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Thursday, 11 October 2018

At Cronulla in spring

It was the last day of September. We sat at a table in the Contento Café on parkside Gerrale Street eating a fish basket (deep-fried crumbed prawns, pieces of deep-fried battered fish, hot chips, deep-fried calamari rings, and “crab claws” which are balls of crab meat that are deep-fried and attached to pieces of exoskeleton taken from crab legs) along with a rocket-and-pear salad that had pieces of cooked duck and macadamia nuts mixed with it. The staff who served us this halfway-sophisticated meal were both from the Middle East. A folky cover version of Bon Jovi’s 1986 hit ‘Livin’ on A Prayer’ was playing on the stereo and the young couple at the table near ours sounded as though they were having an argument but in fact they were just talking.

There are a lot of choices for dining out on the main drag which is, not surprisingly, named Cronulla Street and is open to vehicular traffic for part of its length, but closed to it for the remainder. We had walked its length surveying the prospects. I had spied Tako, a Japanese place, and pork banh mi from Golden Hot Bread (a Vietnamese shop) was also an option. There is also Casa Pollo for takeaway, a Thai place, and an Italian place inside a white Art-Deco building on the corner of Surf Road that does oven-baked pizza as well as pasta.

I’m not sure how we ended up where we did, in an unremarkable place on a different street, but it did the trick, and after lunch we headed toward the beach (where else?) and the seafront promenade, which was full of people walking their dogs. There are parking bays for cars behind the grass next to the beach, and palm trees and pine trees standing in rows. People were enjoying the beginning of the outdoor season lying in the sun and the wind on the grass. And there were dogs everywhere and dogs of all sizes. Many of the dogs were busy sniffing other dogs. It was all very companionable until we got to the halfway point between Cronulla Beach and Shelly Beach past where the waves break over the bombora that sits in the ocean off the rocks of the foreshore.

There I heard a young woman calling out “help!” I saw a middle-aged woman and her teenage daughter standing on the cliff edge looking down at the surf breaking on the rocks lying below. The woman bustled back to the path with a worried look on her face as we stopped to wait and see if help was, in fact, needed. “She’s calling out help,” the woman said to an elderly couple who were standing on the path, and who I assumed were her parents. “They’re all sitting there together,” the woman went on. I had seen several young women in bikinis lying on towels on the narrow strip of sand at the bottom of the cliff. “Maybe she’s just mucking around,” offered the wise father. My friend and I walked on regardless.

We reached Shelly Beach and I took a photo of a sizeable Australian flag that was attached to a flagpole set prominently in the front garden of a two-storey house facing the ocean. The wind was playing with the flag and people walked and jogged past us as we stood admiring the sea view. A bass voice could be heard behind us as we walked back the way we had come. “You’re doing a great job champion, keep up the good work,” it said. It had been addressed to the jogger who just then passed us, heading south. The man who had made the remark was wearing an electric-blue T-shirt and shorts and he was walking fast in a northerly direction, speaking at random to people as he went along.

There was a pair of young couples walking in the same direction. One couple was Asian and the other was Anglo. The young Asian woman wore a black leather jacket and black cotton pants that were wide at the ankles. She had white trainers on her feet. The young Asian man wore an olive-green T-shirt and blue trousers. He carried a rucksack over his right shoulder and wore black sneakers on his feet. The young Anglo woman wore a summery, colourful cotton skirt and a white cotton top that was tied at the back. She wore brown leather sandals on her feet. The young Anglo man wore a white T-shirt with a black stripe around the middle, and dark shorts and thongs. All four were talking animatedly as they walked along the path, engrossed in the company they created there in the spring sunshine.

“Oh my God, the fridge is right next to the couch,” said a well-dressed youngish woman carrying a branded handbag who was looking at a real estate sign that had been set up in the front yard of an apartment block visible from the path. She was talking to her partner, who was with her.

There was a flowering jasmine bush in the front yard of one block of flats, a flowering red banksia tree in the front yard of another one, and huge banksia trees full of yellow flowers growing on the verge near the cliff that faced the ocean. As we headed back toward the station I saw a young Chinese couple; the man had a Sydney University athletic top with a crest on the left-hand side where the heart is. There were also Pakistani, Pacific islander, and African people visiting the beach on the day we were there.

There is a Berkelouw bookshop in the shopping centre, confirming an impression, on my first-ever visit to the area, that it resembles the Sunshine Coast in southeast Queensland. Certainly most of the people I saw there were white and middle class. Including the three fourteen-year-old girls, halfway between childhood and adulthood, who hurried in their bikinis down the pavement and around the corner of Cronulla Street and Surf Road where the estate agent is located. This is another thing about Cronulla: the number of apartments here, although they are often older than the ones that have been built on the Sunshine Coast, some dating from the 1970s or even earlier. In the estate agent's shop window there was another Australian flag, this time standing in the corner. There was also an advertisement for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, two-carspace unit in a small block of flats located one street back from the water. The asking price was $1.4 million.

On the train back to the city I saw construction site cranes at Kirrawee, Hurstville, and Kogarah heralding the imminent arrival of new blocks of flats. At one point in the journey an elderly man got on. He was wearing a plaid shirt made with the colours pink and pale blue and olive green. I don’t know where he was born but he was carrying a number of grey plastic strips that are used as conduits for electrical flexes in apartments when you want to hide them from the world as they travel from one point in the place to another. He also carried a white plastic bag with ‘Gi-gi’s’ printed on it in pink lettering, and it contained a number of items, one of which was a DVD titled ‘Transformers’. While he sat in the train he took out of the bag a couple of folded pages that had been taken from a magazine and that contained advertisements printed in four colours. He was sitting there on the bench seat with his ankles crossed and keeping to himself.

At Central Station as we were going up the escalators a casually-dressed young man stopped the flow of people walking up on the right-hand side of the machine. He was standing near us and then from further down in the queue of people could be heard a big, male voice calling out loudly, “Go the chooks!” Everyone was suddenly on alert at this display of raw physicality, and most of the people around us there were unhappy as a result. You could have cut the air with a knife. At the next set of escalators, near the grand Concourse, two more fans were walking with their mates. They were dressed in the familiar red-white-and-blue uniform of the Eastern Suburbs Rugby League team.


Above: Cronulla Beach.


Above: The flagpole and flag in the front garden of a block of flats near Shelly Beach.


Above: A deserted pavilion at Shelly Beach.


Above: A large banksia next to the oceanfront walk.

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