Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Living on the edge Australian style

Interesting piece by Ian Hoskins on the ABC's The Drum, Australia's love affair with the jewel sea. It's part promotion for his book, but there is nothing wrong with that.

Ian suggests that Australia's love with the coastal strip, more precisely that narrow strip of land fronting the sea and the immediately adjacent water, began early in the twentieth century, progressively replacing the land based images of the country. It's actually more recent than that, a creature of the last decades of the twentieth century.

Of course the Australian love affair with the beach is old. You only have to look at the seaside crowds in the old photos to know that. Yet the modern obsession with beach/surf/seaside is very recent.

Australians aren't in love with the sea as such. Our maritime culture, our involvement with sea, sailing and shipping, is far less than it once was measured by awareness and the proportion of the population involved. As late as the 1950s, sea travel was something that most Australians had experienced in their lifetime, often many times. All our imports came by sea, the tramp steamers including the coastal ships were familiar figures. Images such as the clippers were still familiar even for people living inland.

Today, air has replaced sea. In Sydney, the working ships that once made the harbour so interesting have been largely phased out, leaving the naval ships and the ubiquitous cruise ships as the only working ships. The Australians who join the cruise ships are not really experiencing the sea. These are giant floating hotels. The ribbons that used to link the steamers going to distant parts, the tears and joys of arrivals and departures, have been replaced by a rush to get in place and to the nearest on-board attraction. 

An entire life experience has been replaced, vanished and increasingly unknown. The ships and shipping lines that once formed part of the living Australian memory have gone. The Union Steamship Company, Burns Philp South Seas, the North Coast Steam Navigation Company have vanished from memory. Today, the love of the sea has become a lifestyle phenomenon.

Even then, it is shared by far fewer Australians than people realise, Those living on the edges of the sprawling cities do not share the love of the sea, except as a place to visit from time to time. Here they are more like the inland people of old. It isn't relevant to their day to day world. How could it be? Travel times are such that a beach visit is a full day trip.

The Australians who have retired to the coast are in some ways a sad group. They moved to coastal spots for the perceived life style benefits. Now they travel in narrow bands north and south to the bigger centres, rarely looking inland. The lowest income areas in NSW are the retirement/resort areas. Increasingly, this is the domain of the old and those who look after  them. The distant blue escarpments that mark the edge of the inland have become barriers instead of entry points. Few visit.

I accept that I am generalising. Still, I think that there is some truth in my comments.



Anonymous said...


That's a pretty harsh comment about the coastal retirees. Are they sad just because they are old and possibly a bit poor? If they move up and down the coast, that is probably in search of services, which are even scarcer west of the divide.

Happy new year all the same.

Jim Belshaw said...

Happy new year, marcellous. I'm not sure that it's a harsh comment, because it's complicated. Will bring up a proper response in the main post later today.

Jim Belshaw said...

Marcellous, decided to bring follow up comment here.

I must admit to a bias up front. The North Coast used to be a playground for those further inland. To a degree it still is, but it has now become so urban/suburban. I actually tried to capture memories of the old coast on my blog. I miss it.

The general poverty on the coast is something I have written about in many posts. Lynne is the poorest electorate in the country. The influx of people has strained services and facilities. Services are poor, especially if you don't have a car. Inland services are actually better in many cases.

Many of the retirees that I have known complain about the coast. Some, not all, are sad. Those that got in early when prices were lower and populations smaller are in a better position. They had a chance to dig in, to establish themselves, to become community members.

Perhaps the saddest case I saw was a Queensland, not New England example. On assignment, I went to the RSL Club at Hervey Bay. It was a dinner dance, and the place was filled with much older single women, mostly widows. Like the North Coast, Hervey Bay attracted inland retirees. Now the surviving women sat alone, watching the dancing. They had nothing to do and no one to do it with.

I think that I stick with my case.

Anonymous said...

Jim , I agree with marcellous that your comment is unduly harsh.

To take your own personal example, I'm wondering just how the equivalent inner city RSL club might differ in its facilities for the older generation; and how they actually spend their lives?

And (my experience only) ALL retirees complain about everything. I think the fault is yours for attaching any significance.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi kvd. I wasn't in any way being critical of the HB Club. There weren't a lot of facilities in HB; the Club did a good job. Ditto, say, for the South West Rocks Club there.

I am not sure that retirees complain more than anyone else.

I don't have time to respond properly this morning. My internet connection has been down and has been well behind. I should do a proper objective analysis.