We’ve been in Bondi for just over a week. We’ve a lot to share, more than can be put into a brief WhatsApp message, so we thought I’d draft a ‘Postcard from…’ to include it all. So, where to start? At the beginning, I guess…
We arrived into Melbourne after a long but comfortable flight from Abu Dhabi. It was cheaper to fly to Melbourne than directly to Sydney. In my experience it’s better to not fret or wonder why anything in the airline industry is as it is, just accept it and work with it. So we planned to spend the saving on driving the 1000+km via the ‘coast’ route to Sydney. We had driven this route the other way in a camper van last time we visited, through the tail-end of the bush fires two years’ ago… but I’m getting ahead of myself. All the testing and quarantine and documentation and immigration exemption preparations we had made in the weeks before we travelled paid off and we got through immigration quickly and painlessly. It even seemed like we were expected. We were taken to our hotel, one we’d stayed in before, and did our mandatory alien arrival lateral flow tests we’d brought from Bristol with us. They showed we were both negative, unsurprising since we’d only PCR-ed two days previously. We uploaded the results and twenty minutes later we’re free to roam all of Australia.
The warm sunny weather the next morning was our first compensation for travelling about as far as one can without starting to come back again. The second was the breakfast coffee. I just can’t tell you how astonishing coffee generally is in Australia. (Well, if you’re a loyal reader of this blog you’ll know I already have. 😉 ) It’s a completely different drink to what we’re used to at home and did I mention I am a trained barista so I know what I’m talking about? It’s like the difference between a cheap fizzy keg lager and a fine hoppy ale drawn straight from the barrel… There’s a coffee shop on almost every corner, it seems, a professional barista in each and in the mornings one finds queues of people at the best waiting to order their favourite brew type and groups of people who already have, all concentrating on their phones, milling about waiting for their drinks to be prepared…
We had an enjoyable-ish week driving up the ‘coast’ although we saw precious-little of that on our trip. The Princes Highway really is a boring road and getting off it doesn’t make the experience more picturesque. This country is vast. It’s like driving the USA; everywhere is a very long way from everywhere else and there’s little to see in between. We drove through a forest on Tuesday and it literally took all day. It rained all day too. It was good to see the forest in leaf again after seeing it so blackened and devastated by the bushfires two years ago, although we were ruefully aware that whilst the trees may have re-leafed it’ll take years for the indigenous animal populations to recover, if they ever do.
Natalie & Colin had had to travel back to Scotland to attend Grandad’s funeral by now so we arrived in Bondi and had their flat to ourselves. We enjoyed a lovely reunion with Leah and Rob and met our gorgeous new grandson, Otis, already called ‘Oats’ by his mother and father, which we think is lovely so we’re calling him that too. He doesn’t seem to mind. Of course we’re angling for as much one-to-one time with them and him as possible, considering his other grandparents are in town too, but the little time we have managed to spend together has been fantastic, welcoming our new family member. As soon as little Oats joins us he seems to relax, as if he knows he’s a part of us, so mostly he sleeps. But when he’s awake he seems to listen intently. His big blue eyes widen when we talk quietly to him and I already feel we’re going to be great mates.
We’re extraordinarily proud of our daughter and son-in-law, of course. They’ve both taken time off work to help welcome little Otis into the world and it’s lovely to see them all working together, learning how to be a new family.
We found Bondi extraordinarily quiet, almost devoid of other visitors and tourists. Lifting Covid restrictions hasn’t unlocked the backpackers and tourists return yet. We don’t mind. The weather is lovely, 22-26 degrees, the sun is out or it’s warm and cloudy, but the beach is relatively empty and quiet, the streets not so busy, the shops empty too, just like home. Many shops, even some on the main Campbell Parade drag are dark and empty. Covid, again. The visitors have just not returned yet. Why would they when it’s such an effort to get in? It’s still a town full of beautiful 30-year old people showing themselves off to the max but there are fewer sunning themselves on the hot shadeless beach. There are lots of surfers sitting on their boards just beyond the breaker line waiting for a ride but the beach itself is relatively empty, the lifeguards vigilant over fewer bathers on this potentially dangerous beach. We’re a very long way away from the war and it’s horrors and implications are unlikely to affect anyone here in Bondi. There’s little or no mention of it on Channel 9 News. There was more about the floods which were severe in the north of the state, particularly following years of drought, but the most impactful pictures they showed were of a few cars up to their wheel arches in water, hardly severe flooding nor anything like the annual flooding experience we see on our TV screens of flooding in the UK each winter.
We know Bondi quite well now, of course. Natalie and Col’s lovely flat is a few hundred metres back from the beach in a street lined with fabulous, mature, what I think are Moreton Bay fig trees, similar to the huge ‘rain trees’ we were used to in Singapore. Awesome and spectacular, every one a specimen. This part of the world boasts some of the most expensive and desirable property in the world, as befits the fit, trim and paradise lifestyle we so effortlessly fit back into. ‘Move here and become fantastic’ the Bondians seem to say, between bicep curls, pavement sashays, short-leashed dog-walking and necessary pram-dodging. Bondi Beach is a haven for the rich and famous, artists, actors, musicians and executives, who look to the beach for an active and low-key lifestyle among the backpackers and hipsters, like us. Bondi’s appeal is primarily on its younger demographic. Population data I’ve seen shows the proportion of residents aged 25 to 40 is more than twice that of the state and national average and everything here reflects that.
There’s no shortage of cafes in Bondi to service the early morning surfers, swimmers and people on their way to yoga and other pre-work work-outs. The menus skew toward vegi-healthy and feature Kombucha, cold pressed juices and acai bowls. This is a sunshine-filled ‘work to live’, not a ‘live to work’ lifestyle and the high salaries available for this surf-culture, laid-back lifestyle enable it. Unlike London there are fewer skilled youngsters to pick from the available talent pool. The work ethic isn’t as intense. Everyone benefits, except, maybe, international managers like I used to be be, used to productivity levels elsewhere.
It’s easy to determine the Bondi locals from the visitors and tourists: the locals are dressed in nothing-left-to-the-imagination work-out gear. The main difference we’ve noticed, so far, from two years ago is fewer surfboards being carried down the pavements by barefooted bronzed surfers and many more prams being pushed, more outcomes of the lockdown, no doubt.
Bondi real estate is a jumble of abodes from plenty of eras, in various states of repair. Developers pay vast sums at street side auctions for forgotten cottages sitting on prime real estate while new apartment blocks spring up alongside beautiful old art deco buildings. Whether it’s a small ground-floor one bedroom flat like the one we’re renting or a six-bedroom architect-designed glass and marble infinity-pooled masterpiece overlooking the ocean and one’s huge motorised yacht on its mooring – it’s here, if you want to pay for it. Apartments are the dominant housing style. There are a few quaint iron-balustraded terraces and terraced townhouses, and a number of stand-alone houses. Building work, with its deafening noise, traffic control and sky cranes is going on everywhere, even next door and behind us. The lifestyle is outdoors. Not so much barbecue nowadays, more fitness, micro bikinis, catwalk designer labels, tattoos, fit toned bodies much like ours and sometimes even fitter, perfect dental work, perfectly clad bods for the moment. Open-fronted cafes, pavement eateries, walk-up gelato stores, unpriced, overpriced but mesmerising minor designer clothes shops, artisan bakeries and delis mix with burger joints, fish and chips, scruffy dark bars in the backstreets that come alive late evening and studio gyms with huge windows or are open for passers-by to gawk. The Post Office has vacated the lovely art-deco building we knew a couple of years’ ago and moved to a nondescript shopfront on the opposite side of the street. The old art-deco frontage is to be the centrepiece of what will be a luxurious new condominium called ‘Twenty Hall’, on Hall Street of course, when the cranes, hoardings, building and gardening works complete in a year or two.
Leah and Rob’s new first floor apartment overlooks the world-famous beach and Bondi Icebergs, Australia’s most famous winter swimming club. The club operates from an ocean pool at the southern end of Bondi Beach and has its own licensed two-story clubhouse, where there’s a lovely casual bistro we like. Upstairs, the upmarket Icebergs Dining Room & Bar has delivered fine-dining meals and some of the city’s best beach views for twenty years, after we first visited Bondi then. It’s certainly a world-class view to drink in through the floor to ceiling windows of his new Bondi home. Oats does so with me and we agree it’s awesome. We walk through his lovely new home together onto the large covered entertaining space ‘out back’ complete with Weber bbq and Dad’s fish and meat smoker cabinet. The flat is directly above a swimwear shop on Campbell Parade called ‘Budgy Smugglers’ (honest), the shop that was called ‘Flirting Bikinis’ when we were here last. You get the picture. I acknowledge my matching M&S shirt and shorts combo I thought quite smart are so last year but I’m too old for budgy smugglers, Paula says.
We picked Natalie and Col up from a deserted Sydney airport when they returned on Thursday evening, a lovely reunion after more than two years apart, and drove them home in their own car. Paula had cooked her family steak pie, by special request, and we ate a lovely family homecoming dinner together before they both, understandably, crashed.
On Saturday, we moved into our apartment, just around the corner on Jaques Avenue, 100 metres from Leah & Rob and not much further from Natalie & Col. OK, it’s small, on the ground floor, it has no view but it’s comfortable and well-equipped albeit the bbq is dirty and the agent promises to get it cleaned asap. The flat is rather eclectically decorated with many crucifixes on every wall, collected by the Scottish owner on his travels, the agent assures us, but it’s also, more unfortunately, located next to one of the many Bondi building sites and the relentless hammering and engine noise duly starts at 7am on Monday morning. Ah well.
We’ve walked the famous beachfront, again, but with many of the usual pretty people missing it’s not quite as much fun and we feel we know it from familiarity of many, many similar walks. We stop and watch a game of beach volleyball. There’s a drumming event going on at North Bondi, we can hear, so we wander up there and take in the lovely sunset over the beach then walk back and enjoy a gelato before bed.
Breakfast is followed by a visit to the local coffee shop, Birichina’s. The owner and his staff work hard, from 6am to about 3pm, and business is obviously very good as he drives a Porsche Macan. He’s got a new young son since our last visit too, a year or so older than Oats. He’s almost as lovely and so friendly since he’s learned to wave to all his customers. The coffee is just as good as it was last time although the supplier isn’t The Little Marionette I did my barista training with during our last visit. I’ve no idea why, yet.
Whilst Paula’s been helping sort Otis’s nursery with Leah, I’ve been enjoying cooking and freezing a few dinners we can enjoy with any members of our family when they’re free to join us over the next few weeks. I’ve bought a fishing rod, the necessary tackle and some bait. I have plans to take Paula on the back of Rob and Leah’s Vespa to one of the local beaches of a late afternoon or evening, tide permitting, and cast beyond the surf for an hour or two. I’ll enjoy that. The tackle shop owner explains I have to buy a licence to fish off the beach, something we don’t need in the UK but this is rules-based Australia. He also warns me not to fish from the rocks. If I do I must wear a life jacket by law but recently three fishermen have been lost fishing off the local rocks and they’re still looking for the body of the last one. Probably it got eaten by the same Great White that killed and ate the British swimmer at our favourite Little Bay a few weeks’ ago that we read about on the UK news. OK, I’ll fish from the beach then. He also recommends an app to ensure what I catch is within the size and bag limits set by NSW but he knows little of my legendary fishing skills, particularly when I’m without my fishing jacket, which I am, so the fish are safe with me. Anyhow, next week’s tides look encouraging.
Yes, we’re ‘sharing’ time with Leah, Rob and Oats with Shirley and Phil, Rob’s parents, who’ve also come to Bondi at first opportunity. We’re keeping out of the way as much as we feel we can as they’re here for much shorter time than us and we have Natalie and Col to enjoy being with too. All our ‘children’ are good cooks and enjoy family meals together and we’re already enjoying them cooking for two very appreciative guests. A more doting aunt and uncle one couldn’t hope to meet and the real challenge Paula and I have is prising Oats from their grip when we’re together. I even had to pull rank at Birichina’s one day this week or I wouldn’t have got a look-in holding my new best mate!