WORDS BY TOMAS O’MALLEY
Weather-beaten fibro. Bare fluoro tube lighting above the faded Formica kitchen table and mismatched chairs. Women’s Weekly and Reader’s Digest from decades past. Falling asleep to the sound of waves hitting the shore, and the rhythmic tic of the ancient ceiling fan above. The beach shack is an indelible part of Australian holiday culture, with generation after generation creating memories of long days at the beach.
Simpler than the ‘family home’ but more commodious than a tent or caravan, the beach shack became a fixture of coastal townships all around the country. They were often owner-built; added to and changed in an ad-hoc manner as requirements for more space (and the time and money to do so) came about. Materials were repurposed and recycled. While some things may not have fit perfectly, it didn’t really matter – it’s just a shack after all!
Architecturally the shack was often an exuberant take on the mid-century modernism prevalent at the time many of these settlements were becoming popular holiday destinations. Skillion and butterfly roofs, glass picture windows, and tapered supports for verandahs and upper floors all found their place in fibro form alongside (or in combination with) more conventional gable roofed timber cottages. Inside, lino floors provided a practical surface to be able to sweep the sand out easily, though the kids in the rooms downstairs might have been dealing with bare concrete and sharing their space with surfboards and fishing rods. Inside and outside were often vague concepts, with the verandah and ‘under the house’ often occupied more than the internal rooms.
In our Region, townships like Woodgate and Burrum Heads have long been destinations for locals and visitors from further afield, and the string of cottages along the respective esplanades would swell with visitors in peak holiday times. Other areas like Baffle Creek and Skyringville had their own slightly more rugged shack culture, being more off the beaten track. Even the larger settlements such as Burnett Heads, Elliott Heads and Bargara reflected this coastal housing style.
In architecture, simple doesn’t need to be seen as lesser. There is an honesty to the beach shack that is not in a lot of our homes, and that character can help us to mentally make the break from our everyday lives and enjoy ourselves in our free time.