Greetings from the coast. This week Team Barr is kicking back in sunny Merimbula on the New South Wales south coast on our annual trip to the beach. This family tradition began in January 2004 thanks to the encouragement of my friends Fleur and Hamish and the generosity of my Mother’s cousin John and his wife Vicky who invited the boys and I to stay at their little 1930s cottage anytime we’d like a beach holiday.
Back in 2004 it was a long 675km trek from Hay with 17-month-old Henry, 4 year old Sam and five year old Max. We were on the road by 5am, arrived in Wagga Wagga just before 8am for some Scottish food (breakfast at McDonald’s). Then it was on through Adelong, Tumut and up through the Kosciusko National Park. The awesome power of my trusty Nissan wagon’s 2.8 turbo diesel engine was put to the test in the mountains where it chugged along in second gear.
Merimbula on the far south coast of New South Wales is a social spot, with many rural families from the Riverina making their way across the Great Dividing Range each summer. Friends Fleur and Hamish were staying a short ten minute walk from the cottage and late on the afternoon of our first day I ran into Anna, another friend from Hay who was staying by happy coincidence, with her family at a beach house two doors down. She asked after Max and Sam and with a smile inquired how my “youngest and wildest” (Henry) was going? I laughed and said it was only a matter of time before Henry broke an arm or a leg.
The next day started beautifully with a picture perfect sunny day. The boys and I went to the Spencer Park Beach and strolled along the sand and paddled in the calm shallow water. I stopped with Henry to make sandcastles and chat with other parents, while Sam and Max continued up the beach looking for shells. Just as I was entering that “living the dream” cloud of happiness and gratitude there was a long piercing scream… Max had discovered and tried to pick up Physalia utriculus otherwise known as the Blue Bottle Jellyfish and suffered multiple stings to his hands. So ended our first beach outing. I bundled Henry, Sam and a still screaming Max back into the wagon and set a new land speed record to the nearest chemist for a large bottle of Soov before making our way back to the cottage for an early lunch and a rest.
By mid afternoon Max had recovered and my stress levels had returned to normal. Everyone was feeling well rested and ready to hit the beach once more. While I applied sunscreen to Sam, out of the corner of my eye I caught the flash of movement as 17-month-old Henry launched himself off the top bunk with a pillow in an attempt to fly. For the record, toddlers do not fly, they don’t even glide, they just go splat onto the wooden floorboards below and then emit high-pitched screams. For the second time that day I was bundling a screaming child into the wagon. Anna appeared having heard the commotion, she gave me directions to the Pambula hospital and offered to look after Max and Sam. My flippant comment made less than 24 hours earlier had come true; Henry had broken his right leg.
We returned to Anna’s house hours later; Henry in a hip to toe full leg fibreglass cast with waterproof liner and me feeling somewhat less than cheerful. Anna answered the door with a bowl of ice cream for Henry and a glass of wine for me.
Battling an almost overwhelming urge to admit defeat and drive home that night, we stuck it out with the support of our friends and the boys and I went on to enjoy our first ever beach holiday. A tradition was born (holidaying at the beach, not breaking legs… I hasten to add).