This month we were delighted to hear that Dolly Beach had been chosen in the Top 10 in a list of 101 Australian Beaches by Brad Farmer, Tourism Australia’s official Beach Ambassador. We always knew Dolly was special, but being chosen in the Top 10 out of the 11,000+ beaches that line Australia’s coastline, is pretty special.
We asked Brad about his arduous task of assessing Australia’s beaches…
CI. How long have you been researching Australia's best beaches?
BF: 50 years, if you count that I was digging into the beach sands of this big sandbox as a kid… but just over 30 years since I began formally researching beaches with the publication of my first book on Best Australian Surfing Beaches in 1985 when I was 24.
CI: How did you become an expert on beaches?
BF: Simply by travelling to thousands of beaches of all sorts in numerous countries over the years, most often with a notepad tucked into my beach pack. Speaking with all manner of beachgoers and stakeholders, later collaborating with coastal academics and policy makers, most recently on a benchmark book - 101 Best Australian Beaches, with eminent coastal geomorphologist, Professor Andy Short OAM.
Forming many coastal conservancy groups over the years, writing articles and publications, developing beach management plans and just dedicating all my time to understanding what makes a best beach and protecting those under threat from human impact. It’s been a privilege to engage with grass roots communities right through to being a coastal adviser in the Australian Senate. Some say it’s the world’s best job – the pay may be lousy but the office is at the beach.
CI: Why is it important to you to promote Australia's beaches?
BF: When a nation has the most diverse coastline and best managed of any in the world, it’s worth not only preserving, but letting the world know it. Australians, by choosing to live by the coast, have made Australia what it is today – the world’s foremost beach culture. I think it’s incontestable we have the world’s best beaches.
CI: What is it about Australia's beaches that fascinates you?
BF: I think anyone who truly immerses themselves into the ocean lifestyle can’t help but be totally fascinated and somewhat humbled, by the immense opportunity to celebrate the senses and embrace the zone where life itself began. The point where land meets sea has fascinated humans for thousands of years. If you live near it, as most Aussies do, it becomes part of your DNA and of course very much the central narrative of the Australian way of life.
CI: Do Australians appreciate their beaches enough?
BF: Appreciation of our beaches is increasing yes, but many take it for granted; especially those who have not seen other – much less beautiful and cared for beaches around the planet. In my role as Tourism Australia’s Beach Ambassador, it’s a fairly easy sell though! Beaches, and primarily aquatic and coastal experiences is the #1 attraction we have and the greatest generator of pleasure and income for Australia. Last year, some $38.1b was derived from tourism.
CI: What do you look for in a beach to include it on your list? What are the criteria to make the Top 101?
BF: Well essentially the ‘wow’ factor and in the popular context, a beach you’d recommend to a friend. The scientific criteria is more complex; ranging from environmental considerations to social engagement factors. We can cross many beaches off the list if, for example, they are in some way polluted in every sense of the word or are developed in a way that is unsympathetic to the natural beachscape and the community. Of course, not everyone will agree with the experts’ choices as most locals love their own local beach or have a memorable favourite. But that’s part of the conversations we have as Aussies who are rightly proud of our beaches.
CI: How did you hear about Christmas Island's beaches?
BF: From early documentaries and later on the largely negative media around the arrival of so called ‘boat people’ some of who perished on its shores. More recently, when I realised that as an Australian territory it had been very much overlooked as a beach destination in its own right. I saw an advert in a magazine and the penny dropped to make the journey to assess it first-hand. In November, I spent six eye-opening days exploring the island from its jungle interior to its remote beaches and had some great conversations with the locals along the way.
CI: What made you decide on Dolly Beach? What makes Dolly special?
BF: Merrial, Lily, Ethel, Winifred, Greta and some other female-flavoured named beaches took my interest at first glance, but it was my five-hour trek (raking thousands of migrating crabs at the time) to adorable Dolly which stole my heart for its sheer natural beauty. From the fresh water streams amid coconut-lined golden sands to the natural spa rock pool. The only hazards were stepping around a few red and robber crabs, fresh turtle digs and freshly fallen thirst quenching coconuts. Dolly may be the most remote beach in Australia (literally) but the journey is certainly rewarded.
CI: Is this the first time you've visited Christmas Island? What are your first impressions?
BF: Yes, my first visit making me think perhaps I’ve left the best till last. The island is world class for its outstanding natural beauty and stands alone in Australia - and the world - as potentially a first class naturally intact, eco-tourism destination. Few other islands I’ve visited or researched have as much going for it as this nature-blessed gem. As Australia’s largest rain forested island surrounded by reef, it is unique. Its fascinating allure starts below the surface, available up close with an abundance of diverse marine life. The diversity on land extends from jungle track environments to sublime isolated beaches and a harmonious blend of cultures and varied cuisines. To top it off, the ever-present soaring of birds of all manner in the skies above you, makes for a holistic experience like no other
CI: What did you know about the island before you arrived?
BF: Like most Australians and many around the world, the island was for some time known only for its remarkable red crab migration, then as a controversial Australian Detention Centre for thousands of refugees.
CI: What was it like witnessing the crab migration?
BF: Just fascinating. As Sir David Attenborough has said, nowhere else in the world will you witness such a natural phenomenon. The fact that islanders value each and every crab so highly is testament to the preservation of the species – and all species endemic to this magic spot.
CI: And finally, your overall impressions of the island?
BF: Christmas Island is one of the world’s best kept secrets whose time to shine has arrived as an internationally acclaimed ecotourism destination. The nature and marine based activities and adventures are too numerous to list. Its attraction is indeed its isolation and genuinely pristine environment. The environment is vibrating with life for every discerning visitor to experience. CI is still in a natural state in a world increasingly exploited by human and touristic impacts.