He’s in Australia now,

He says it’s brilliant there,

There’s something in the air

And sunshine everywhere.

He’s on the beach…

 Kirsty MacColl’s Aussie song says it all about beaches.

Lovely Kirsty; a tragic loss. She left a lasting legacy duetting with the rasping, toothless Shane MacGowan on one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time. But her exhilarating number, He’s On The Beach, takes the crown for the best beach song ever. It could be about great beaches anywhere (not least Cornwall’s) but the rolling linear acres of Australia’s Pacific coastline fit the bill perfectly.

I can’t speak for Cornwall’s beaches this Christmas past because I was on the beach – in Australia; disgracefully. It was brilliant there, barbie prawns, sunshine everywhere, best New Zealand wine (even the Aussies favour it), space to spare, something in the air, Pacific surf raging onto bone-white sand, dreams and destinations...and, lurking in the background, savage rips, jellys, depth drops and…er…sharks.

Noosa Beach, Queensland, at its busiest

They love their beaches those Cobbers. What the beaches mean to Australian Aboriginals may be another matter. What they meant to the original convict settlers likewise. The beaches, the mangroves, the earth and trees, the sea and sky, the sun, moon and stars are as one to the Aboriginals. For the early invaders and colonisers, beach leisure was not an option on the limitless Australian coastline. They were too busy exploiting, often brutally, the greatest untapped natural resource of the late 18th century.

Today, however, ‘beach’ is Australian code for the essential lifestyle choice. There’s even a ‘Town Beach’ at the heart of Brisbane’s South Bank, a brilliant municipal innovation that would be unlikely in Huddersfield or Birmingham, or London for that matter. The Serpentine just does not hack it.

Brisbane’s Town Beach, South Bank..Grey days don’t matter at 35 degrees…


Beaches are the world’s best and worst land/sea borders – no need for passports, visas or frontier guards. At their worst, they have been footholds for invasion, for smugglers and other villains, and, at their deadliest, ships’ graveyards, the graveyards of the displaced and the drowned, and vicious killing grounds for demented fanatics.

For most of us, however, the beach is a border without the need for luggage or for much clothing or none at all. You cross the beach from land to sea and plunge straight in. The old cliché of healthy ‘ozone’ by the sea, or the seaside landlady’s ‘bracing sea air’, holds good, although the ozone hype is a myth. What exhilarates us in the air of the beach is the stimulating smell of a chemical called Dimethyl Sulfide (DMS), a gas released by microbes that inhabit seaweed and plankton. How unromantic can you get? DMS contributes to the formation of clouds and thus affects climate. It will not do you any good at all in concentrated amounts. In harmless doses on beaches, it’s a bonus from the fizzing air.

Classic Jervis Bay beach, New South Wales


There are countless lists of the world’s ‘Top Beaches’ that pop up as stock fillers for travel and tourism magazines. The worst magazine teaser is usually the ludicrous strapline ‘The Hidden Beaches of…’ or ‘The Secret Beaches of…’ (Not for much longer, post publication, mate). The contradiction is patent.

Get the barbie on!

The world’s ‘Top Beaches’, Best Beaches’, ‘Famous Beaches’ are legion: Bora Bora, Ipanema, Copacabana, Kuta, Waikiki, Nassau, Anse Lazio, Santa Monica, Acapulco… On and on and yawn. Then, there are the oversubscribed beaches of Spain, Greece, Turkey, Thailand and a score of other high profile destinations. The ‘best’ beaches are, of course, the genuinely ‘hidden/secret/local’ beaches that no media has yet sniffed out for front cover hype or that the latest resort hotel has yet to snaffle for its front-of-house sun lounger park. There are plenty of less trampled beaches still scattered around the world, except that they may need several miles of bushwhacking or an abseil rope to get to them – fortunately.

Rainbow Beach, Queensland

Australia’s beaches are well patronised, other than the real frying pans of the summer north although the word ‘beach’ hardly sums up Victoria’s Ninety Mile Beach, or Fraser Island’s seventy five miles of sand. The household name beaches on the Queensland and NSW coast include Bondi, Byron Bay, Noosa, Manly, Whitehaven and Burleigh Heads, never mind the scores of other beaches that merge one-on-one with only the occasional rocky prom to interrupt them.


I’m no great beachgoer now, but in the often grilling heat of the Oz summer, no one can resist paddling the paws. Going waist-deep even, chest-deep maybe, head under at least once or twice, and even a few strokes out of depth? Waist-deep is about my limit these days, which is about the limit for someone none too keen on sharks. Did I mention sharks already?

Galeophobia is the charming term for the fear of sharks. An unreasonable fear according to experts. There’s about a one-in-nearly-four-million chance of being killed by a shark according to the International Shark Attack File (there’s a title to conjure with) of the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History.

That may be a dolphin, but you don’t know what’s underneath it…

 Who are they kidding? There are a million shark’s out there with my name hard-wired into their synapses – and their sat-navs. I’ve killed enough sharks in my time, (not purposely but through regrettable, unavoidable by-catch), not to be wary of their imminent vengeance. They’re waiting out there. Not even the supposedly reassuring line of bobbing yellow buoys of shark nets will convince me that some random serial killer of the Selachii has not busted through or skirted round the nets and is lurking below the waist-deep surf.

I only stopped worrying about sharks on my flight home from Oz, and was lulled enough into watching the film The Shallows, an entertaining piece of shark porn about a surfer trapped on an offshore rock while a Great White cruises gnashingly around. Then it dawned on me that we were cruising above the Indian Ocean. The passenger next to me was watching The Shallows also.

‘I’m terrified of sharks,’ she said.

‘Me too’, I said



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  1. Great post. But never mind the sharks, it’s the piranhas you need to watch out for. Especially the mutants with legs 🙂


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