They’re my rules and I’ll break them if I want to.
And today was a day to break them. It’s my 50th birthday, it’s a Sunday, the weather is inviting, we’re going to a beach. But, here’s the thing, later in the afternoon there’s going to be a party held at my friend Laura’s apartment in Green Square.
The last beach I visited was North Curl Curl. I had skipped over North Cronulla (thinking I’d get to it the following week, but I didn’t). So today’s beach should rightly be North Cronulla (56), and even between North Curl Curl and Queens there are North Narrabeen (57), North Steyne (58) Obelisk (59), Palm (60), Paradise (61), and Portuguese (62) – absolutely none of which are within cooee of Green Square.
So, seeing as they’re my rules and I’ll break them if I want to – today we are going to Queens (63) because it’s conveniently located in Vaucluse.
My best friend from high school, Bill, has come to Sydney from Seattle for the celebrations and he’s the first person I collect on our journey to Queens. He’s staying in a nearby Airbnb and he’s the first of my friends to wish me an in-person happy birthday on this gorgeous sunny late-summer feeling Sunday morning.
On the train we meet up with Katy – her sister’s birthday is today too – so she’s joining us for the beach part of the celebration.
At Circular Quay we catch the ferry to Rose Bay and from there an Uber to a dead-end street in Vaucluse where, as we are about to walk down to the beach, we are joined by Duncan, Juliette and their two bubs.
The beach is a tiny sliver of sand just off the Hermitage Foreshore Track. One end runs flush against a sandstone cliff. We stake our claim over the only serviceable landscape – a bit of sand above the high water mark and collection of seat-height rocks. The kids set to playing. Snack foods emerge from bags. And just as I’m about to find a corner in which to change into my swimmers we are joined by Laura – who flew in from Hong Kong last night.
Queens – along with nearby Milk – is a tiny pearl of a beach. The harbour waters lap gently, and the whole of the Sydney skyline is right there.
The bubs are in the water, parents chasing in turn. I change into swimmers and dive in – the water is lovely – late summer warm but still a bit bracing. Between the leap and the surfacing – in the brief moment beneath the surface – I find a space in which to be present in the moment of my reaching the half-century mark.
It feels old. And it feels young. I feel fine with most of what’s come and gone, never to come again, in my life. There’s a bit of panic in it too – anything I still want to start, anything I still want to accomplish – I probably should really get on that.
I think I’m fortunate to have older parents. I was 10 when my mom turned 50. I knew she was older than most of my friends’ parents, but she didn’t seem that old to me – she was just my mom, and I was 10 and she was 50. That was a long time ago and she’s still kicking along – turning 90 next month.
On the other hand, I have a lot of friends in their 30s. Sometimes I remind myself that they are a lot younger than me and, sometimes, I’m just grateful to not be in that mid-30s stage of life anymore. It was fine at the time, but I’ve done that and need never do it again.
I also have a lot of friends who are older than me, and sometimes I remind myself that I’m a lot younger than them and, sometimes, that I still have many years to go until I am the age they are now.
I could spend all day thinking about being 50 or simply enjoy the celebration – I choose the latter.
After about an hour, the kids are getting fidgety, Katy’s sister’s party beckons, and Bill, Laura, and I are very much ready for our second breakfast of the day. Duncan, Juliette, and the kids head back across the Bridge while the rest of us Uber to Surry Hills – Katy dashing off while we remaining three await a table at Bill’s – a place I first breakfasted 20 years ago when Laura and I visited Sydney to mark my 30th birthday.
The ricotta pancakes are as divine as ever.
And my birthday is off to a smashing start.
A BIT ABOUT VAUCLUSE
I haven’t been able to find any information specifically about Queens Beach – but here’s what I wrote about Vaucluse when posting about nearby Milk Beach:
This area was home to the Birrabirragel people of the coastal Dharug language group until their homeland was invaded and they were displaced. Their sovereignty was among the first to be disrupted after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. A rudimentary signal station was established on the ridge separating the sea from the harbour, it was formalised by 1790, and a bridle trail connected it to Sydney Cove. By 1811 that trail had become South Head Road.
Vaucluse House is one of the suburbs main tourist attractions and the source of the name of the suburb. It was built by Sir Henry Browne Hayes who had been transported as a convict for kidnapping the granddaughter of a wealthy Irish banker.
Let’s delve into that one a little more, shall we? Sir Henry was born into a wealthy family in Cork, Ireland in 1762. In 1790, at age 28, he was knighted. Following the death of his wife, he became acquainted with Miss Mary Pike, heiress to over £20,000. On 22 July 1797 Sir Henry abducted her, took her to his house, called in a man dressed as a priest to perform a marriage ceremony – to which Miss Pike objected and which she never considered legitimate. She was eventually rescued by relatives and Hayes fled. Wikipedia doesn’t say as much, and it’s probably not recorded anywhere, but I’m going to guess that between the ceremony and her rescue that Sir Henry raped Miss Pike. What I’ve read indicates that her wealth was his main interest. Perhaps. I’ve also read that she never fully recovered from the ordeal and experienced “bouts of madness” through the rest of her days.
In discussing the convicts, we often focus on the many who were sent out for either the petty crimes of poverty and hunger (stealing food or small items to sell to be able to buy food) or political crimes. Sir Henry Browne Hayes committed a vile crime.
He was on the run for two years. His trial in 1801 garnered much attention. He was found guilty and initially was condemned to death – later commuted to transportation for life. He arrived in Sydney in July 1802. Still with his title and his wealth even as a convict. He had paid his way into a softer passage from England but along the way made an enemy of Surgeon Thomas Jamison. Upon arrival in Sydney, he spent the first six months imprisoned “for his threatening and improper conduct.” Governor King found him “a restless, troublesome character” and was glad to grant permission for him to purchase land and a cottage well distant from the main colony of Sydney.
So, in 1803 he bought a home and property from Thomas Laycock. Sir Henry, an admirer of the 14th-century poet Petrarch named his cottage after a poem about the Fontaine de Vaucluse near the town L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in France.
The house was later purchased by William Charles Wentworth (in 1853). He was a barrister and explorer – one of the colonists who first crossed the Blue Mountains in 1813. He made many structural changes and additions, so it is his house and gardens you visit if you visit Vaucluse House.
In colonial times rich men, and men holding important positions, built their homes in Vaucluse. While all the Birrabirragel people’s land has long been stolen and extensively built on, still the wealthy flock to Vaucluse. As of 2016, the 2030 post code (which includes Vaucluse) had the 5th highest mean taxable income in Australia ($154,010) – note that that only counts taxable income not accumulated wealth or income for which the tax man does not cometh. The median household weekly income is $2741 (compared with $1486 for New South Wales and $1438 for Australia).
On the 2016 census night, 9,337 people called Vaucluse home. Of these 25, or 0.3%, identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders heritage. (As compares to 2.9% of residents of New South Wales and 2.8% of all Australians.) These 25 people had a median household income of $2550 or $191 less than their non-Aboriginal neighbours, which over 52 weeks would be $9,932 less per year. But that $2550 is twice the average of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in NSW ($1214) and Australia more generally ($1203).
Most Vauclusians are Australian born (57.5%) though for nearly half (48.3%) both parents were born overseas. Those born overseas themselves hail from South Africa (7.8%), England (5.2%), China (2.3%), New Zealand (1.9%) and Israel (1.4%).
Vaucluse is probably one of very few suburbs in all of Australia where the most common response about religious identification is Judaism at 23.2% followed by No Religion 22.6%, Catholic 19.8% and Anglican 11.5%. Across the state of NSW, 0.5% people identified as Jewish and in Australian 0.4%.
Milk Beach is in the Local Government Area of Woollahra, the State electorate of Vaucluse (Gabrielle Upton, Liberal) and the Federal Division of Wentworth (Dr Kerryn Phelps, Independent).
In the 2016 national postal poll on same sex marriage 81% of Wentworth voters were in favour (compared with 62% nationally).
QUEENS BEACH LOCATION
Queens Beach is 10.6 kilometres (6.6 miles) from home.