Boat Harbour squats at the end of a great sweeping curve of golden sand that flexes along the coastline from Cronulla. The shoreline stretches past sand mines and jagged 4WD tracks that scar Wanda Beach, on to the oil refinery that sits on the finger of the Kurnell Peninsula like a gaudy bauble. Amidst this, Boat Harbour has the less than salubrious distinction of being the most polluted beach in Sydney, yet I can barely contain my childish excitement to be back, cowboy and tin lid in tow.
Pockmarked and weatherbeaten, Kurnell is an a solitary place. As the truck trundles past hurricane fencing topped with gnarled barbed wire on one side, shady groves that hide pools of water on the other, the sand track smells of the ocean and leads us ever seaward.
This scarred environment hosts a horde of parasites, from sand mines and chemical companies to the ghosts of feature film landscapes and a gangster’s silence. They say the dunes are littered with bodies and that ‘bits’ of Sydney’s underworld are turned up by curious dogs, metal detectors and the ghoulish.
Aside from the Wanda Beach Murders, tragically long unsolved, the legacy of a gangsters’ world merely adds to a desert land already immortalised as the sandy apocalyptic vista of Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome and the war-ravaged location of The Rats of Tobruk.
But it’s not all sand. Boat Harbour has a proud population who live in a straggle of shacks, shanties and listing caravans that curl like a cheap plastic necklace around the bay.
But the ocean sings its siren song and we bypass the dunes and her inhabitants, intent on the shore,
where we meet the ranger, Southern Cross flying proud. He doesn’t like us. Something to do with a sound system and a mob of dancers ten years ago…
A N Y W A Y
My attorney advised me not to talk about that.
Having negotiated the ranger we slip-slide along the water’s edge before turning back to Boat Harbour…
A 150m curve of south-facing beach formed behind a 50m wide break in the sandstone rocks, and sheltered by the low-slung rock platform of the Merries Reef, the harbour is protected from the biting southerlies that lay waste to the coast. While the Voodoo Express churns past, an infamous surf break that shunts surfers from Cronulla to Voodoo Point, the bay is calm and glassy. The roar of 4WDs and the sting of flying sand fades, an insipid sun now beats hot and the essence of this wild southern beach is gone. A swag of bare-chested locals sits on plastic pub chairs in the lee of a caravan, downing cold stubbies and watching the waves. Their fists clink around the tins, heavy with tarnished silver, skulls jostling for position with peace signs, and their contented insouciance is palpable, lulling almost.
Established after the first world war, the shanty town began as a fishing spot, an escape from the vagaries of a crumpled world. Amid the rusted tin and fibro mansions there is a simple beauty, and while the onshore wind disturbs the scent of diesel it brings with it the fresh tang of oxygen and seaweed. Munching on a bushy’s lunch of hard-boiled eggs, bread and hot, sweet tea, we gaze at this alternative wonderland, a place that gazes back square-on, a sandy outpost crouched in an over-industrialised wasteland.
Most beautiful is the one-eared fibreglass sheep the tin lid found…
The beach that stretches between Boat Harbour and Cronulla is in rehab; now that the 4WD park is closed, nature is beginning to reclaim what the petrol-heads churned beneath flat sand tyres. At the farthest end of the beach Cronulla, capital of the Shire, is a series of oblong shapes, a kid’s block set aged grey. The distance between the two places grows ever further as the fresh grasses grow higher.