SUMMER hols are nearly here and that means many Australian families will be heading to the beach.
Australia is blessed with 25,760 kilometres of coastline and 10,685 beaches.
From the white sands of Cottesloe, to the coral shores of Bondi, our beaches are part of our history and culture.
Before European settlement, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders used the shoreline as a source of food and a place to trade.
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence to support the theory Indonesians and mariners from Papua New Guinea would regularly sail the Arafura Sea to trade with Indigenous people here.
Shipwrecks dotted along our shores also show peoples from China, Holland, Portugal and Spain sailing to our shores.
Modern beach culture originated about the turn of last century, when residents started going to the beach as a day’s outing, to take in the air and have a picnic.
It wasn’t until 1903 Australians were allowed to swim at the beach during the day, finally abandoning the strict morality of the Victorian era, where modesty forbade daylight swimming.
This gave rise to the need for the lifesaver, who could look after public safety on the beach. These days, these trained volunteers patrol public beaches on the weekends during the warmer months and wear their distinctive yellow and red caps with pride. They have rescued more than half a million swimmers in the past 80 years.
Many beaches, such as Glenelg in Adelaide and Manly in NSW have become renown for New Year’s Eve and Australia Day celebrations.
Up to 40,000 visitors have crammed on to Bondi Beach, in Sydney, for Christmas Day.
Beach “culture” came into its own after World War II, when tans were admired and seen as healthy.
By the 1960s, bikinis were all the rage at the beach, while surfing, introduced to Australia in 1915 by Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku, gained popularity.
The Bells Beach Surf Classic began in 1961 and is now the world’s longest running surfing competition.
So, when next you walk across blistering sand, stake your claim with a towel and head for the surf, know you are part of a long tradition of our beach culture.
But, as with all culture, things have changed. These days a tan is no longer seen as healthy; bathers are encouraged to cover up, with tight-woven fabric, sunglasses and a beach hat, to protect from the sun’s UV rays.
Above all, enjoy yourself and take part in some body surfing.
Lie in the warm sand and be grateful it’s not the shingles from Brighton Beach.
And make sure you take your rubbish with you when leaving to keep our coastline pristine.