The sun sets on a summer place
As the summer break has come to an end, campers at Mooloolaba Esplanade Beach Holiday Park have dismantled their annexes, packed up vans and bid each other a farewell more final than the usual, see you same time, same place next year.
It’s all over, red rover for the beachfront hideaway caravan park, which will be closed by Queensland’s Sunshine Coast Council later this year. I have a declaration of interest — my nephew Jon has led a campaign to keep the 34-van site open. His mum’s family has been spending Christmas there for nigh-on 60 years and for him it is the embodiment of a happy summer. One of the tactics has been to seek a listing on the Queensland Heritage Council’s register of sites of social and cultural significance, much as nearby Cotton Tree Caravan Park gained in 2009. The bid was unsuccessful.
I can be dispassionate about the issue. My own family did not have a camping gene in its collective body. We much preferred holiday flats with holes in the fibro walls into which the pet turtle disappeared for days on end. Fraternal high jinks would add new cracks that required careful repositioning of furniture on departure. I fancied the idea of towing a caravan so I could play in it during long car trips, but was informed this would be illegal and require instant jailing. I never did check to see if this were true or just a way of shutting me up, but it sounded about right. In any case, I had no desire to actually holiday in a van and trek off to shared facilities in the ablution block.
The case for keeping the Mooloolaba caravan park was persuasive. Campers have been using it since the 1920s and it is one of the fast disappearing vestiges of a traditional, low-cost holiday lifestyle. In 2006 then Queensland premier Peter Beattie noted that 26 parks across the state had closed in the previous five years with many more under threat and they were a tourist facility worth protecting. Amusingly, opponents of retaining the van park have damned supporters, who have been returning year after year, as “privileged”. Since when did that word and camping go together in the one sentence?
Council’s argument for closure is that the site will be developed as parkland with, funds permitting, landscaped gardens, a rock pool and playground, and wider public access to the fabulous foreshore. Game over.
Maybe summer holidays are about fun, freedom and special friendships and are not tied to one place that can be protected by law (but, hey, how about keeping just one beach kiosk that serves chocolate malted milks and lime snow cones rather than puppo and babyccinos). To keep the memories alive, we’ll always have that story of first love, Summer of ’42; surf movie The Endless Summer; and all that came out of San Francisco’s Summer of Love.
There are few moments in theatre more poignant than the end of Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. As Olive’s relationship with her seasonal canecutter boyfriend Roo disintegrates, she demands of him: “I want what I had before. You give it back to me — give me back what you’ve taken.” There’ll be no more kewpie dolls marking each summer of carefree lovin’. But life rolls on.
Susan Kurosawa is on leave