I have been looking forward to this: the westernmost beach in Sydney. Grand Flaneur Beach is on Chipping Norton Lake in Liverpool. This would be different.
The day is hot and a heat shimmer dances along the tracks as I await the train to Liverpool. What, I wonder, might I expect? A parkland? Yes. Picnicking Muslims? Almost certainly. Children swimming in a lake health officials would discourage you from swimming in? Probably. Beyond that I have no ideas.
This is truly Sydney’s west and a mix of faces and cultures greet my arrival: a saffron-robed Cambodian monk with his mate; tall, thin Sudanese teenagers; women of various backgrounds in hijab. The Anglos I see are all a little broken in one way or another – like the ancient-looking woman in her thirties nodding off in the bus shelter.
I am the only passenger on the bus as it winds through suburban streets past modern, but not too new, houses set in neatly mowed lawns, many with more than two cars, some with boats and caravans.
From the bus stop I walk a few blocks to the park and, sure enough, children and teenagers swimming in the lake and a large party of picnicking, gender-separated, Muslims – Afghanis perhaps. Some of the women, in ankle-length covers, are using the outdoor gym equipment provided by Liverpool Council.
It’s a lovely park – green open spaces, trees, and, of course, the lake. Much of it literally rubbish strewn. Wrappers, food scraps, drink bottles just left scattered on the ground – often within twenty metres of a bin. WTF people?
The sounds of a Sunday arvo in the park: voices in Arabic and English, hollers from the blokes playing soccer in the beating sun, jet skis on the lake, small planes coming and going from Bankstown Airport, children laughing and splashing, cicadas screeching and crows complaining.
I had looked forward to Grand Flaneur for its name alone. The French ‘Flâneur’ is to stroll or wander, generally aimlessly with an air of casual discovery, generally in an urban context. A flaneur was a creature of the 19th century Parisian literary scene. A figure of the modern era, Balzac described flanerie as ‘the gastronomy of the eye’.
I like it – I like the idea of flanerie. I cannot claim this project is one of flanerie as each visit is planned but upon arrival I definitely engage in casual discovery.
My visit to Grand Flaneur was filled with casual discoveries: shop windows full of saris in Liverpool’s business district, the intense neatness of the homes of Chipping Norton, and the utter disregard for putting litter in its place shown by many visitors to the Lake.
Of course, and not surprisingly, the beach was not named after gentlemen who wandered the Parisian literary scene of the 19th century. This is Australia. It was named after a race horse. Grand Flaneur won the Melbourne Cup in 1880 and died at the Chipping Norton Stud in 1900.
The original residents of the area were the Tharawal people. European colonisation began in the 1880s. Farming as well as sand and topsoil mining were common until modern suburban development. Industrial uses had left the area around the Georges River degraded and in 1977 the Chipping Norton Lakes Authority was set up to rehabilitate the area and develop park lands.
Grand Flaneur Beach is 22 kilometres (14 miles) from home. It’s in the Liverpool Local Government Area, the state electorate of Menai (Melanie Gibbons, Liberal) and federal division of Hughes (Craig Kelly, Liberal).