Eighteen years old, money in our pockets and cars at our disposal. Family holidays now a thing of the past, we hung out with friends; girls and boys for whom life stretched out beyond the horizon. It wasn’t only we who were changing. The times were as well. The old order was crumbling; traditions were going down the gurgler quicker than you could paint a protest placard. Not that our crowd was all that interested in politics, except maybe for a vague unfocussed belief that anything new had to be an improvement on the past.
Looking back I shake my head at our arrogance, our lack of critical discernment, and the contemptuous disrespect with which we treated our elders and our institutions.
Ah, the fresh bloom of youth! Has it ever been thus? Well, to an extent, yes, but not like it was in 1972. Young people have always been a source of worry to their elders, but something was different this time. The scale of social change and the rapidity with which it demolished beliefs and practices long held sacrosanct was astonishing. Heady stuff, especially for eighteen year olds! Was it a good or a bad thing? Well, I have my thoughts on that but here is not the place. Suffice it to say, whether good or bad or a mixture of both, what happened, happened. Those years were the crucible from which a changed world emerged; one that would not have been thought possible even a decade earlier.
So, back to us, or at least who we were then. I don’t think we realised quite how immature and green we really were. On the other hand we thought we were more sophisticated than our parents and saw things so much more clearly and less prejudicially than they did. Strange how we had managed to learn so much more in those post school days than our parents had in their decades in the workforce.
We were quite gullible and also relatively innocent. A dangerous combination in hindsight, but somehow we managed to avoid mind altering drugs, except for the alcoholic variety. Cannabis and other stuff was never part of our circle – at least that I was aware of. Beer, on the other hand, was the badge of honour of us boy/men. The girls drank Stone’s Green Ginger Wine or other sweet flavoured stuff. Sex? Well it was a constant subtext and part of many conversations. But although we talked the talk, the walk was confined to those in serious or ‘long term’ relationships. Mostly it wouldn’t have been something you would have advertised anyway, except I guess to your mates, but that would have been unwise and could have had unpleasant consequences when the girl heard about it.
A day at the beach. How did it look and feel in 1972?
First of all it was always a group experience. Never something you did alone or in pairs, except for the few who had formed serious attachments.
The day would begin in a car heading down the highway from Brisbane to the Gold Coast. Mike, Alan, Sue, Derek, Brenda, Lyn, Rosemary, Debbie, Lorna and all the others: I bet you’ve all changed just a bit since then, wherever you are now. Towels and a change of clothes would have been thrown in but little thought given to matters such as food or drink. Those were inevitably purchased on the run at a burger bar somewhere near one of the beaches. The drinking age was 21 years in 1972 but that didn’t deter us. We were sophisticated after all. Mostly we would drive across the border to where the drinking age was 18 but sometimes, when we were feeling particularly daring we would try our luck at a closer beer garden.
Come to think of it, I don’t remember much time being spent in the water, swimming. After all, the drive to the coast lasted 2 hours, or longer if there was heavy traffic, which there usually was on summer weekends. So once you arrived, and walked up and down the esplanade, bought some brunch and drove around looking for where the action was (we never did quite found where it was) it was time to think about joining the columns of traffic snaking back towards the city. Often we were sunburned as we hadn’t yet got into the habit of putting on sunscreen when our parents weren’t there to make sure we did.
A day at the beach in 1972 . . . never quite delivered on its promises. They were exciting times but reality was waiting patiently. There was a career to be followed, and prizes to be won, a life to be lived.
In a way, as I think of it, those beach days were something of a metaphor for life as it unfolded. Even though the day was full of promise and you thought you were so free, you ended up wasting a lot of time just going round in circles. You didn’t take the opportunities as they came. You didn’t ask that girl out. You didn’t live your life courageously. You were always too busy fitting in to consider there might be other roads to follow. You didn’t know what you didn’t know until it bit you and by then it was too late; you were in the line of traffic heading home, sunburned, tired and wondering where the day had gone.
After over 40 years, I think most of us who went to the beach together in 1972 have learned some prizes are not worth striving for, while others definitely are. Why didn’t our parents tell us? Weren’t we listening?