A photo, yellowed with age, sits on the mantelpiece. It shows a chubby toddler – shar-pei thighs and goofy grin – tearing up the beach, bearing bucket and spade.
Every family has one: the quintessential holiday snap from a time when life was simpler.
Our tradition was Tugun, a tiny Gold Coast hamlet that was once full of fibro houses. Sandcastles in the morning, beach cricket in the arvo and board games at night.
We’d compete to see who could pull off the longest slab of singed skin in those pre-sunscreen days.
When we had kids of our own, we wanted them to enjoy the same simple pleasures (although, not the singed skin). So began our annual pilgrimage five hours north of Sydney, or in my sister’s case, seven hours south of Brisbane, to Crescent Head.
This piece of paradise is rooted firmly in the 1950s.
A typical day starts with a surf off the point, with dolphins frolicking in the foam, and finishes with a meat raffle at the country club, followed by sweet-and-sour pork at the local Chinese.
Last year, our girls caught their first fish. Man vs. Wild is nothing on girl versus bream. After posing proudly, Grace dropped the fish back in the water squealing, “I’ve got blood on my hands!” like a member of the NSW Labor Right. A Kodak moment, as we used to say.
It’s no wonder Tourism Australia has returned to this tried-and-true formula for pitching the perfect family holiday.
TA’s research shows parents and kids rate an Australian beach holiday as comparable to, or better than, an overseas holiday in 13 of 15 categories, including swimming, relaxing, fishing, playing beach games and exploring rock pools.
Like the time we stumbled upon two bright orange octopuses and hundreds of blue starfish in the shallows at Racecourse beach.
“Now, there’s nothing to worry about; they’re not going to hurt you,” I said to the kids, before shrieking, “Aaarrggh, it moved!” and running away.
But it’s not just the fabulous fauna that keeps us coming back.
“An Australian beach holiday provides the ideal environment for families to spend quality time together and for children to develop self confidence, life skills and values,” the managing director of Tourism Australia, Andrew McEvoy, says.
Time together is more valued by kids than they often let on.
After months of “unpack your school bag, do your homework, put your uniform in the wash, plates in the dishwasher, read a book, go to bed”, kids crave unstructured time together.
Although, we took that a little too far during the winter break.
Me: “Taj, aren’t they the same clothes you were wearing yesterday?” Taj: “Yep, and the day before. And the day before that.”
But isn’t that the best thing about holidays? There’s no such thing as “should”.
Clean clothes are optional. In fact, clothing is optional, full stop. After all, there’s nothing cuter than a dimpled baby’s bum on the beach.
Perhaps we should put that in our tourism ads?
Beats Lara Bingle any day.