Where do you begin when writing about a place that holds so much significance to your life that you know, even before you tap a key, that you wont be able to do it justice?
I was three months old when I was first introduced to a small coastal town in northern New South Wales, which goes by the name of Yamba. A town that has since become my haven, my holiday home, and my happy place.
It’s the place where I spent every Christmas for the first twenty-five years of my life. The place that holds a plethora of my oldest and most cherished memories. It’s home to the first pub I ever snuck my underage self into and my first ever summer romance was here. It’s the origin of some of my longest and most gratifying friendships and it’s the spot I bonded year after year with my incredibly close-knit family.
To most, Yamba will simply be a pretty town with a few great beaches and a pub overlooking the water, but to me and my friends who grew up here, it is much, much more…
It’s that feeling you get driving along Yamba Road when you catch a glimpse of the Clarence River. Passing the entrance of Oyster Cove, you remember the countless nights spent there as a kid, eating sausage sandwiches with your friends and playing tennis. There’s the Yamba supermarket – the former Bi-lo, where you spent your childhood helping mum pack the trolley with special holiday food. You catch a glimpse of the house that used to be lined with hundreds of gnomes that you and your siblings would be greeted by year-on-year. In hindsight, it was probably twenty odd gnomes, but when you’re small everything seems so much bigger. On each side of the road are all the houses that take part in the annual Christmas light showdown, the one’s you and your family crammed into one car to go and gawk at each Christmas Eve.
You drive by Ray’s service station (dad has bought the fishing bait there since you can remember) and you see the boats being backed onto the water, on their way over to Iluka for a day of water-skiing and fish and chips. On your right is the bowling club, where you went to a Wendy Matthews concert as a fifteen year old girl and met someone who would become your very best friend. Today, she’s the woman who knows you better than anyone on the planet.
You see the old home of Two Fat Men – arguably the best burgers you’ve ever tasted. But then again, burgers were always that much better when they were a special treat from dad after a long day at the beach. There’s the seafood shop which has forever bestowed their famous Yamba Prawns upon you; the same ones your grandma uses for her legendary Christmas prawn cocktails.
You reach the hill on Coldstream Street – again, this hill was colossal to you as a kid. You pass Sassafras Pizza, which you have enjoyed a myriad of times on your balcony over the years. And the drive-through bottle-o, a liquor store that granted you one of your first ever watermelon Bacardi Breezer’s.
The eagerness builds as you reach the top of the hill…and there it is: The Pacific. This pub – boasting perhaps one of the best views of any establishment in New South Wales – has unbeatable character and an abundance of memories that for you make it matchless to any other. Most nights you’d leave with your girlfriends swaying down the road all the way home. Armed with frangipanis in your ears, you’d be singing and dancing to Destiny’s Child and UB40.
You have been to a party in almost every house that lines this street. And not just any house party – these ones always had the greatest old music and tabletop dancing, the strongest punch’s and the best mandatory ocean swims and nudey runs under the stars.
All these memories, made year after year, in such a small town.
I laugh when I remember the night at Flinders’ Lodge where I dyed my hair purple to impress a new girlfriend in my teenage angst. I flew back to Sydney from London to watch this same beautiful girl walk down the aisle a few years ago, almost twenty years later.
I miss the days where we poured bottles of bubble bath into public spas and nineteen of us crammed into one small pool overflowing with foam, while the designated twentieth stood on the edge making pina coladas and passing them in. The times we lathered ourselves in coconut oil and sunbathed for hours out on Lovers Point talking all things “cool”, and the days we went out to Angourie for a change of scenery. But most of all, I miss the certainty of knowing that at the end of each year, I would be reunited with all these same people again – because everyone who went to Yamba went every…single…year.
To me, the words Main, Convent, and Pippi will forever hold a special meaning. I often wonder how many hours of my life have been spent swimming in their waves and soaking up their sun. I think of the countless walks along Pippi beach with my mother, often hand-in-hand we would laugh, gossip and share our deepest secrets with one another, cementing our unbreakable bond.
I imagine bringing my own children here someday. I’ll tuck them into bed on Christmas Eve, and watch them look out the window at the flashing lighthouse, while I wait for them to fall asleep so I can fill their Santa stockings. They’ll plead with me for my coin purse so they can buy hot chips and icy poles from the Main beach canteen. We’ll have beach barbeques at dusk and they’ll toast marshmallows with my brother and sister’s children, while my parents – their grandparents – will revel in the fact that we are all there together again. I’ll cheer my kids on as they finish their first Convent to Main beach swim and I’ll remember that feeling of victory when I first finished it myself. I’ll take my teenage daughter to the old Yamba cinema – which will no doubt still have cement floors – and I’ll know that one day soon, she too will be sitting up the back kissing some puberty boy with a broken voice who smuggled in rum in his coca-cola can. And I’ll painfully turn a blind eye when my first-born traipses off to The Pacific with his or her first fake ID.
So while for many, Yamba will simply be a nice beach town to pass through, for me it will forever be held in the most special esteem. I didn’t just visit here once every year, I grew up here. This little town helped shape me; it introduced me to all sorts of people from all sorts of paths and bestowed upon me a small town perspective that Sydney never could.
The thing about Yamba isn’t merely the beautiful beaches or the unbeatable prawns, it’s the many life-long memories that it has represented, and will continue to represent. While this stage of my life has seen me live and travel all over world, there is nothing I look forward to more than returning home each Christmas to my family and familiar Yamba roots.