At the north end of Bondi beach (the opposite end to Icebergs), past the grassy knoll of perpetual barbecue, past the bright murals at the kids’ swimming pools, down a set of stairs, a hop between rocks, and over a small bridge is Flat Rock: a place from which you can see – and escape – all of Bondi.
Located below Ben Buckler headland and easiest to access at low tide, Flat Rock starts at a boat ramp that usually doubles as a place for overachieving dogs to chase balls thrown far enough into the sea that they have to swim back to shore. Waverley Council’s notoriously zealous rangers have a don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy when it comes to Flat Rock which, strictly speaking, is not a dog beach.
The place starts as it means to continue: with a casual disregard for the rules. On a typical summer evening you walk past small, quiet groups of people smoking pot and drinking beer. At midday, visitors find shade leaning against the hulls of silver fishing boats, stored on a concrete slope above the rocks, with names including Varmint, Savage, Fish Nipper, Dart and Super Hans.
Like Mackenzies – a small bay between two oscillations of the Bondi to Bronte walk – Flat Rock is a beach where locals, having chosen to live next to one of the busiest tourists spots in Australia, come to escape the tourists. Where Mackenzies is enclosed by the pretty coastline surrounding it, Flat Rock is exposed; it feels like the edge of Australia.
The flat shelf of rock from which the beach gets its name is level with the ocean, so that once you’ve slip-shuffled along the ground, you can dive straight into deep, clear water. On the fringes of summer, when it’s only just warm enough to plunge in without gasping, there is less plankton and other organic matter in the water, which becomes mesmerisingly transparent. Swimming close to the shoreline, the swell carries you above the level of the ground, so that you feel weightless twice over as you float in water which in turn lifts you into the air. If you get the timing right, waves deliver you neatly back on to solid ground.
The view from Flat Rock is a panorama of Bondi. From a distance, it couldn’t seem more picturesque: green grass, the Bondi Pavilion and rows of pastel-coloured apartment blocks, the pale yellow sand dotted with colourful towels and umbrellas, the white steps of Icebergs. People become contemplative miniatures in an architectural model.
In the foreground, the flat rock shelf acts like a stage: enter the long-limbed youths, flirting in swimwear; enter the spear-fishermen, at once dangerous and ridiculous in camo wetsuits. Their dramas play out beside, to the left, a 245-tonne rock that was washed ashore during a storm in 1912.
Bondi is an easy place to hate. It might be the athleisure-wear capital of the world. Every evening, no matter the weather, there are likely to be many, many drunk British 20-somethings staggering around Campbell Parade. It is a schlep to get to on public transport; the traffic is a pain; parking is impossible.
But I love that every third restaurant or so is a pizza place and that residents are forever leaving their junk on the sidewalk, designated council clean-up days be damned. I love the apartment blocks weathered by salty air, the weekend market at the local school with its earnest guitarists and, never far away, tourists gaping at the views.
That every median-strip garden, no matter how well intentioned, must eventually surrender to the beach sand on which the suburb is built. Bondi is a disaster, but it’s our disaster. Flat Rock, some might argue, isn’t even really a beach. But it’s just what a beach should be, with sweet, criminal dogs; cold beers; deep, bright water; and a perfect view of the most famous strip of sand in the world.
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