May you always have a shell in your pocket and sand in your shoes

By Shepparton News

In her weekly column, Sandy Lloyd is thinking of life on the beach

Everything is so much bigger when you’re a child.

Nowhere is that more evident for me than when I revisit Barwon Heads, the scene of many carefree summer holidays when I was young.

Those ‘huge’ rockpools behind the bluff, that we fearlessly jumped into to find starfish and crabs, now look tiny and impossible to swim in.

The climb off Thirteenth Beach was a terrifying attempt to scale Mt Everest; now there are friendly stairs leading to the top of the cliff.

Running quickly along the sand under the old bridge because you were scared of the sound of the cars clunking above; the new bridge is a much sturdier and less frighteningly noisy affair.

The girls’ room in the beach house seemed like the biggest bedroom in the world, where all the female cousins could sleep together. It’s still a big room, but no longer the cavern of memory.

Even the drive from Geelong to the Heads – which once seemed an endless journey across windswept, scrubby farmland and marshes – is now filling up with suburbia, as the city creeps towards Bass Strait.

Meanwhile, the once sleepy holiday villages of the Bellarine Peninsula and the Surf Coast are growing into large towns of their own, spreading out to meet the ever-expanding Geelong.

Time doesn’t stand still, no matter how much your childhood memories may want it to.

I’m sad the fishing boats no longer dock at Barwon Heads and deliver their fresh bounty to the little shop at the end of the jetty, where Pop used to take us to buy fish for dinner and, for the lucky adults, a lobster. (That was Diver Dan’s shack in the original Seachange; it was demolished in real life when it was demolished on the show.)

I’m sad that many of the old beach houses are being replaced by multi-million-dollar monstrosities, sucking the soul out of the seaside.

But I’m glad that the house my grandfather built in the 1950s is still standing proud among the new buildings, now under the care of my aunt and uncle and their children (my cousins). There is now a fourth generation enjoying summer at the Heads, and that has to be a good thing.

Barwon Heads was such an exotic place for a kid off the farm at Timmering (near Rochester); I was always so jealous of my Geelong cousins who completely took it for granted.

We spent hours on the river beach; in and out of the water, building elaborate sandcastles and forts, playing beach cricket. Sunbathing in blissful ignorance, before we knew about skin cancer.

Walking around the bluff when the tide was just right, exploring rockpools and climbing over rocks. If we were lucky, we’d watch a ship going through Port Phillip Heads.

Going to the ‘surf’ beach with our foam boards, covered in fabric by Mum to try and stop the board rash on our legs and tummies. (I use the word ‘surf’ loosely – it was just the beach on the Ocean Grove side of the river that had some waves; I’m not talking Bells Beach.)

Fishing off the little jetty or, best of all, in the old wooden dinghy with Pop. He would row us out to the right spot in the middle of the river, lining up with a mark on the old bridge only he could see. We didn’t care what we caught – puffer fish were even a thrill for us country kids.

The girl cousins riding our ‘horses’ in the obligingly shaped native trees behind the beach; oh, the places we would ‘ride’ together on our beach towel saddles with our seaweed reins.

Or sitting for hours together in the old leather chairs inside the house, reading books, while the aunts urged us to “go and do something together’’. We would look at them in surprise: “but we are”.

That same book-reading cousin and one of my brothers joined me on my recent holiday at Barwon Heads. We re-traced our steps and reminisced about those long ago summers together, when being salty and sandy and sunburnt meant we’d had a good day.

Now our walks are more purposeful, with exercise as much in mind as the view, and less time stooping over to examine every shell we come across.

The general store where we used to buy ice-creams is now a swimwear boutique, but the town’s gentrification does have the excellent side effect of some really good cafes to sit and talk and drink coffee in.

So I guess I can’t return to the Barwon Heads of my childhood. But I can cherish those memories and make new ones in the Barwon Heads of my adulthood.

I love eating...

Fish and chips. What beach holiday is complete without at least one meal of fish and chips? At Barwon Heads, fish and chips comes out of the same shop it always has.

Sure, you can get a fancy plate of it at one of the nice eateries that have sprung up post-Seachange and the general sprucing-up of the Bellarine Peninsula.

But nothing beats fresh fish and chips liberally sprinkled with salt and eaten out of the white paper wrapping. Throw in a couple of potato cakes for good measure and then fight off the seagulls while you eat it at the beach.

So unhealthy but so delicious.

I have been walking...

Along as much beach as I possibly can. Winter on a Victorian beach is cold and blustery, but still a wonderful place to be.

Depending on the tide, my Barwon Heads walking route takes me along the river beach or the breakwater, up the stairs to the top of the bluff, along the bluff paths and down onto Thirteenth Beach where in winter it’s just you and endless sand, rocks and waves.

And the odd massive cargo ship on its way to Port Phillip Heads. One sunny day I walked along that beach for two hours – I felt like I could walk forever. (And I had to work off those fish and chips somehow.)

I am not watching...

The new series of Seachange. I’m sorry, I tried. But I just can’t get past how wrong it all looks.

The original Seachange is on my list of all-time favourite TV shows, so I should be happy it’s back. But this is a clear case of don’t screw around with perfection.

Because those first three series were perfect – perfect cast, stories, location and, most importantly, perfect ‘feel’. 

I know some of the old faces are back (Laura, Bob, Heather) but the whole thing has lost its magic – mostly because you can’t pretend Brunswick Heads in northern NSW is Pearl Bay. That belongs, now and forever, to Barwon Heads.

I am horrified by...

The fires that this week attacked the little Sunshine Coast community of Peregian Beach. I spent my childhood summers at Barwon Heads, but 17 years of adult holidays – and therefore beach memories for my children – were spent at Peregian.

It’s a quiet slice of paradise nestled between its famous cousins, Coolum and Noosa. I was glued to news reports as the flames licked at the edges of the coastal village and bore down on Peregian Springs, a large housing estate a little way inland.

Imagine Kialla Lakes threatened by bushfire and you get the picture.