I headed to Henley beach for a swim yesterday. If there is a specific place I call home, it is there. I parked my little red hire car in a row of hundreds of others, walked down a short, sandy path and dropped my towel, hat, clothes and car keys on the beach. As the sun spread silvery rays onto the calm sea, through some rare dark and stormy clouds, I dived into the cool water at the end of a 40C day.
As I floated about, relishing the moment, I looked back at the houses on the other side of the road. In my mother’s childhood, there was no road and this was a sandhill where her mother told her to watch out for strange men who camped in the sandhills. In my childhood it was a place you could rent a cheap house. Now it is millionaire’s row but still many of the old, stone and brick houses remain. If I had enough money I would buy one of them because it is still a wonderful place.
There is not much need for a towel on such an evening; Adelaide air being so totally dry. I donned my ancient beach shift (a word we never hear these days!) and went for a walk. Families dotted the beach and the shallows. Children pushed little trucks along the sand, others had buckets and spades. Lads of all ages threw or hit or kicked balls of all sizes and shapes in games whose rules were defined by lines drawn by toes, in the sand. I had to walk through a game whose boundaries clearly included the first 50m of the sea as well. Many languages were being spoken, many skin colours shone and I was so happy to be amongst them all because that is Adelaide; full of the richness of diversity, all seeming to co-exist happily, as it should be. I saw only one person on a phone.
As I walked along in the shallows, the main sound was the lapping of the sea on the shore. Dogs trotted happily along with their owners, some on leads, some enjoying a moment of freedom to splash in the water. There were no boat engines, no radios, not much sound besides the sea, laughter and quiet chatter. A couple of sailing boats drifted slowly by in the very light breeze.
I think that the peaceful diversity of Adelaide’s 1.5 million people is due in part to a climate that brings everyone together on the very long beach. There, it matters not how powerful you are, how rich you are, how old or young you are or where you were born. Everyone feels good at the beach at the end of a very hot day. Fashion is definitely absent in the heat and everyone looks pretty much the same when they are lazing about in the water or sitting barefoot in their bathers on the beach!
All along the coastline of Adelaide you can still get a park right by the sea, still find a large space in which to plop your towel and still not have to worry when you leave your keys and purse under your hat. You can get fish and chips or a coffee at Henley Square, where a grassy piazza stretches along the beach front and huge shade sails provide a place for people to wait, in sandy feet, messy hair and wet bathers for their chips to be ready. I am taking my mother there for her birthday and together with a brother and a son or two, we will have fish and chips. She lives not far away and loves Henley Beach too.
My hire care always needs to be well vacuumed at the end of my stay in Adelaide!