Category Archives: Holidays

All of My Sisters in Burqinis are Enjoying Christmas Day at Lady Robinson’s Beach (No 44 – 25 December 2016)

In recent years, I’ve made the tradition of a Jew’s Christmas my own. In the United States that’s a movie and Chinese food. But this is Australia so: a swim, a movie, and Chinese food.

Lady Robinson’s Beach is on Botany Bay between the mouths of the Cooks River and the Georges River.

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European settlers (invaders) named this Seven Mile Beach but it was renamed during the tenure of the 14th Governor of New South Wales, Sir Hercules Robinson. He served from March 1872 to February 1879 and the beach was named for his wife, Lady Robinson, or Nea Arthur Ada Rose D’Amour. The fifth daughter of the ninth Viscount Valentia.

Sir Hercules’ career, Lady Robinson’s as well, reads like a stereotype of British colonial service: Administrator of Montserrat, Lt Governor of Saint Christopher (Saint Kitts), Governor of Hong Kong, of British Ceylon, of Fiji, of New Zealand, Acting Governor of British Mauritius, High Commissioner for Southern Africa, and Governor of the Cape Colony. Yet, he managed to get home to London to die in October 1897, aged 62.

Their daughter, Nora Robinson, wed Alexander Kirkman Finlay at St James’ Church in Sydney in 1878. The groom owned Glenormiston, a large station in Victoria. This wedding was the second vice-regal wedding in New South Wales and, as such, attracted much public attention – a crowd estimated up to 10,000 gathered outside the church.

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Wedding party for marriage of Nora Augusta Maud, daughter of Sir Hercules and Lady Nea Robinson, to A.K. Finlay, Sydney, August, 1878 (Lady Robinson is seated, facing the bride)

I do suggest reading Sir Hercules’ Wikipedia page. It’s both fascinating and a strange and unlikely tale to be tied to this stretch of beach – which, on Christmas Day 2016 is hosting families from all around the world – a few of whom, were surely, from other places touched by Sir Hercules’ colonial hand.

The day, while breezy, is otherwise a perfect Sydney Christmas Day: sunny, warm but not too hot, not too humid. Just lovely.

Every bit of shade in the reserve has been colonised by a United Nations of families: East Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, European, and African. Many are clearly Muslims, some probably Buddhist – the Christians come for a dip and go back to their parties and lunches at home.

Christmas is the day when I feel most Jewish, not that I practice, but on this day I usually feel very much an Outsider. But not here, not at Lady Robinson’s Beach, where today is, mostly, a day for non-Christians making the most of a holiday courtesy of the Christian majority.

There is a busy shark-netted swimming enclosure. Jet skis buzz along the shore. International flights circle, approach from the southwest, and land on Sydney Airport’s third runway while other planes queue for their turn to depart. In the distance, the cranes of Sydney’s port fill the horizon.

I love this beach. I love how it’s a bit gritty in a working class, working port, immigrant families way – the antithesis of the glitzy beautiful-people blonde-haired blue-eyed stereotype of Sydney’s beaches.

There are more women and girls on this beach in burqinis than bikinis.

And I love that too. I love that an Australian woman, Aheda Zanetti, started a company, Ahiida, to provide swimming attire that allows Muslim women, who choose to abide by dictates of modest dress, to fully participate in this most Australian of activities – swimming in the sea and enjoying the beach.

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I wade into the Bay – the water is cooling, refreshing but not cold. I move slowly to where I’m waist deep then dive in. Emerging I feel a wave of welled and condensed emotions – a rejoicing for my return home, finally, to Sydney, and the easy contentment that has brought me, also some nostalgia for the 19 months of travel and volunteering gone by and the knowledge I’m unlikely to have that kind of open-ended freedom again, and, too, some sadness, for hopes unfulfilled. All of that in the woosh of rising out of the water, raising my arms to splash the sea around me, and then feeling the heat of the sun on my wet skin.

I sit for a time on the beach and write – as I do, an excited family group arrives, first a dad and kids running past me into the water than the younger women, in colourful burqinis, then older women in flowing black hijabs and matching garb. They were all, seemingly, having a really lovely time – while making for a striking scene – these black clad women, wading in the shallows, the planes and port cranes in the background.

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I rode my bicycle home, enjoyed sweet and sour chicken at the Happy Chef then met some new Jewish friends for a screening of La La Land at Bondi Junction.

And so, another Australian Jewish Christmas in the books and a good beach from which to restart this blog.

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Lady Robinson’s Beach was an 13.5 kilometre (8.3 mile) bicycle ride from home.

The portion of the beach which I visited is in Kyeemagh, a suburb in the Bayside Council.

Kyeemagh is a wee little suburb – home to 780 people of whom 37.5 % were born overseas (Greece 10.5%, Lebanon 2.3%, and Cyprus 2.2%). English is the primary language spoken in 44.3% of homes. (All per the 2006 census.)

It’s in the Rockdale State Electorate (Steve Kamper, Labor) and the Federal Division of Barton (Linda Burney, Labor). (It has been a LONG time since I’ve been to a beach represented at both levels by the Labor Party.)

Anzac Day – Uralla Style (Day 6 – Saturday 25 April)

I woke to a big, blue, clear sky. The sun shone strongly and hot; the breeze, especially in the shade, chilly with the plateau’s autumn. They’ve planted many exotic deciduous trees in New England and their red and golden dying leaves frame each roadway.

At 9:45 am the great majority, it seemed, of Uralla residents lined the main street waiting for the balance of their neighbours and most of the district’s school children to parade past to mark Anzac Day: returned servicemen and women came first followed by children marching for parents, then those in local services – the Red Cross, Fireies, Police and Ambos,  next groups from all the local schools in their uniforms, some trying to march, some wearing family medals and lastly a couple of army horsemen and an officer leading a riderless horse with backward turned boots in the stirrups. The whole thing passed in 10 minutes – greatest Anzac Day Parade I’ve ever attended as it did all it was supposed to do without taking the whole morning.

The crowd moved to the memorial gates at the park to await the parade participants and for the official service to begin.  The program took rather longer than the parade and followed the usual script: various dignitaries spoke saying things about the horror of war and place of mateship, a local pastor spoke of Jesus and the RSL president of the Queen, several school kids read prepared remarks nearly inaudiably, hymns were weakly sung and wreathes laid. We turned to the West for the playing of the Last Post; and turned to the East for Reveille.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

We finished by singing Advance Australia Fair with gusto accompanied by a twee electronic keyboard. I may not speak with an Australian accent but I do sing the national anthem with one.

The whole thing was genuinely lovely.

Later I went to the footy – a local second-division derby of the Country Football League with the Uralla boys hosting the Walcha lads from up the road. For a while it was a close run thing but the hosts came good in the end and retired to the Bottom Pub for two-up through the afternoon and evening. (Uralla has two pubs – each with some proper name – but one is slightly uphill from the other thus known to all as the Top Pub and the Bottom Pub.)

In the evening Paul, Judy, their neighbour Annie, and I made our own way to the Top Pub – where one drink and dinner became several drinks and weird and wonderful conversations with various bar flies. Bernie – who lives 20 km out of town and was on the ABC’s Outback House some years ago – regaled us with a tale of riding his horse bareback up the main drag (because he sometimes rides into town) – getting the horse to weave through the white lines like obstacle cones. He has a vision of a new horse-based sport that would somehow involve the horses swimming. It was something we brainstormed for a while.

We weaved home in crisp damp air beneath a black sky salted with stars.