The Last Resort
We just spent part of Easter at Noosa. Of course it seemed like most of Melbourne and a good part of Brisbane joined us. Despite the council’s best efforts Noosa and for that matter Byron Bay, its more racy sister further south, are being loved to death.
The first time I went to Noosa I was in grade eight or nine. My parents who owned their own business had taken a few precious days off and for reasons I have never found out decided to spend them at Noosa. It must have been school holidays and the weather was cool so I think it was May. I was old enough to know that as an only child I now needed someone my own age to accompany me so my friend Rob joined us. We were prospective surfers, both lured by the intoxicating images and exquisite coolness of the words and pictures in the magazines we read. Rob liked to portray himself as a surfer of some experience but as I found out the term prospective surfers applied to both of us. We were willing but neither of us could even be classed as learners.
What I remember of the time other than Rob’s bolshie attitude that he was bored was the knock out beauty of the national park and the lack of people. Previously when we had holidayed at the beach we always had gone to the Gold Coast. Mum and dad had holidayed there as singles, had honey mooned at Surfers and for Queensland in the 1950s when even a trip to Sydney was exotic and unaffordable the Gold Coast had a slightly naughty and cosmopolitan image similar to Las Vegas. We had quite a few holidays in the late 60s and early 70s either just the three of us or with members of the extended family. They were fantastic days filled with the ocean waves and sandcastles, exhaustion, ice cream and sun burn but of course Mermaid Beach is long and even then backed with blocks of flats and houses and swimming between the flags was a crowded affair.
Noosa Heads was none of these things. A massive headland with coves and beaches fringed by rain forest and unpaved meandering paths, seemingly endless empty shoreline over the river to the north, a one street CBD and in late Autumn hardly any one around. I remember the weather was perfect without a cloud in the sky and the ocean was cool and crystal clear and flat. Basically dead flat. Rob and I tried on our knocked about second or third hand boards that we could hardly carry, let alone ride, but the ocean was not playing. If we had any idea what we were doing we might have suggested to my dad to take us over to Sunshine Beach or maybe to the river mouth or to come back in late summer. But we were totally clueless and no doubt looked like complete idiots trying to catch the six-inch waves that were lapping on Tea Tree Bay’s sand.
It didn’t matter anyway because I was hooked and have loved the place ever since.
Later when I could surf I caught some of the best waves I have ever caught during Noosa cyclone swells. In fact Noosa Heads is the only beach resort I’ve found that looks just as good in the rain as in the sunshine. The headland provides enormous protection from the blustery southerlies and walking through pouring rain under dripping trees along flooded paths to surf Tea Tree is one of Queensland’s best surfing experiences.
By the late 70s Noosa had been well known to surfers for over a decade but with the longboard revival still a few years away the crowds were usually quite manageable in the water. In the early 80s the early thin-railed thruster surfboards did not suit Noosa waves at all unless it was head high. We would turn around and drive home without getting out of the car from surf that today has literally scores of people in the water.
Along the way Noosa developed a reputation for being posh and expensive and in a way it was and of course still is. I don’t know whether the council planned this or it was the natural outcome of keeping the lid firmly on development. Certainly we surfers would avoid staying in Noosa with plenty of cheaper options over the hill running from Sunshine Beach down to Coolum. And back then you didn’t have to worry about getting to Noosa at daybreak just to get a park somewhere near the national park. There was always a park somewhere close.
In some ways it was the wealthy Victorians who really put Noosa on the map. My teenage self certainly thanked them, as without their daughters there would have been a lot fewer pretty girls to talk to on the beach. Many came and built homes and stayed. Even now thirty plus years later it would be interesting to know what percentage of the Noosa Shire Council’s population was born in Victoria.
We got married at Noosa. If I won Lotto tomorrow I would be walking into the real estate agents on Hastings Street the very next day. Obviously I am not alone in feeling this way. Noosa Heads is special and unique and to the council’s credit I think they have done their best to get and keep the balance of the natural attractions with the necessary infrastructure.
I want to be able to get a decent coffee and have a decent bedroom to stay in. And to think the people won’t come or to try to deny them is a waste of time and angst.
Despite the population growth in Australia and especially in Queensland’s south east corner the crowds at Noosa Heads still seemed to stay manageable through planning and pricing until the last five or so years. But as individual wealth and the number of well off retirees living fitter for longer have increased, the strain is now really starting to show. Throw in the rise of the backpacker and I think Noosa Heads during peak holiday periods is now no fun. Not really complaining, don’t have any easy answers either. I guess I am just saying.
And yet there were still moments last weekend even as the place was heaving when the quieter Noosa showed itself. Early in the morning standing at Boiling Pot looking not towards Tea Tree but back toward Hastings Street watching the lines of swell slide away from me towards the beach. Nodding to the same old guys that you first saw a decade or more ago, out at the Car Park or First Point and then seeing a couple of them that night playing some blues for the drinkers at a new Noosaville craft brewery. The old camping ground at the end of Hastings Street, busy on the ocean side with learn to surf classes, yoga and weddings but still quiet and empty grass when facing the Sound. And most of all the view of the ocean [the wished for lines of swell not so easy to see since the trees have grown since the 80s] when you come down the hill past the Reef Hotel after coming up from the junction and the David Low Way, still the best way to come into Noosa Heads.
In 1977 The Eagles, then a band at the height of their considerable musicianship and songwriting chops released the album Hotel California which was a huge hit. The final song on the album The Last Resort is a big over the top ballad with lots of comparisons between earthly and Christian paradises and how we humans overrun and destroy the things we love. I have had a love/hate thing with the song for years as it was preachy and a bit whiny and was about to get kicked in the teeth by The Clash. But it made a good point, had great dynamics and was a good singalong if you were in the right frame of mind.
Now days when I see Noosa or Byron Bay in school holidays I feel like singing the song more.
Six Noosa [and Byron] tunes
The Last Resort - The Eagles – Don Henley gives his all in a tale of Paradise Lost
Blue Bay Blues – Richard Clapton – Byron gets name dropped but works perfectly for either, a great song for when you want to be where you can’t
Surfing on A Spoon – Midnight Oil – From the first album where the production drowns the power. Still a great song to wax the board up.
On The Punt -The Aerial Maps – Driving holidays with the family then later you’re older and behind the wheel looking for waves
On No Not You Again – Australian Crawl – Mullets and thrusters, Echo Beach boardies with meat pies, Winfield Blues and chocolate milk and hangovers for breakfast, Thanks to the Noosa Pie Shop and The Villa
On The Weekend- Neil Young- Its Cyclone season 1972, you’re driving your three on the tree manual Holden station wagon in from the highway to Byron, you’re passing dairy cows in paddocks, The Pass is head high and you’re planning on staying forever.