AUSTRALIA

The summer I … partied in a house that slid into the sea

Near the site where, one summer, Tony Wright watched a house get taken by the sea.Credit:Tony Wright

But year on year, the sea crept in. It nibbled at the dunes. The dunes began collapsing. The beach disappeared.

One wild Easter night in the mid-’60s a house near ours teetered as the ocean lashed its foundations and trucks came through the storm to haul the building away.

Our summers saddened and shrank.

We hunkered between dripping sand cliffs and the encroaching shallows, or hitch-hiked away to more attractive stretches of sand.

Towards the end of the ’60s great Euclid tip trucks rumbled to our lost beach and dumped piles of basalt boulders, creating a muscular seawall that kept our houses from being swept away.

Those Euclid trucks, the biggest in the world then, had been used through the 1950s to build solid breakwaters around the shipping harbour a few kilometres along the coast to the west.

We were slow to make the connection.

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Eventually we learned the biggest of those breakwaters trapped the sand that had always swept along the coast to replenish our beach. Without sand, our beach perished.

Here was our mid-century taste of sea-level rise, man-made.

A greater disaster waited a few hundred metres up the coast, where the new seawall ended.

Without the protection of a rock barrier, the beach eroded fast.

Streets of beach houses fell into the sea. Owners had a choice: load their houses on trucks and take them away, or leave them for the next high tide.

By the summer of 1970, many of the houses still left were abandoned.

And so we took to arranging parties to farewell the remaining reminders of good times.

The surfers and those who knew the sea and the moon figured the date of the next spring tide.

We ordered kegs of beer.

Word spread, though there were no mobile phones and social media was more than a generation away.

The whisper went around beaches and bars, and seeped from car to car at the drive-in movie theatre.

And on a summer night of the full moon, with a stiff breeze whipping vicious little waves, we filled a house at the edge of land and sea and took care not to step on the drooping verandah.

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The moon-driven tide had nowhere to go. The waves gnawed at the sand and the stumps beneath the house, each surge carving out a new pocket.

The old building groaned. The verandah fell and floated away.

The lounge room was next, the floorboards splintering, all of us hollering and cheering.

We moved the party along, sliding the keg a bit inboard. Heaving bodies filled the kitchen, a smoke haze trapped beneath the ceiling.

By morning, most of the house was gone, like a Viking funeral ship floating away.

The years of our youth spent on the old beach had mostly gone, too.

The tide was on the ebb.

Tony Wright has returned to this beach of his youth near Portland, south-west Victoria, and lives in a house protected by the old seawall. This piece is part of a series by staff writers recalling particularly memorable summers.

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