What’s slower than a snail? Whatever it is, I’ve moved slower than it the last couple of weeks. Not only am I hopeless in Sydney’s steamy summer heat – my body must have also got wind of the fact it was home; after a year of pounding pavements and putting up with late nights, jet lag and whatever, it decided to slow to a crawl.
But I suspect I’ve also been dragging No 52 out – it’s the last one! Wah!
Added to all that is the fact that life finally intervened – bits of work, kid stuff, etc – and I’ve let it. After so many months of feeling a constant pressure to post every week, I decided to take my sweet time. Why rush the last? Who’s counting?
Anyway, they’re all the excuses I can think of right now. I could probably rustle up a few more but do we care? Shouldn’t we just press on – to the very last suburb on 52 Suburbs Around the World?
Ladies and gents, teens and tweens, may I present suburb No 52… Coogee.
To be honest, I’ve never really known what to make of the place despite the fact we live in the suburb next door. While I loved one small corner of it – Wylies Baths – the rest never enticed. Too crowded with people and buses maybe? Impossible to park? For whatever reason, Coogee has always been just somewhere to drive through on my way to visit friends in Maroubra.
So why did I choose it to finish the project with? I was curious, would my impression of it change once I’d actually had a closer look? But mainly it was the fact it had a pool. A body of water I could submerge my tired, hot body in – with a camera! Shooting underwater is something I’ve always wanted to try – when Uge from the blog Aquabumps offered his underwater housing for me to play with, I jumped at the chance (thanks Uge!).
A little background to Coogee… Eight km SE of the city, Coogee is part of the ‘Eastern suburbs’ of Sydney. Name comes from the Aboriginal ‘koojah’, meaning smelly place, which may or may not refer to the copious amounts of seaweed that wash up on the beach. Anyone wanting a dip here is spoilt for choice, from Gordons Bay to the beach itself or one of the four ocean pools around the place. One of the more sporty suburbs – aside from swimming there’s surf lifesaving, beach volleyball and rugby.
Grab your swimmers, slap on some goo and let’s get beachside.
Part 1: First impressions
As I said, I haven’t necessarily been a fan to date. But when I actually took the time to really look around, I was delighted by the old word charm of Coogee; okay, the way they’ve landscaped the beach isn’t to my liking (is it the tiles? the awning?) but I loved the few remaining examples of kitschy signage and original flats around the place, and the incredible charm of Wylie’s Baths.
The one advantage of taking so long with this final post is I’ve seen Coogee in hugely different weather. While the last few days have been sublime, I loved the drama of the stormy big seas and wild winds we had a few weeks back.
I think the image below is my favourite. It was so windy, I’m not sure I caught the words – but I think Venus said they were from Parramatta. You can’t tell from the picture but all the kids had gone in the water fully dressed – and why not? Too much fun not to.
Part 2: Heidi
Coco and I were hanging around the pool at the southern end of Coogee Beach on a stormy afternoon when I noticed an older woman emerging from the pool. I probably wouldn’t have looked twice had it not been for the snorkel and the bronzed skin – or the bikini.
It turned out that 63 year old Heidi owns a handful of bikinis. Because every day she swims. Not just once but up to seven times a day. And each time, she likes to change into a dry bikini. So she can do what she does in between swimming – paint.
Heidi was born in Germany, coming out to Australia at the age of seven. For 40 years she’s been swimming every day at Coogee, no matter what the weather. Usually across the beach, retreating to the pool only when it’s just too rough.
When she was working as a graphic designer and art teacher, she would always find time to throw herself in the salty stuff at least once a day. Now she’s retired, she fills her days doing what she loves – swimming and painting.
Hooray! I want to be like Heidi when I grow up.
Part 3: Beneath
Swimming, love it. Photography, love it. Combine the two and I’m in heaven. Which in this case ain’t skyward – it’s beneath…
As much as I loved the experience of shooting underwater, I left feeling like I barely touched the surface, so to speak. I could do a year long project just on that alone – 52 Suburbs Underwater?!
What I loved about Coogee is its faded seaside-ness and its lack of pretension or feeling of exclusivity. An Eastern Suburb it might be but everyone is welcome here.
And I have changed my tune about the place. It’s gone from just a place to drive through to somewhere I’d actually like to go. For one, I rediscovered the joy of Wiley’s Baths – amazingly no one has buggered it up and it looks pretty much exactly the same as it did 20 years ago when I used to drive all the way across town just to enjoy it.
Shocking I know, but in all that time I never once hopped over to Coogee Beach itself. This time I actually got sand between my toes and had a look. I loved the northern headland that catches the last light, and the way the beach is bookended with ocean pools, one hemmed in by walls, the other a more natural affair. And I particularly enjoyed it when the wind was so strong you had to walk sideways, much like a crab.
Oh no, really? Is it that time already?
I’ve been so looking forward to and so dreading this moment – talk about mixed emotions.
Coogee Beach was a lovely place to express my thoughts…
There are so many people I want to thank.
To everyone who joined us on the journey, thank you! Not only were you the best virtual travel companions ever. You also played a critical role in keeping me going. It was hugely motivating to know you would be checking in each week – it made me push myself that little bit harder, to make the experience the best it could be for you. And every comment anyone left would give me a thrill – every single one.
Thank you in particular to those blog followers from other cities who sent suburb suggestions or invited us to meet up with them – while we met countless wonderful people on the streets every day, to actually have a local we could call on who would happily share their knowledge of their city as well as their support for the project was very special.
So thank you, thank you!
I also want to thank everyone who helped to make the project fly, literally – from my wonderful Kickstarter supporters to my fabulous sponsors. The project has ended up costing me personally more than I’d expected but if I hadn’t gotten that initial support from you in the beginning, I would never have embarked on the journey.
Thanks to those amazingly clever people who were on the tools behind the scenes. Stephen Lead for dutifully updating the map every week, thank you! And Kate Johnstone and Kat Clark for designing and revising the blog whenever required.
Many thanks to our friends and family for your constant love and support. And to the wonderful friends who housed us in NY, LA, Auckland and Melbourne, and put up with us either never there or me huddled over the computer all day and night.
I am of course eternally grateful to everyone who appeared on the blog – in many cases you let me take your photograph even though we could barely communicate. I’d stumble over my written script in Japanese or Italian or whatever and you’d kindly nod and smile. You’re all legends in my eyes.
And finally I have to thank a kid called Coco. It’s too early in the morning to spout tears so I’ll be quick. Given what a marathon this project was, given all the hours spent wandering aimlessly, given the fact there were no friends around for a year – given all this, I’m not sure I could have done this project with another child. Coco, thank you, for being an absolute bloody trooper and the most delightful person to spend a year with, 24/7.
Remember Coco at the beginning of the project? Eight years old and seemingly half the body size she is now.
You’ve watched her grow over the year – and in more ways than one. Always caring and kind, her experience of seeing the world and of meeting people often much less fortunate than herself has made her an even more compassionate human being.
And you know what was an unexpected delight? The way many of you became defacto aunties and uncles to Coco. Given it was just she and I for most of the time we were away, it was incredibly comforting to know you were there, like an extended virtual family. It warmed my heart many times.
Ultimately I feel extremely lucky. I’ve been able to do what I love for an entire year – exploring, photographing and sharing. Looking back, I can’t believe how little else I did, aside from keep Coco fed and watered. It’s been an obsession alright but a most wonderful obsession.
And to share it with my daughter as well as you all has been absolutely incredible.
So dear virtual travel companions, this is where the journey ends. Not entirely – I intend to keep the blog going until at least July when the images you’ve been looking at on your computer screen will take on another life at the Museum of Sydney for a four month long exhibition. I’ll be blogging about things various, details TBD.
But as far as our traipsing around the world for a year, well yes, that part is over. But whatever happens, we’ll always have Paris – and Hong Kong, New Delhi, Istanbul, Rome, Berlin, New York, LA, Tokyo, Kyoto, Auckland, Wellington, Melbourne and Sydney.
Much much love from Coco and I.
This suburb has been brought to you by Chris Korczowski • Ben Ho • Jennifer Parker
See you soon.