Think of the Australian beach. Do you see the white-sand smiles of a sunburnt country? The kingfisher blue of Bondi or Burleigh Heads; of Wineglass Bay, Cottlesloe or Noosa…? Aussie beaches are iconic because of how they’re used in summer: past times often immortalized by artists like Charles Meere’s Australian Beach Pattern, 1940 or Max Dupain’s The Sunbaker. But Australia is girt by sea all year round and if you haven’t yet embraced the winter beach…go now. Don’t just leave it to the diehard surfer who togs up in rubber regardless of the temperature. You will find a different you on a beach in winter, under a bruised sky, in winds you must punch headfirst into, against grains of sand that scratch and stick. There’s nothing placid about a winter beach after a storm and everything in nature is bigger than you: from foaming white waves that deafen to pungent mounds of seaweed dumped on the last tide. You can’t be lazy on a winter beach: a swim is not inevitable and spreading out a towel to lie on out of the question. Instead, a winter beach calls you to action like a parade ground sergeant major. Boots, parka, and a rucksack for finds of flotsam and jetsam replace the flimsier requirements of a humid day. And when you get home you know you can re-enter your comfort zone with a hot shower, hot chocolate, or hot pot. Everything hot under the sun, in fact, because you’ve earned it.
As so many old wives’ tales contain a grain of truth it’s baffling why they are so ridiculed. There is much to learn from those who have observed life from the passenger seat over a lifetime and who may never have courted fame or glory. An old wife’s tale may not be science, but as a guidepost to life, it is knowledge that nurtures and binds us, that is carried on the breeze, that slow-drips through families from parent to child, like a recipe or a game. Often an old wives’ tale is the useful advice we recall when illness or an emergency arises. Ten years ago, when I moved back to rural Tasmania from London in early summer, I remember being told to be aware of snakes and how they appeared in months that contained the letter ‘r’. It seemed an odd piece of advice – yet there is truth to it. It’s one way of describing the spring and summer months when the copperhead, tiger and whip snakes in this southern patch are awake and looking for sun and water, and you need to be told ‘Be careful you don’t tread on a snake’. Now it is May and the ‘r’ months are behind us, although this is no excuse for us to hibernate, too. These are the months to bushwalk boldly; to sign up to National Parks pass; to open your lungs to the smell of a forest, coast, or cliff-top. To stand in a rainforest, reach a lookout, climb a pinnacle, admire a waterfall from underneath, or on top. To get outside and be in the world, not following or ‘liking’ it, but living it.