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Sand-covered secrets

Learning the key to becoming a real Canberran filled an aching void, Tegan Osborne writes

When you've grown up taking the coast for granted and then it suddenly isn't there, you ache inside a little.

It's a sentiment I've heard echoed by many.

I grew up in the coastal city of Newcastle, renowned for its long stretches of pristine beach.

My family were not beach people (or ''lemons'', as my ''westie'' father called them in his youth) and as a child I didn't spend every weekend in the ocean.

Even so, like most coastal kids, by the time I was 10 years old I'd learnt how to duck under waves, knew how to spot a rip and could swim confidently out the back in deeper surf. I was always aware of the sea.

Our family home sat high on a hill, with the Tasman Sea peeping through the trees on the horizon, ever present in the distance.


And as I entered my mid-teens, the beach changed from a backdrop to a symbol of freedom.

It was a place to spend time with friends, escape ''the parentals'' and contemplate the future, in that way that only flaky, starry-eyed teenagers can.

In my early 20s, the appeal of a share house would always hinge on its proximity to the beach.

Until I came to Canberra, I'd never lived more than half an hour from the coast.

So when I moved inland, I was acutely aware of the sacrifice I was making.

I discovered the ''secret beach'' phenomenon not long after my arrival in the capital.

While approaching a long, hot inland summer, I whinged to a friend that while Canberra had many virtues, its one great downfall was the absence of sea.

My friend, a born-and-bred Canberran, did his best to suppress a chuckle. ''Ah,'' he said, ''you haven't found your secret beach yet.''

''Secret beach?'' I replied, staring blankly.

He went on to explain that I would not be a true Canberran until I had sniffed out a patch of sand on the nearby south coast and ''claimed it'' as my own slice of coastal paradise.

Once I had done this, as a real Canberran, it would become my duty to fiercely protect the location of my ''secret beach''.

I would need to do this, he said, lest my beach be swamped with work colleagues, gym buddies or other varieties of people I didn't want to see on holidays.

He also said that, to become a true Canberran, I would need to buy a VW Polo and make lots of babies. But that's another story.

That summer - my first in Canberra - it became apparent he was right about ''secret beaches''.

On weekends between December and March, Canberra became a ghost town.

Phone calls to friends to arrange get togethers were consistently greeted by, ''Oh, sorry, I'm at the coast!'' or, ''What a shame, we're headed to the beach tomorrow''. Which beach?

''Oh you know … just a little spot near Batemans,'' would be the inevitably non-committal response.

After three hot summer months of rejection, fearing complete social isolation, I decided to get my own beach.

I did find one. And I won't say where, but it's helped ease the ache in my chest.

What I will tell you is that it's on the south coast in a very small village, where you don't have to fight for your space on the sand. It has a cafe within walking distance that does real coffee, but I've never seen anyone I know there, unless I've brought them with me.

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