Avalon Beach: The secret life of Sydney’s insular peninsula

Avalon Beach: The secret life of Sydney’s insular peninsula

Artists, writers, surfers and boy soldiers: What other surprises does Avalon have in store?
Avalon Beach.
The gentle crescent of sand at Avalon Beach and the excellent surf have attracted visitors for decades.

Some 27 kilometers north of Sydney city, only one road connects Avalon to the rest of the world. A well-kept secret, its surf has long attracted board riders. Its beauty once gained the attention of TV series "Baywatch", but when the glitzy production tried to set up permanently, the locals successfully protested.

They would not lose their oasis.

Since the 1940s, artistic types have flocked to the area to find inspiration and respite from city life. It’s the hidden beach of stars: Yahoo Serious, Megan Gale and Nicole Kidman are often spotted on its shores.

The beachside village has become an artists’ enclave and locally known as the “insular peninsula” (which includes Whale Beach, Palm Beach and Pittwater).

Filmmakers and writers jostle for café lattes. Thomas Keneally, author of “Schindler’s Ark,” has been a literary notary in the area, as is Michael Robotham, author of 14 crime books.

Along the suburb’s less-trodden residential backstreets, a colony of artists has set up shop, re-styling garages and backyard shacks into personal studios. Living rooms become open galleries.

Upcoming, the Avalon Tattoo even brings military brass to the community. Culture is every way but cliché on Avalon.

Michael Robotham on the "writer’s beach"

Michael Robotham was in his early twenties when he sat with his future wife on Avalon Beach and decided he would live there one day. Years later, after working as an investigative journalist in London, he set up home.

“Writers can live anywhere,” says Robotham, who has just released "Wreckage," a crime thriller that is his 14th book. “(Avalon) is just so incredibly beautiful. It’s always been a haven, it’s always attracted creatives."

“It has a reputation of an insular peninsula, and to a degree that’s true. It has massage parlors, outdoor cafes, boutiques, every form of yoga and alternative therapy. It’s a lot like Byron Bay.”

The first chapter of Robotham's The Wreckage can be downloaded for free at www.michaelrobotham.com

Home is where the art is

Liz MuirLiz Muir's home gallery is typical of the bohemian enclave.Now more than ever, locals are keen to establish Avalon as an artists’ hub.

A few blocks up from Avalon Beach, on a quiet leafy suburban street, artist Liz Muir runs a full-time gallery from her weatherboard beach cottage.

In the front room is her studio, cluttered with paintbrushes and canvases, where she paints five days a week. At the other end is her living room and kitchen, which she has converted into a showroom.

Large-scale oil landscape paintings, inspired by Avalon Beach and nearby Careel Bay Marina, are mounted on walls and stacked against furniture. In all, some 100 paintings are scattered throughout the house.

“I needed the space for all the paintings,” she says on why she decided to turn her home into a gallery more than 12 years ago. “Quite often people will come in to buy six paintings, and you have to have the stock.”

Liz Muir Art Studio, 19 Catalina Crescent, Avalon Beach. Phone: (02) 9918 7438, www.lizmuir.com.au.

Nada Art Studio

Avalon BeachBright, busy, exuberant: Avalon Beach by Nada Herman-Witkamp (Picture/Courtesy of Nada Art).A number of local artists have decided the best way to exhibit their art is to open their homes to the public: Avalon oil painter Nada Herman-Wikamp has done the same fot the last 17 years.

For three generations, her family has been part of Avalon’s art scene. Her grandfather, Sali Herman, was a celebrated urban landscape artist and three-time winner of the Wynne price in the 1960s.

“The art scene is alive and vibrant in Avalon, but it’s also a secret,” Herman-Wikamp says.

“Artists get drawn to a beautiful location. I love the happy, bold colors of the area -- with the oceans and the sand," she says. "Everything is at your doorstep.”

Nada Art Studio, 62 Chisholm Ave., Avalon Beach, +61 (0)414 849 580, www.nada-art.com

The artists’ trail

Pittwater Community Arts, with a group of 29 artists -- from Palm Beach to North Narrabeen -- banded together to form the Pittwater Artists Trail earlier this year.

The concept is simple: art lovers get a map of where all the local artists live, and on designated “open weekends” the public is invited to their home studios to check out their works.

Avalon artist Paul Brocklebank is one of the participants. He has lived in the area since 1967 and from his converted garage studio, paints the local scene in oil, watercolor and pastel.

For art connoisseurs, he says, the trail has its perks. “There’s a wider variety [than a gallery], and people can buy at greatly reduced prices because they are buying directly from the artist,” Brocklebank said.

The next Pittwater Artists’ Trail is scheduled for October 29-30. All studios are open year round by appointment. For more information or to download a brochure, go to www.pittwaterartiststrail.com.au

We come in peace: The Avalon Tattoo

Avalon Tattoo The Avalon Tattoo 2010.With swords drawn, bayonets fixed, drums beating and band playing, local army cadets from the Northern Beaches are set to get their “freedom of entry” to Pittwater Council as part of Avalon’s upcoming Tattoo at Dunbar Park.

“The Tattoo started in 2007 as a ‘Cadet and Australian Defence Force Reserve Expo’ to showcase their roles in the community, but has now expanded to be a major free community event modeled on the Edinburgh Tattoo,” said Avalon Beach Returned and Services League president Graham Sloper.

The centuries-old ceremony marks the formal request of a military unit to enter a city and will be performed by Dee Why’s 201 Army Cadet Unit. 

Other highlights include a fly-past by a Huey Helicopter, a street parade, performances from the New South Wales Police Pipe Band with Scottish dancers, the Rural Fire Service Pipe Band and a sunset ceremonial with a Navy band.

The Avalon Tattoo will be held at Dunbar Park on Saturday, June 18 starting at 9 a.m.