Seeing the world, one country at the time

Beached Down Under

For the long plane ride from Florida to Sydney I had the playful company of John Waddell or “Johnny”, a professional Australian mountain biker who lives one of those fantasy lives where you get paid to travel the world and do what you love best. Life however, dealt him a tough blow a few years ago when he was at the top of his game and came crashing down, literally, on his head. His life as he knew it was also turned on its head as he had to relearn even the most basic skills. From there he has made it back onto the racing circuit, an inspiration to me as we started the second leg of our journey around the world. We arrived at 6:15 on the 13th of April after having missed the 12th entirely. I will never entirely understand the International Date Line, but I am always tickled pink when I cross it and lose almost an entire day of my life.

Sydney lies at 33 degrees 55 south, a similar latitude to Buenos Aires and Cape Town, two of our other destinations on this trip, yet so completely distant and different from each other. Sydney’s mean temperatures fall between 23 and 12 degrees celcius, but its climate can be extreme. The highest recorded temp was 45.3 degrees and the lowest was - 4.4. Our hostess Felicity Jenkins had been warning us about the unbearably hot summer they had had, but luckily we were arriving at a good time to escape the worst.

Barely off the plane, we found ourselves on Sydney’s most famous beach, Bondi, where Felicity, or “Flic” lives. With its golden sand and blue-green water, Bondi Beach personifies the essence of Australian beach culture. It once consisted of “long sweeps of beach and nothing behind but gum trees and brush, with a stream meandering through fern gullies and palm groves to a lagoon”. Today there is no sign of the stream or the lagoon and the nothingness has become a bustling suburbia. However, back in 1852 land subdivision attracted few buyers, though being the closest to the city, the beach itself became highly popular, and a public reserve was created in 1882. Since “Sea Bathing” remained illegal until 1902, Bondi Baths was built by the Waverley Council in the late 1880s and became home to the Icebergs club in 1929. The Club’s season begins in early winter, when a ton of ice is deposited in the pool.

By 1906 when laws preventing bathing during daylight hours were relaxed, the first official Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC) was established there, followed by those at Bronte, North Bondi, and Tamarama. The Bondi Club first used the ‘reel’, and the ‘torpedo’ float was invented at Bronte. On “Black Sunday” in February 1938, 200 people were rescued from strong currents at Bondi. The life saving culture is now as iconic as the surf board. You don’t have one without the other. In the 1960’s Council officers armed with tape measures were still ordering women to leave the beach if their bikini sides measured under four inches, but these days, standards of dress are as relaxed in the streets and cafes as on the beach, as we soon saw when we headed to one for a morning pick-me-up.

After almost five years, there was a lot of catching up to do, and that is best done over a delicious latte at a beach cafe. As we sat reminiscing, swimsuit-clad still wet from the Pacific, walked in. It was only seven in the morning. Where DO they get the energy?! Looking out we could appreciate more athletic types in the water as well as the famous surfers killing time on their boards. This was wishful thinking, as the waves were small. When we were awake enough to be coherent, we headed to Flic’s place, a small, modern, Asian-style apartment we called home for the next ten days.