I can’t describe in words the affinity I feel with this place, but, after spending some quality mother-daughter time this week down at Mills Beach I realise I now need to try and find those words and describe it to you.
Mills Beach is a stretch of sandy bay beach in Mornington, about an hours drive from Melbourne on the Mornington Peninsula. The waters are mostly flat, deep and clear and the waves gently lap at the sandy shore. It’s not Tahiti-like, or even reminiscent of the Whitsundays where you would expect to find a ‘glorious beach’, but… I think it’s one of the most peaceful places on earth. I have been going there since forever and the fact that I’ve just turned 40 has facilitated some kind of cathartic memory bank that I need to release.
My mother took me to Mills Beach as a toddler. It’s reasonably safe and meant that while I dabbled in the baby waves she could swim in the deep, clear blue water.
There is quite a steep walk down from the main road that leads to Mills. Enough for the council to have originally placed a seat halfway down to rest and enjoy the view. As a small child I threw many a tantrum on the way back up what looked like an Everest incline and sat on the hot bitumen refusing to walk another step. My mother (ever the optimist) said she would see me at the top and completely ignored my sun burnt, tear-stained face, walking past and leaving me with the sudden fear that she would be gone forever as I watched her disappear around the dappled Teatree corner. Obviously, this prompted me to get up and run along behind her sobbing and exhausted after a day at the beach and despite my complaints, I would make it to the top every time.
At about 10 years old on one of those mighty trips upwards, I spied a man sitting on the rest seat half way up the path decked out in a three piece white suit, white Fedora hat and cane admiring the view. As we walked past, my mother turned around and whispered at me from the corner of her mouth… ‘that was Barry Humphries Bree. Barry Humphries’. I realise now, after reading both of his auto-biographies (‘More Please’ and ‘My Life as Me’) that this period in his life was actually extremely sad and desolate and I wish I’d stopped and spoken. He too shared a similar affinity with this place.
There is a cliff walk which begins at the rocky end of Mills Beach and extends up and over the cliff to Beleura Hill. I can remember many a walk along the cliff with my Grandma during Primary School where celery and cheese sandwiches (crusts cut-off) and a selection of CWA homemade treats like Yo-Yo’s and Raspberry Shortcake were inhaled by my brother and I at a resting place overlooking the beach below.
Mills Beach is lined by brightly coloured beach houses. Beach houses that were an inspiration in my late high-school artwork and I look at now and covet, cursing myself that I wasn’t sensible enough to save for a deposit for one of them at 17 rather than just getting excited about their colour against the blue sky above and the yellow sand below.
When I got my license at 18 and it was a hot day on the Peninsula, Mills Beach was the place to go. In my latest Bikini, I’d head down the path with my Cleo magazine and try to nut out the facts of life while sun baking on the warm sand, ever conscious of the groups of boys chucking the tennis ball at one another and wondering if one of them was perhaps my future husband? Ahhh… the sweet dreamings of a late teen.
I’ve since taken my husband down to Mills Beach many times. His favourite thing to do after a day of swimming is to cook fresh fish for us on his Trangia, under the Teatrees, watching the sun set. He’s a patient man and still listens each time we head down the path and I again recount my favourite Mills Beach stories.
My 10 year old daughter is hanging out with me there now, watching me float on my back in the water and comment ‘Oh, it’s so lovely!’ as I stare at the rows of coloured beach houses and the cliff behind, the same way my own mother did.
This place is my inspiration. My magic. As soon as my feet hit the path down to the beach I feel like I’m home. One day I hope to live on the hill called Beleura which overlooks Mills Beach. Not in the multitude of contemporary mansions that have cropped up there in the last 20 years but in the original weatherboard cottage that sits at the end of the cliff walk. I’ve coveted that house since I could process it and one day I know I will find myself right there, but until then, I’ll keep creating happy memories.