Wye River was a sleepy little seaside settlement when I first went there with my parents and older brother and sister, around 1956. There was a little general store, and old hotel ( the Rookery Nook, commonly called the Wye River Pub), two camping grounds- on the foreshore, behind the dunes, and in the valley behind the hill- and a scattering of little fibro and wooden houses perched on the hills between the gum trees.
My parents fell in love with the clean, wide surf beach surrounded by forested hills, and they bought a block of land in Morley Ave on the saddle between the sea and the river valley behind. We could see the sea through the trees, and it was an easy walk down to the beach, past the pub. It was a much harder trudge back up the hill- though we felt sorry for the few brave souls who bought land higher up the hill, as it became so steep that we found it easier to walk up backwards!
We were building a "new" house on our city block in Melbourne, so our old, post-war, one-room fibro "bungalow" was cut up and loaded onto a truck for the long trip down to Wye. It was unceremoniously and somewhat haphazardly erected on our beach block by Paddy Harrington, the local carpenter.
For some reason, he put together the floor with the cut edges facing outwards, and the jagged outside edges were put together in the middle. Thus, we had a big crack running both ways across middle the floor. I used to dream about snakes coming up through the crack at night. The beams for the roof were thrown on in a hurry (Paddy saw us driving up past the pub, and raced up to get the roof on), so we had crooked beams and a rather unsecured roof - the galvanised iron on the roof would flap as the wind cam up the valley from behind, so my father tied it down with string.
Despite this, Paddy was most indignant when the shire council eventually decided to condemn our beach house, years later. "She's been standing for 20 years", he said. "and she'll stand for another 20!"
A big treat for us was when there were movies shown at the Valley camping ground. We'd all gather in the big shed (the Mess Hall), with folding chairs for the adults at the back and rugs and sleeping bags for the kids at the front... and lollies to throw around during the film. I don't think many people actually took much notice of the film- it was more of a social occasion.
A friend and I discovered, tucked away somewhere in the old camp, a copy of the sheet music for an old song called the "Wye Valley Waltz". It was written in 1951by C Grahame, who I believe was once the owner(?) of the camp. I still have most of the words, and tune, in my head. There is a copy of the sheet music in the National Library, apparently.
We spent every holiday of my childhood at Wye River. When I was young, we'd drive down the scarily winding, single-lane Great Ocean road along the side of the mountains in our old Holden, the three kids in the back seat. My brother and sister would argue about which side they were going to sit on- if we went over the cliff, the person on the seaward side would be worse off, but the person on the inside was most likely to be hit by a landslide. I sat smugly in the middle, being the youngest at that stage.
Luckily, we never had a landslide, and we never went over the edge, though we used to spot wrecked cars down the cliff, and my father did write off one Holden on Mount Defiance, though luckily he escaped relatively unharmed (the roof of the car was smashed in as the car rolled down the slope, but with no seat belts in those days, my dad ended up on the floor, bruised but still OK).
Gradually, the road became safer, with railings along the cliffs, a good surface and even lines down the middle (though, of course, people drove faster and more impatiently, so it was always a risky drive). What a magnificent view, though! We would stop at the lookouts and just drink in the sight and sound of the sea below.
The beach itself was always changing- the mouth of the river (really just a creek) would change its course, wandering in a mini-delta across the sand to meet the little shore-waves, and the level of the sand on the beach would change, too. Sometimes there were big piles of seaweed dumped ashore. or even rocks; at other times there were delicate trails of shells. And of course, the sea bed would change, so you had to be very aware when swimming to not drift towards a rip. Luckily, the local Surf Life Savers kept a careful watch over the beach all holidays, so we paddled, body-surfed, swam (as best we could in the surf), and floated on rubber inner tubes, polystyrene surf boards, etc, throughout the long, hot, salty, sandy, sunburnt summers!
If you would be- beside the sea,
To be rid of your cares, and fancy free-
Come to the Wye, come to the Wye, and be at ease....
There you will find- content of mind,
And be free to enjoy- the breezes kind,
Come to the Wye, cool off and lie- beneath the trees....
Be-side the silver stream,
You can recline, and lounge and dream,
With rod and line- explore the pools- so still....
Or if- you would resort- to more conge-nial outdoor sport,
The choice- is wide- ’pon which- to test- your skill....
Children as well- come ’neath the spell-
Of this magical vale- where fairies dwell,
Come to the Wye, come to the Wye, and feel its thrall....
Music and fun- for everyone-
Will be there to enjoy- when day is done,
Once you have been-
Wye Valley green- will always call.
This is how I remember the words, though it’s nearly 40 years since I saw them written down, so I could have them a bit mixed up.