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Marvellous McCrae

by Stephen Cummings

from The Age (Melbourne) - 5 January 2001

For what it's worth, one beach I will not be visiting this summer is Middle Park. The summer before last, I was swimming about a hundred metres out from the Life Saving Club when I was astonished to come eye to eye with a submerged monster turd. I'm not easily shocked but let me assure you, Michael Klim couldn't have beaten me back to the shoreline.

The young urban professionals and techno kids on the beach were shocked at the sight of me rushing hysterically from the water. As a consequence, I had sworn off swimming in Port Phillip Bay.

Given all this, why was I sitting in a car throttling my way down the Nepean Highway to McCrae, a beach that's jammed between the caravans and campers at Dromana and Rosebud on the Mornington Peninsula? It had something to do with the white sand, aquamarine waters and because it's only an hour's drive from Melbourne.

McCrae is the kind of place that's invisible to passing traffic. There is a corner store, two cafes, a yacht club, a lighthouse, a mini-golf course and it's one of the best beaches that I know.

We pulled off the road and found a shady park in the roomy camping grounds and unpacked the car. When going to the pool, all one needs is a towel and some small change. The beach is another matter altogether. There's the rug, the umbrella, the esky, the two-year-old and a heap of buckets and toys. Predictably, the teenage child refused to come. Santa bought him a wetsuit for Christmas and now he sits in his room reading surfing magazines.

Speaking of Christmas, mine wasn't great. I spent it in bed with sciatica. Some so-called friends gave me some books. Most were of the self-help variety which was a bit disturbing. One combined personal growth and empowerment with swimming. It was called The Tao of Swimming or something. It was full of scraps of wisdom, like according to Ancient Egyptian legend, the gods gave us the gift of water to compensate for giving us a physical body. Or, in the Jewish Talmud it is considered an obligation for fathers to teach their sons to swim.

Anyhow, now healthier and full of the holiday spirit, I carry the kid on my shoulders as we weave our way under low branches along the short sandy path that leads to the beach. It's not crowded and we quickly set up base camp. My son and his mother move to the shallows and do impossible things with shells, a blue spade and a red bucket.

Meanwhile, I pull of my T-shirt, drop my jeans and head to the water's edge. The surface is like glass. The tide is out and I have to wade 100 metres before the water is even up to my chest. Up ahead of me is an old guy, he pulls his goggles over his eyes and begins swimming in a straight line towards Dromana. I see another swimmer, a woman further out, heading towards Rosebud. It occurs to me that this is the ultimate in lapping. It's an endless pool.

After being in bed for a week, it feels great to be weightless in the water again. Maybe all that stuff about the restorative power of water is true. I head off at a gentle pace. I try to focus on my stroke, attempt to be "in the moment", as one of my books advises. I switch from freestyle to backstroke. I've swum about half a mile and I'm beginning to tire, so I half swim, half wade back to shore.

Up ahead I see my partner goofing off with my son in the shallows, she keeps her face down in the water pretending to be a crocodile or something scary. He runs away from her squealing attaches himself to a bigger boy, who looks about five years old. This kid has an inflatable yellow dinghy, including a big set of oars. He kindly helps my son aboard and rows the boat across to his parents, showing them how he's mastered the art of rowing. My son's face looks ecstatic.

I join my partner and we float on our backs and occasionally dive beneath the amazingly clear salty water. Overhead, the sky is a bright blue and a light onshore breeze has sprung up. Later, we pack up and go and play a round of serious mini-golf. Then we buy fish and chips at Dromana.

Next week, I'm going bush. I've heard about a pool at Macedon with a pet kangaroo and you know I'm a sucker for a swimming pool with a gimmick.

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