top five are all European: German, Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese.
Newport is in the Northern Beaches Council Local Government Area, the State electorate of Pittwater (Rob Stokes, Liberal) and the Federal Division of Mackellar (Jason Falinski, Liberal).
In the 2017 Same-Sex Marriage Postal Survey 84% of voters in Mackellar returned their ballots with 68% of them voting Yes and 32% voting No. Across NSW it was 58% Yes, 42% No, and nationwide it was 62% Yes and 42% No.
Newport Beach is 34.9 kilometres (21.7 miles) from my home.
To get there, I took the 423 bus from Newtown to Martin Place, walked to Carrington Street at Wynyard Station to catch the B1 to Mona Vale, and then the 199 to Newport Beach. It took just about two hours to make the trip and cost $2.70 total – because it was Sunday, normally it’s $5.38 each way.