Newspaper article The Observer (Gladstone, Australia)

The Beach I Scorned as a Child Is Actually Charming

Newspaper article The Observer (Gladstone, Australia)

The Beach I Scorned as a Child Is Actually Charming

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Altona is south of Melbourne's CBD. The West Gate Freeway has you there from the CBD in about 15 minutes. It could be said Altona is most famous for being home to Julia Gillard.

WHILE I'd never be so impudent as to compare it to Bondi, I'm going out on a limb here and saying Altona Beach in Melbourne's Hobsons Bay is right up there when it comes to agreeable beaches.

I admit to a certain unbecoming disdain in the past for this suburban beach. I grew up in Melbourne's western suburbs and in the '50s and '60s it was our local beach.

In the summer on Melbourne's 40-plus degree days, my father would pile us into the Vauxhall and drive us to Altona Beach where the sea breezes gave some relief from the sweltering heat.

Getting there entailed driving past huge oil refineries, but when we hit the long esplanade running parallel to the beach, the drop in temperature was so significant it was worth the unattractive drive.

Our first view of Altona Beach was of dozens of people standing on the rocks in the water along the shoreline, bent over, busy, small bags on their arms, picking mussels off the rocks. We never joined them. They were what we then called "new Australians'' - Greek, Italian, Maltese immigrants - and to us, superior English immigrants, foraging for food on the seashore was tantamount to barbarianism.

What lovely shellfish we missed out on then because of our towering ignorance, what delicious mussel dishes those people must have prepared when they took their free bounty home.

Memories of Altona Beach mostly include smelly seaweed, a ridiculously long pier, a single dingy milk bar, and a sea so shallow it seemed to be ankle deep to the horizon. But it was our nearest beach and I do recall a lot of frolicking on the sand and "swimming'' in the shallow water.

Fast forward to 2017, I'm back at this beach, visiting family who live in Altona, and my disdain has turned to deep admiration. …

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