Yesterday at Bondi.
In his research for his third novel Daniel's Empire, author Grant Hyde wrote on his blog recently that he'd found himself "delving into the factors that make us Australians" and, by that, I assume he means what is unique about our national character.
Hyde is a historical novelist. His first two books - Lords of the Pacific and Islands of Gold - were set in the 1700s, in the South Pacific and convict Australia. Daniel's Empire delves further into the world of our first penal settlement, particularly the lives of the "currency lads and lasses".
Says Hyde: "We hear views that bushrangers like Ned Kelly and the 'wild colonial boy', Jack Duggan, were the first Aussie larrikins or, maybe, the Diggers of WWI forged our identity under battle but, from my readings, I can now say it happened long before that.
"The first true Australian was the currency lad/lass; the first born sons and daughters of the 'incorrigible drunkards that were spewed up upon these shores by the First Fleet'. They were named as such because their appearance corresponded with the arrival of the colony's first monetary system," Hyde writes.
The currency lad looked different to the pasty, wasted convicts and marines who were their parents. Thanks to a "diet of fresh meat, fish and greens, the kind climate and the clean air", they were bigger, healthier and far more at home in the wilds of Australia.
What was alien to their forebears was the natural order of things to them and so they felt equally at home on land and water, could swim, hunt and fish.
Hyde says: "The currency lad thought himself better than any from the 'Mother country', had a cocky swagger, wore his hair long and had his own accent. Some visiting English thought it more reminiscent of the birds here: 'How ya goinnnng maaaate', than the cockney or 'flash talk' of the criminal class.
"However, the whole issue of accent came down to those offspring not wanting to sound anything like their lowly convict parents, the cheating, thieving Red Coat guards or the 'Exclusives' that had come out here with high ideals of founding a new class of landed gentry," Hyde writes.
The Department of Education's My Place for Teachers website concurs with Hyde: "When reporting on the condition of the colony, Commissioner John Thomas Bigge (1780–1843) found the children of convicts generally industrious and surprisingly free of any criminality. He described them as taller and fairer, and stronger and healthier than the free settlers."
Hyde's words were floating around my head as I observed the thousands of Aussies clambering over the sands of my local beach on Australia Day yesterday.
There's no doubt Australian men and women are, by and large, fine specimens. I wanted to shake every second 16-year-old I saw moping on the promenade and say 'Look at you, you're perfect!', but that would have been weird.
And there's no doubt that larrikin spirit of the currency lads and lasses is also alive and well. Everywhere I looked people were having fun, getting up to mischief, carrying on harmlessly.
But, as the day wore on, and the sun set, I had to wonder how far we'd really come from "those incorrigible drunkards that were spewed up upon these shores by the First Fleet".
Fights started, cars were trashed, bottles smashed, families intimidated, backyards pissed in. More than 400 people treated my street like an open sewer.
Maybe I'm getting old, but I'm buying a baseball bat this week. I felt vulnerable last night.
Hyde sums up his research into the Australian character by writing that "a plan to relocate Great Britain's worst people to the King's most distant possession would have seemed suicidal to many but it survived. Not only did it survive, it thrived, with Australia becoming one of the greatest success stories in human history."
You can't deny Australia is a success, but all human enterprises go through cycles: of barbarism, then civilisation, and finally decadence.
After yesterday I had to wonder which end of the sequence we were at and whether we were more convict than currency lad.