Sun, sand, sea and solitude
Sunday, January 6, 2019 at 07:40PM

The propensity for humans to huddle should no longer surprise me. But surprise me it does, especially every summer, when I head to one of the most popular seaside towns west of Melbourne; the main beach is like a tin of sandiness while one just a few metres away is practically deserted.

Maybe it’s laziness. Most people can’t be fagged to walk a few minutes for a bit of space. You see this in tourist spots in remote parts of Australia, where visitors stray no further than a stone’s throw from the other hordes at some stunning gorge or waterfall, when a short stroll would give them the forest or the river to themselves.

At Anglesea there are good reasons for people congregating the way they do. The nippers program. The flags that we should all swim between. An abundance of lifesavers. And the promise of an endless supply of social interactions.

Mum’s family started coming here at the end of the 1800s and built a shack here 101 years ago. Back then, they were one of the handful of families who summered here, and they knew everybody. Mum and her siblings would spend the morning swimming and my granny let them know lunch was on by blowing a big conch shell. When my grandfather arrived at night after a week of work, they knew he was coming because his were the only headlights winding down the hill on the other side of the river.

In my childhood, mum would mutter darkly about all the people on ‘her’ beach and march resolutely to what my kids have always called ‘Snobs’ Beach’ for obvious reasons. And even at my bubbliest as a teenager, I was the same. I was rich with wonderful girlfriends and more than a little interested in boys, but I would pick my way across the rocky outcrop to the west of the crowds and walk as far as I needed to get away from everyone. Knots of other teenagers, clusters of bronzed young men would loiter meaningfully; I would respond by pulling my hat down a little further and burying my nose a little deeper in Crime and Punishment or Madame Bovary.

It still takes very little effort to find a beach to walk, swim, sit or read on alone, or almost alone. Even at Anglesea. Even at the height of the high season. And I’m so glad everyone else chooses the flock option. It leaves the gloriously deserted beaches for me.

 This was published in The Melbourne Age on 3 January.

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