A group of Beach Shacks at Burning Palms, Royal National Park, NSW

Day 320 of 366 Blog Challenge 2012

Hello all

Has anyone ‘out there’ had a penchant for beach shacks as I have? A few days ago, I received one of my regular emails from Australian Geographic showing photos of old beach shacks situated in the Royal National Park of New South Wales.

It appears that the State Government has declared 143 of these beach shacks as Heritage Listed. Now, isn’t that just wonderful? When you see where the shacks are situated on the coast, you will understand this:

“Many of the cabins are unique because they were constructed using found and collected materials; and the way they are grouped into little villages set in the dramatic coastal landscape of Royal National Park makes them remarkable,” Ms Parker (the Environment Minister) said.”

What a location for this beach shack at Era Beach NSW

I know that over the years these shacks were being demolished all over beach areas in Australia and deemed as ‘not up to standard’ according to the building code of today. Geoff and I watched a documentary on this some years ago and were quite saddened by it. In fact, both of us had good memories of old houses as children.

During my childhood, holidays were infrequent due to my father’s self-employment but we did manage to go to an old flat for a week once and I thought that was heaven. I suppose I was about ten years old at the time and with my lively imagination, I pictured all sorts of wonderful scenarios in that flat.

To this day, nothing can quite capture the level of excitement I felt on staying at these old flats. You know, I think I was actually playing at cubby houses during that time!

Geoff has some wonderful memories of old shacks. He stayed every year in a succession of very old ‘houses’ close enough to the beach to be amazing. His parents would not have been able to afford normal holidays except for the kindness of people who rented them out to the family for a pittance, during the summer holidays.

Geoff speaks with great nostalgia about the primitive conditions of these houses, but when he does speak of it, his eyes light up as if he had been staying at a five-star resort! It wasn’t about the condition of the places in those lean days folks, it was the fact that you got to have a holiday at all. During the fifties, after a major World War, money was always tight and only the very well off went ‘on holiday.’

The inside of one of the shacks

And for our parents, who went through the Depression years and knew all about hardship, life was about making ends meet and surviving it all, so Geoff considers that he was very fortunate to enjoy all the delights of the beach under the circumstances.

My parents on the other hand, thought money should be spent on a Catholic school eduction and piano and tennis lessons. For the six of us children, this was not an easy task as Dad was always doing something to earn extra money to “educate you kids” as he used to say. It was very important to him.

Dad had grown up in the slums of London so he only attended school to Grade 5 level as his mother needed him to earn  money. A widow bringing up six children in the 1920s was no easy task and Dad was good to his mother.

Dad’s idea of a holiday as a child, was to swim in the filthy Lee River until he came upon the apple orchards on the outskirts of London,where he and his mates would  climb the fence and ‘pinch’ apples from the orchards. Food was scarce and he never thought of taking apples from the ground as stealing due to always being hungry!

So Dad never considered that holidays were a priority in his life but when we were all off his hands, he did buy some land out in the bush and build a “bush shack’ by cutting down gum trees and making it into a log cabin. Oh, how he loved going there and being on his own in the bush.

Here is me as a 24 year old before the Billabong Lodge was complete

He loved that place and when he made it habitable, Geoff and I spent the first few years of our marriage living there (to save on rent). Dad would often turn up to ‘do a day’s work’ on the place, saying to me “Theresa, don’t tell your mother I’m here!” Mum refused to have anything to do with the place, but as for me, I decorated it and make it lovely. I loved that shack.

I suppose I was that little ten-year old girl again, playing cubby houses – only this time with a real baby – and I relished it. We only left there because the white-ants destroyed it and it almost fell down around us. It broke all our hearts.

Dad had never meant for anyone to live in it, but what started as a one room shack, soon grew like topsy when he knew we would live there. A kitchen got added, two bedrooms and an amazing sunken bath which Dad made out of concrete and tiles. I felt like the Queen of Sheba when I bathed in it!

A shack from the fifties

Now, can you see why we love beach shacks? Geoff and I often thought of building one for ourselves out in the bush; a place to spend weekends and escape from it all, just as we did when we lived in our Billabong Lodge in the bush.

So folks, it is good to see New South Wales validating these beach shacks and listing them as Heritage. Now there is a push being made to the Queensland government to protect quite a few shacks that has survived along the beach on the Sunshine Coast (north of Brisbane).

Hopefully, it succeeds as we need to protect our cultural history. It has been said: “These structures are a rare reminder of a bygone way of life and a unique chapter in our local history.” How true.

So today folks, I say: all hall to the Beach Shack! May they survive for a lot longer yet … and may Geoff and I get to have our dream come true and build a shack in the bush somewhere. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Until tomorrow

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