Looking for Solitude

Croajingolong National Park covers 87,500 hectares and extends for 100 km along the wilderness coast of Victoria's East Gippsland. It protects remote beaches, tall forests, heathland, rainforest, estuaries and granite peaks. Croajingolong provides the best beach in Victoria if you are looking for solitude.

Surfers

Far out, down heaving green glass hills
The surfers ride the summer seas
Their taut brown bodies, arms upraised
Slide through and Egyptian frieze.

High and dry upon the beach,
Pinned to my rug by a glaring sun
I sit among the picnic things,
Alone and fat and forty-one.

And idly through the memory's hand
Stream visions of a Cornish day
When effervescent waves and air
Sparkled into glittering play.

The breakers crash, a board flies up
A boy runs laughing on the land,
Then, turning, wades to ride again.
I close the fingers of my hand.

Margaret Scott 1934

Portsea Back Beach and Political Intrigue
December 17, 1967

He was nicknamed "007", the dashing, debonair Australian prime minister who seemed the right man for his time. In his projection of self, Harold Holt was everything his predecessor, Sir Robert Menzies, was not. He prided himself on an outdoors image and a casual elan that suited the "swinging" 1960s. A famous photograph shows him decked out in his wetsuit, surrounded by a bevy of young, bikini-clad women. When, on Sunday, December 17, 1967, the prime minister of Australia dived into the surf at Cheviot Beach near Portsea, never to be seen again, it was little wonder that his disappearance assumed an almost surreal quality. Even so, the mystery surrounding the death of Harold Holt is largely in the minds of those who dwell on such things. What is known for certain is that Mr Holt, 59, entered the water voluntarily after declaring to "know this beach like the back of my hand". It was likely this bravado, combined with lack of fitness and a boiling surf, claimed his life. That and his own belief in the image he had cultivated. Dark rumours that he was depressed by the mounting opposition to Australia's Vietnam involvement or committed suicide or was assassinated by the CIA have never been seriously entertained. The most absurd scenario - fostered by English author (and now publisher of tracts for the Raelian cult) Anthony Grey in his 1983 book The Prime Minister was a Spy - had Mr Holt swimming out to rendezvous with a Chinese submarine. The most likely explanation is that he, like so many others, misjudged the conditions and his own abilities and drowned.

Technically, Mr Holt's disappearance remains an unsolved case. Despite a three-week search, no trace of him was ever found. Ironically, you can now swim in the Harold Holt Swim Centre. Hopefully you will get to come back out of the pool in one piece.

Shipwreck Coast

The historic Shipwreck Coast Trail provides a fascinating insight into the region's shipwreck history. Extending for 110 kilometres along the Great Ocean Road from Moon-light Head in the east to Port Fairy in the west, the trail incorporates the sites of 25 shipwrecks.

Explorer Mathew Finders wrote of having "seldom seen a more fearful section of coastline."

The mystery of the Mahogany Ship

The mystery began in 1836 when two ship-wrecked sealers discovered an ancient wreck in the sand dunes to the west of Warrnambool. The wreck, referred to as the Mahogany Ship due to the dark timbers used in its construction, was last sighted in the 1880's. It was later presumed buried under drifting dunes.

Very old Portuguese charts have since been discovered, depicting Australia's southern coastline as far as Armstrong's Bay, six kilometres west of Warrnambool. The charts suggest a Portuguese voyage to Australia in 1522. Some historians believe that the Mahogany Ship was a Portuguese caravel captained by Christovao Mendonca, which was lost in the early 1500's. This theory, if proven, would rewrite history . Numerous searches, including those undertaken in response to a reward of $250,000 offered by the State Government in 1992, have so far failed to solve the mystery.

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The Lure of the Beach

Many of Australia's beautiful beaches are located within highly populated areas, bringing city living to the shoreline. The beach is far more than a holiday destination - it is an important part of our national identity and culture. Our beaches continue to provide endless inspiration for artists, writers and photographers. In fact, everyone can enjoy being creative at the beach.

During the nineteenth century it was decided that the sea air had 'restorative' qualities, ideal in a climate like Australia's. This encouraged people to visit beaches to swim or engage in other outdoor activities.

Today the beach is a hub for recreation, including sports and many other kinds of entertainment. It is a place for individuals, groups and families of all sorts - where young and old congregate to enjoy the sun, sea and sand. On any sunny day you can see people involved in dozens of different pastimes, proving the diversity of Australian interests. Cricket, snorkelling, soccer, Tai Chi, fishing and swimming are just some of the activites you can usually see at the beach.

One water-sport which continues to gain popularity is surfing. Body surfing was introduced from the South Pacific in around 1900 and surfboards became increasingly popular after Duke Kahanamoku's demonstrations in 1914. Since then, Australia has produced some of the world's best surfers and international championships are often held here.

Surf lifesaving is not just a safety pursuit but a thriving sport for the bronzed and beautiful, including many young children who attend "nippers". The beach has a special culture all of its own. You do not have to be bronzed or beautiful to participate. If the crowds on Bondi Beach at Christmas are any indication you can be content to simply watch the beautiful people being beautiful. Watching a surf carnival can turn a day at the beach into a fabulous spectacle.

Learn to Surf.

The Sea as Inspiration

Curiosity is the beachcombers most valuable possession

Beachcombing is about serendipity and simplicity. No fancy equipment is needed. All you need is a copy of tide tables and a small bag for the loot. Beachcombing doesn't require any special skills, just some common sense. High tides carry materials in and outgoing tides leave them on the beach. The higher the tide and the stormier the seas usually means better beachcombing. This makes winter the peak of the beachcombing season, but anytime of year will offer seashells and unknown surprises. To find the most desired beachcombing treasures you'll need to find them first, so serious beachcombers seeking the increasingly rare glass floats or a mysterious message in a bottle, start at high tide. As the tide recedes, shells and agates can be deposited anywhere between the high and low tide line. So, even on a crowded beach, if you beachcomb at the waters edge as the tide is going out, there are remarkable souvenirs from nature to be found. It's safest to beachcomb as the tide is going out, but even then, it's important to keep your eye on the water or you're likely to find yourself waist deep in a rebel wave. Serious beachcombing means getting your feet wet and watching your back.

Emily Howes combines beach sand with clay in Beach Carillon, her honours project at Sydney’s College of Fine Arts.

You can comb the beach for treasures at any time of the year, but after a storm is the best. In different seasons you will find different things. Sometimes what you find is easy to identify and explain, but other things are a mystery. You might find treasures hidden in the seaweed and sand. You may find things that have been washed for thousands of kilometres, or things that have floated up from the depths.

Associated Activity
Summer Holiday Circus's

Summer was synonymous with the circus when I was growing up in a small country town in Victoria. Whenever we journeyed to coastal Lakes Entrance, to enjoy the beach, the Circus was usually in town.

Mervyn King started Silver's Circus in 1946 by buying up postwar surplus army tents and other equipment. It became one of the finest circuses in the country and the first to cross the Nullarbor by road, then a corrugated dirt track full of potholes and bulldust.

The death of Mervyn King this year closes a chapter on a remarkable Australian story that is never likely to be repeated. For King was a circus proprietor, horseman, lion tamer, animal trainer extraordinaire, acrobat, boss tentman, occasional bandsman and clown, rouseabout and all-round showman.

He was a true son of the circus, albeit an "adopted" one. Born in Ballina 95 years ago - although the date and place of birth remain a point of conjecture - he never knew his mother or father. Young Mervyn was raised by a "Matron Fletcher", whom he remembered as larger-than-life and God-fearing. She was thought to be his grandmother. She gave him, when he was six, to St Leon's Circus. He spent the rest of his life - physically, emotionally and metaphorically - under the big top.

"Mervyn was circus through and through," his widow, Emily, said after his death in Balmain Hospital last month. "Right up to the end, he was talking circus to me and the nurses."

Activities

1. Read Anne Morrow Lindbergh's classic Gift From the Sea.

2. Take a shell and complete my favourite guided imagery. I have used it repeatedly with writing groups and it is always a success. A student response that touched me very deeply is in this article about how writing helps you improve your immune system.