Summer has arrived and the beaches beckon.
It’s a gorgeous, golden, shimmering day. There’s heat in the sun and cool in the shade. It feels, as it should, like early summer.
I meet Aaron, Giancarlo, and Matthew for a late breakfast at Kansas City Shuffle in The Rocks. We eat, drink coffee, talk of politics, and life, and whatever else comes to mind – an enjoyable, engaged, all-in conversation. This was just the sort of thing I missed while I was travelling alone through France – this sort of free-flowing dialogue among people with enough in common to understand one another yet who have had different enough lives as to make for fascinating observations. We order more coffee, and a sweet to share, and then its time to move on.
Aaron, Matthew, and I walk to Circular Quay and find a dispiritingly long queue for the standard Manly Ferry. We are about to walk back to Wynyard to get the bus when we decide to see how bad the situation is for the Fast Ferry – it’s okay so we splurge out ($8.70 one way) and join the United Nations of holiday-makers, a large number of them in Santa hats, zipping across the harbour.
Manly itself is, not surprisingly, chockablock. The Corso heaves with people. We stop into the Hotel Steyne for a pre-beach beer (and an opportunity to use the pub’s toilets to change into our swimmers rather than the overused beach ablution block). I like the light in the front bar and the courtyard – it somehow carries a reflection of the sea, which probably isn’t quite literal but the salt in the air does something to the light, the glistening blue beyond is present.
The courtyard is full of people in Christmas costumes and Santa hats. There is clearly some organised event going on but it’s not obvious what it is. Maybe just a viral thing – “wear your Santa gear to Manly” – the message may have been.
We make our way to the beach and walk amongst the crowds. The sea is rough, dumpy – the flags are narrowly placed at the southern end of the beach. There we find a spot on the border of sunshine and the shade thrown by the Norfolk Island pines lining the seawall.
The Pacific is all of the blues – from the palest aquamarine through to a green-tinged cobalt on the horizon.
Mohammed is missing. An announcement is made.
Mohammad is a six-year-old boy who’s gone missing in the area behind the flags. He’s wearing red shorts.
I imagine how terrifying this moment must be for Mohammed’s parents.
He must have been found. There is no second announcement. No police or frantic searching by Surf Lifesavers.
I wade into the surf, among the crowd. I dodge the incoming kids on boogie boards. Share smiles with a three-year-old bobbing in a rubber ring – laughing in the waves. His parents are near, but not hovering. There is a joyful freedom in his giggles. There are two-women, in saris, who’ve waded in knee-deep. As usual I ease ever so slowly in, letting my body get used to the water temperature – which is fine, but cool. And then, when I’m finally mid-torso deep – I dunk under.
It’s always a great feeling – cooling, freeing, briefly emptying my mind of thinking and planning. And yet I always take forever to wade into that moment. Perhaps that symbolises something. Or perhaps I am just, as ever, over-thinking it.
Aaron and Matthew have stayed on the beach – laying quietly. I join them – cooling, drying, listening the Babel of voices, the sound of the waves folding onto the shore, the softness of the breeze in the boughs of the pines.
I thought first of fish and chips but a wish for something healthier wins out and we have sushi instead.
I leave the boys then and collect lamingtons at the bakery on my way to Jim’s. Christabel is there too and we have an afternoon of catching up and chatting – sharing lamingtons and tea before moving to cocktails – and, when Tim and Alex arrive, and dinner served up, a bit of wine as well.
I dash for a ferry but just before boarding I have a reply from Tyler that they are home and decorating the tree – so one more stop on my Sunday in Manly. Lisa Marie is due with their first child in the coming weeks so this is likely the last chance to see them for a while.
Then I’m dashing again – now in a bit of drizzle – to a late ferry full of the sunburned and salty, the tipsy and costumed, and families laden with exhausted toddlers. There’s a lot of sleeping done between leaving and arriving.
Me? I’m feeling … alive and happy. It’s been a perfect sort of day – full of easy, comfortable socialising, and the beach, and a swim – the first of the season, always a bit like a fresh baptism as a Sydneysider.
A BIT ABOUT MANLY
I was going to open this section on the history of Manly with the story of Bennelong because the Dictionary of Sydney led me to believe he and Colebee had been kidnapped from Manly Cove. However, the Wikipedia page about Bennelong says he was a member of the Wangal Clan of the Eora people connected with the south side of the Parramatta River. Such, I suppose is the nature of the relationship between the invaders and the invaded that basic information about Bennelong is confused.
The Dictionary of Sydney says that he, and his fellow, Colebee, were kidnapped from Manly Cove on the orders of Governor Arthur Phillip in 1789 “so that Europeans could learn more about their culture and language”. These men were from the Kay-ye-my clan of the Guringai people. The name “Manly” is derived from Phillip’s description of the people he encountered here in 1788, “their confidence,” he said, “and manly behaviour made me give the name of Manly Cove to this place.”
In any case, Bennelong was the most famous Aboriginal man in early Sydney history. After escaping from captivity, he re-established contact with Governor Phillip as a free-man, learned English and served as an interlocutor between the British colonists and the Indigenous people of Sydney Harbour. In this service he also travelled to England in 1792 – taking in the theatre, meeting with various gentry, and getting sick. The location of his Sydney hut is now occupied by the Opera House – on what is known as Bennelong Point.
Even while advising the colonists, Bennelong retained a prominent position in the Eora community – including participation in the last recorded initiation ceremony in Port Jackson in 1797. By the turn of the century he led a large clan living near Kissing Point on the north side of the Parramatta River in what is now Putney. It was here that he died on 3 January 1813. There is a plaque at the end of Watson Street, Putney, about 60m from where his grave is thought to be located.
Emerging from that rabbit hole … by mid-19th century Manly was being envisioned as the Southern Hemisphere’s answer to Brighton Beach, a seaside resort for harried city-dwellers. A wharf was built and paddle-steamers, eventually run by the Port Jackson & Manly Steamship Company, delivered the people. It was this company which coined the advertising slogan touting Manly as “seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care.”
It was between the World Wars, and especially after the latter one, that Manly boomed as a commuter suburb. Today it retains elements of the seaside resort while also being a well-off sought-after suburb, and being home to world class surfing and surfers. It is the sister city of Bath, England. I visited Bath during my midlife gap year. It’s twinning with Manly seems both entirely logical and a bit wrong.
In 2012 a four kilometre stretch from Freshwater Beach (No 31) and Shelly Beach (yet to come) was named the Manly-Freshwater World Surfing Reserve. I mention this mostly so I can include this from the dedication ceremony – as I thought a photo the then Governor of NSW, and always fabulous, Her Excellency Professor The Honourable Dame Marie Bashir with world surfing champion Kelly Slater would be fun – the lurking presence of Tony Abbott and Mike Baird only adds to the composition, I think.
MANLY BY THE NUMBERS
According to the 2016 census Manly is home to 15,866 people with a median household income of $2449 per week (almost double the NSW average of $1486 and the Australian average of $1438).
Sixty-nine (69) Manly residents identify as of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage – that’s 0.4% of the total. Like their neighbours, these folks are better off than their fellows living elsewhere – with a median household income of $2291 per week – NSW average for people of Indigenous heritage is $1214 and Australian is $1203.
The average Manly person is of European heritage (most likely descended from people from the UK), they’re in their mid-30s, and live in a flat (just as likely rented as owned). Half of them have a Bachelor’s Degree or more, half had at least one parent born overseas, most likely they have no religion but if they do they’re probably Catholic. If they speak something other than English at home – and not many do – it’s French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, or Italian.
Manly is in the local government area of Northern Beaches Council, in the State Electorate of Manly (James Griffin, Liberal) and the Federal Division of Warringah (Tony Abbott, Liberal).
In the recent national postal-poll on same-sex marriage 84% of Warringah voters returned their ballots with 75% voting in favour (compared with 62% nationally).
Manly is 17.3 kilometres from home.