For me there is no better place to be on Australia Day than at Camp Cove, a beach that faces west near the South Head of Sydney Harbour. Yet, let’s go slowly, maybe an early lunch under an umbrella in the sun and then a walk around to South Head in the mid-summer sun of a wonderful city.
Some may argue and some may see other harbours of the world through rose-coloured glasses, but when reality is checked, the Sydneysider’s joy is to have the most beautiful harbour in the world.
And everyone can share living by the harbour, on the many public parks and beaches lining the harbour or even joining the throng of sailing boats and yachts that share the breeze on the water. Many find themselves on a Manly Ferry, crossing the harbour from the Opera House at Circular Quay to Manly where there is a magnificent surf beach.
But I catch the early bus from Circular Quay to Watson’s Bay while others take the somewhat more expensive water taxi from Circular Quay. You should arrive before noon for a good seat to sample the best fish of what the world can offer. On the beach behind the Watson’s Bay hotel (great beer), is the world-famous Doyle’s Restaurant.
If, like me, you are early, you can pick a table outside and sample the view up the harbour of the Opera House, Harbour bridge and cityscape. Select fresh fish, and maybe oysters, all local and from the fish market that morning. There is no need to select an exotic fish, caught thousands of miles away, snap frozen and flown in, the local fish, grilled or fried (beer batter) has no peer. Ask the waiter to select your white wine, or have a local beer.
After your fine Australia Day repast, mellowed and smiling, it is time to explore Australian history. Follow the walkway along the beach to the north and stroll towards Camp Cove. Walk to the southern end and note that, on the grassy knoll there is a small plinth to tell you that this is where the British landed when they ‘settled’ Australia on 26 January 1788. The local Aborigines must have been bemused by the foul smelling British arriving in a few boats and claiming the territory for England. It seems that it was just the first long distance boat race as both England and France were competing to ‘steal’ the land from the Aborigines who it now seems had been living there for up to 50,000 years.
They had seen the Chinese come and go in the 11th century, then the Portuguese and Dutch some six centuries later (though those adventurers failed to come around the east coast). Yes, Australia was occupied in 1788, not Terra Nullius as was later claimed, and it took over 200 years for ‘white man’ to accept some of the ‘natural’ rights of the original inhabitants. One can only surmise that the original ‘settlement’ by the British was not of major importance to the empire by the ‘grandeur’ of the memorial plinth and the fact that most of the first settlers were convicts sent to open up space in London’s gaols.
Nature, however, is truly grand and Camp Cove is the best harbour-side beach in Sydney, normally filled with a mix of families, groups of friends and beautiful young tanned bodies clothed in not much more than a thong. The water is crystal clear and the folks are friendly. You could do worse than join them enjoying the refreshing sea looking across to the city in the distance.
From the northern end of Camp Cove, you can follow the concrete path towards South Head at the entrance to the harbour. You may notice the hundreds of spiders ugly and magnificent, webs spun throughout the trees beside the path – if you don’t hurt them, they won’t retaliate. What you will notice after a few minutes’ walk is a fine small densely populated sandy beach (known as Lady Bay or Lady Jane), Sydney’s first and most famous ‘clothing optional’ beach.
There are park benches scattered along the path to South Head where you can sit and soak up the sun, watch the yacht and sailing boat races, and just dream of paradise – you are there. Life couldn’t be better – this is living by the harbour, a Sydneysider’s joy, on Australia Day.