Sundays The Beach

No 30: Forty Baskets Beach – 28 December 2013

I’ve been to the beaches but not blogged about them.  It’s been quite a year for me.  Sundays the Beach was our project and now it is my project.  Change is hard and change is good.

I’ve decided that counting the beaches with fingers is fun and worth doing when I can but failing to have sufficient numbers is no excuse for not going to the beach on a good beach day.

So I’ll tell you about the latest beach, Forty Baskets, today, and fill in the missing beaches over time.  This season I will post the beaches as I go and make this a more active blog.  Bear with me.

I’ve been trying to get to Forty Baskets for a week or so.  Some friends and I were going to do the Spit to Manly Walk, stopping at Forty Baskets, and finish with a Manly Ferry ride home.  But one friend’s plans changed and another was sick.  I thought I’d go on my own on Christmas Day but it was not a beach day – overcast and cool.

But Saturday dawned a gem of a beach day – sunny, warm, not too hot, breezy but not too blowy.  Laura and I drive to Manly and walk the two kilometers to Forty Baskets – passing Delwood and Fairlight Beaches and through North Harbour Reserve.

We are greeted by an informational sign which tells us that the original inhabitants of this area were the Boregal and Gorualgal groups of the Gatlay family group of the Gai-marigal clan who made their homes in what is now northern Sydney.

The first land-grants were issued to settlers in 1834 but the first homes weren’t built until 1887.  Being remote from Sydney it remained lightly populated until the 1940s when modern development began.

The name derives from the forty baskets of fish caught by local fisherman to deliver to soldiers from the War in Sudan who were being held at the Quarantine Station upon their return to Sydney in 1885.

I was intrigued by the name even before I learned the source but … the War in Sudan??

Yes.  In brief, the British Empire got involved in a bit of a fuss in Sudan involving a Muslim sheikh separatist.  The British thought they’d ride in and sort it out but were out-manoeuvred, defeated and got bogged down (sounding familiar?).  They sent a famous general in to get them out of the quagmire.  He decided the British might yet win but he too was outsmarted by the locals.  He was quite famous and the Empire was impassioned about his predicament.  New South Wales was keen to help out and offered to raise a contingent to come to his aid and so they did.  These were the first Australian troops to depart for a foreign war and they are sort of a big deal in Australian history.  Many New South Welshman and women supported the raising and sending of these troops – thousands turned out to see them off.  But many others thought it a lark and a tugging-of-the-locks towards the Empire and opposed the raising of funds to support the effort.

The NSW contingent went to Africa, did a lot of marching and practicing, didn’t see much action and came home.  When they arrived they were quarantined for a few days to make sure they weren’t disease-ridden.  It was then that the fisherman caught and delivered the Forty Baskets of fish.

Soldiers returned from Sudan … having had the Forty Baskets of fish.

A 1966 movie, Khartoum, staring Charlton Heston and Lawrence Olivier is set in this 1885 Sudan War – I haven’t seen it but when I do I will add a review here.

The river runs red … they say.

Forty Baskets is the perfect sort of beach for this project.  I’ve walked past every time I’ve done the Spit to Manly Walk and never stopped.  It’s just a pleasant little spot: a caged harbour beach, family friendly, boat-y.  Not a place you’d make a point to visit if you weren’t a local – and most of the visitors seem to be just that.

There are loads of picnicking family groups, little kids splashing in the shallows or building sand castles, bigger kids bombing off the jetty.  We’ve just missed the ice cream man in his tinnie and melting treats are clutched in sticky little hands.

Forty Baskets of inviting beachy goodness.

Laura enters the water boldly – I mean, it is quite warm, but I’m still tip-toeing in while she’s splashing about like an otter.  It’s so clear – the water, it’s striking because we’re in a busy harbour surrounded by one of the world’s great cities and yet the water is clear as glass.  It shimmers and sparkles, the boats at their moorings bob, an expanse of dark sapphire sea stretches toward Manly proper.

Offering the Sydney summer soundtrack, cicadas screech and pulsate hidden in the Norfolk Island pines.  When they quiet: the laughter and cries of children, the rumble of loads of different conversations near at hand but not near enough to hear clearly and the light jingling of boat rigging in the wind.

We’d stay longer – it invites lingering, but we’ve forgotten our snacks and its well past lunch time already.  We retrace our steps back to Manly and into Four Pines for a late lunch and cold refreshing beverages.

Forty Baskets is 26 kilometres (16 miles) from home.  It is in Balgowlah, a suburb within the Manly LGA, the state electorate of Manly (Mike Baird, Liberal) and the federal division of Warringah (Tony Abbott, Liberal).

Twenty-six kilometers from home.

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