Growing up in Hopetoun Avenue, Chinamans Beach was a very important place for my friend and I. This veritable paradise, provided we local children with an exciting, wild and ever changing playground, right at our doorstep. Bordered by thick vegetation, this beautiful and secluded beach had the added attraction of a tiny creek, appearing from the base of Kiora Avenue to the south, then becoming a swampy lowland area, as it ran towards the sand. Access to the beach, halfway between our two houses, was down a rough dirt track, lined with thick trees. Carefully climbing down the big stone steps cut into the rock face (a scary experience for young ones), you then jumped to the ground, emerging into a clearing. A new adventure was about to begin.
Tucked into Shell Cove, north facing Chinamans proved an idyllic place for swimming and so much more. Magical summer days were spent in the clear calm water, scouring the ocean floor, aided by goggles and sometimes flippers, for shells and tiny fish. Sighting a stingray swirling amongst the shallows, was a regular feature. With the fear of sharks never too far away, however, we never ventured into really deep waters often with one of us standing guard, watching for the ominous movement of a large dark shadow. Of course, the beach too offered many surprises, sea anemones, sharks’ eggs, jelly blubbers, etc and in particular, its trade mark shell, the unusual and long Chinese Finger Nails. With its seclusion and scarcity of people, we virtually had this special gem to ourselves.
A large naturally formed rock pool, at the north western end of the beach, was another favourite spot, this time for diving. Surrounded by high rocks, this perfect deep pool, with its soft sandy floor, provided us with a secure haven from predators. Hours spent diving into the gently incoming waves, then scrambling up the rocks, to start all over again, was undoubtedly great exercise. The times when powerful waves surged in, dragging and pushing us into the walls of sharp rocks, added an element of danger to our experience. Quickly grabbing a foothold on the slippery surface, we hurriedly pulled ourselves out of harm’s way, standing high and safe above the turbulence below.
Being bounded by rocks at both ends of the beach, searching the multitude of small rock pools for marine life, was guaranteed fun. When the tide was low, we occasionally made our way right around to Balmoral Beach. This was no easy task, with steep boulders to climb, narrow rock shelves to creep along and deep water to wade through. As this rocky point beneath Hopetoun and Burran Avenue was exposed to the Heads, it was prone to being bombarded by strong waves, adding to the fear factor of the trek. Due to the remote location and difficult access to this area, it was not uncommon to come across a naked man sunning himself amongst the rocks. We knew to keep well away from these odd bods and move on quickly. Even on the beach, strangers had a habit of suddenly appearing. One day, when my friend and I were lying on the grass above the sand, a single man started circling around us. Sensing the dangerous situation, Scotty, my border collie and constant companion, gave up his pursuit of sea gulls and tore across the beach to us. Hackles raised, teeth barred and growling ominously, he looked ever bit the ferocious protector. This odd bod bid a hasty retreat and we were left to enjoy the day as we wanted.
Being aware of danger was an integral part of our growing up. As previously mentioned, our biggest fear in the water was sharks. Middle Harbour was a known route for sharks, with its deep channel and quiet, still water, it provided a perfect breeding ground for these predators. We local children knew this to be true, when we saw first hand, the sharks caught by Ross and David Hooker after they’d had a day out on their speedboat. Living in Hopetoun Avenue also, the Hookers’ home was a waterfront, with its own boat ramp down to the water. At the end of hot summer days, it was not uncommon to see a grey nurse shark, displayed on the flat rocks near the boathouse. Standing next to one of these man eating monsters, heightened our fear of what dangers lay beneath the dark waters off our beach. A healthy respect for the sea was certainly the norm for we locals, in those days.
Winter storms changed Chinamans enormously. Stepping down from the big rock steps at the base of the bush track, we were struck by a sight quite foreign to us. No longer the serene and welcoming beach, but instead a wild and rather threatening landscape stretched before us. The familiar shoreline was dramatically altered, huge sand filled dumpers coupled with high KIng tides, had scoured and eroded away all before them. Large rocks, previously hidden by sand, stood out starkly from the water. Standing on the grass, now well above beach level, we looked down at a small river estuary, fed by a steady stream of fast flowing rain water. A safe, shallow lagoon, totally unique to us, spread over the sand, before flowing gently into the sea. Making the most of this welcome addition to our beach, we created games, such as jumping over the myriad of rivulets, wading through the delightfully warm water, and finding any object buoyant enough to become a boat for the day.
Flotsam and jetsam made for fabulous treasure hunting on the beach, following a wild storm. Running amongst amongst the ocean’s debris, on our way to check the big rock pool, regularly made unrecognizable by storms, another surprise awaited us one day. A couple of coins lay visible at the high tide mark. Absolutely delighted, we shot to the water’s edge, scooped them up and tore back up the bank to safety. We could not believe our eyes, as each powerful wave deposited more coins on the wet sand. For as long as the money appeared, we kept charging back and forth, quickly grabbing our find and hastily retreating, before anther angry wave thundered in. Waiting until the waves rolled in empty, we slowly trudged home, with heavily laden jumpers, eager to wash, count and display our booty. Amazingly, we had both collected well over a pound’s worth of halfpennies and pennies, a very substantial amount in those days. Was the money from a a robbery gone wrong or a Pirate’s treasure trove from a sunken ship, we never knew. But we did know that Chinamans had given us a fortune in money and a wealth of memories.
A familiar sight just off the beach at Chinamans, was that of fishing trawlers dragging massive nets behind sturdy timber boats. Greek and Italian fishermen regularly used the deep waters of Middle Harbour to supply the local fish and chip shops. This brought a touch of the Mediterranean to out otherwise typically Aussie beach. The harbour was virtually devoid of boats in the 50s and 60 s, assuring the fishermen of plentiful fish, undisturbed waters and space to spread their nets. As the men hauled these heavy nets to shore, we locals were able to see first hand, the infinite variety of fish and marine life that had made this harbour their home.
As the sight of fishing trawlers became a rarity, so too did the jungle like appearance behind our beach. In the mid 60’s, the overgrown vegetation began to be cleared to make way for the creation of Rosherville Reserve. A vast area of green grass was beginning to stretch towards the houses in Kiora Avenue, displaying four magnificent Plane trees and several graceful willow trees, previously hidden from view. The tadpole catching days of our childhood, when this marshy ground was the habitat to multiple frogs, were no more. The wide open parkland, added another dimension to our experiences at Chinamans. Enjoying a picnic, far from the cool sea breeze and gritty sand had its appeal, especially in winter. When sitting under the giant Plane trees, enjoying the heavenly scent of nearby jonquils, the experience was very unlike all others. We were removed from the beach, in distance and atmosphere. As with most reserves, amenity blocks are a requirement, usually tucked away out of sight. So very sadly, Rosherville’s amenity block was built on the site of the first permanent dwelling of the cove. Shell Cove House. This historic stone bungalow, was set in a wide flat garden facing east, towards the sea. Such sacrilege would never happen these enlightened days, but tragically back then, the appealing old home was demolished without a second thought. Even as young ones, we were struck by a true sense of loss, at its hasty and heartless destruction.
So much of the cove’s history gone n the blink of an eye.
Wonderful words Jane. I had a school friend who lived in Kiora Avenue and we used to bash our way through the bush to Chinamans Beach. The Chinese fingernails are a very clear memory . We didn’t swim there because of the fear of sharks, but we had a grand time playing on the sand.