Being back in the beach house that witnessed much of my 20s feels strange and wondrous – like a sort of time travel | Nova Weetman

Many years ago, a friend from university invited some of us to his mum’s beach house at Walkerville South. His mum had bought the house super cheap before the world had discovered that there was another impressive coastline in Victoria, far away from the more established houses of the Mornington Peninsula or the Great Ocean Road.

The house was a weatherboard shack hidden in thick native bush. There were two bedrooms, and a large corner couch in the lounge that doubled as two extra beds when needed. Fronted by large windows, you could spy the ocean through the tall trees while standing in the kitchen and waiting for the kettle to boil. It was a house that didn’t need too much attention. From the straw matting on the floor to the green bathroom straight out of the 1970s, it was immediately welcoming, and once you arrived, you didn’t want to leave.

On that first visit, I slept on one of the couch-beds, preferring to keep the curtains open so I could see the darkness of the sky. And in the morning, I woke to a row of noisy rosellas hanging out on the edge of the deck, waiting for birdseed. We swam even in the height of winter, running into the cold, foamy water and lasting only minutes before tiptoeing with bare feet back up the hill to the waiting fire. We drank too much cheap red wine, ate simple meals of beans and rice, and laughed late into the night. It was one of those bonding weekends that was so joyful, it was repeated more than once.

After we left university and scattered in different directions, I still borrowed the house from time to time, introducing it to other friends, including the man who would one day become my partner. After he and I started going out, we visited just the two of us, and I remember mocking him for pulling on a wetsuit before wading into the sea. The house witnessed much of my 20s, those lost years when none of us knew what we were going to do with the rest of our lives, and coming together somehow made us feel safe.

And then my university friend married his partner and moved to another state, and we lost contact. I stopped visiting the house because he wasn’t around to lend me the keys. But years later, each time I read Alison Lester’s wonderful Magic Beach to my children, I would be transported back to the wilds of Walkerville South, a place that had become almost mythical in my memory.

Three years ago, as the pandemic restrictions lifted, friends invited the kids and I to visit them on their summer holiday. I’d been to the Gippsland coast often as an adult and knew the roads well, but I hadn’t stayed at Walkerville South since that time. I was surprised to see how little had changed. A gravel road still led the way in, and the hill behind the beach was still dotted with only a handful of houses.

We pulled up outside the place my friends had rented and started unloading the car. As we walked in, I felt a prickle of familiarity. There was a corner couch that doubled as a bed in the lounge, large sliding glass doors out to the deck, and a green kitchen straight out of the 1970s. But it was the coloured Marimekko curtains that hung to the floor, more faded than when I’d last seen them, that did it. I knew immediately that it was the same house.

Excited, I asked who owned the house and my friend told me. I grinned when I heard that my old university friend’s mum still owned it. They didn’t know her well, but she was a friend of a friend and she still rented out the place to people sometimes. Now in her 90s, she didn’t visit it herself very often any more.

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I ran from room to room checking the fittings to see if they were the same, touching things as if they’d somehow transport me back to the past. I gripped the same green ball handles on the bathroom door. Ran my fingers along the same boxed-up board games stacked in the shelves in the lounge. And bent down to rub the fur back of the large grey, stuffed wombat that sat waiting near the fireplace, a little more loved looking than it had been all those years before.

Not much had changed in the old weatherboard. It held such stories in its walls. And now I was back, and it felt strange and wondrous like a sort of time travel. I stood on the deck, knowing the rosellas would soon land, and remembered a time when I was younger, freer, less worried about what was coming. When sleeping on a couch in the corner of a room was fought over, and when swimming in the winter sea was a given.

  • Nova Weetman is an award-winning children’s author. Her adult memoir, Love, Death & Other Scenes, is out in April 2024 from UQP

Years ago, a friend from university invited some of us to his mum’s beach house at Walkerville South. The house, hidden in thick native bush, was a weatherboard shack with two bedrooms and a large corner couch in the lounge that doubled as extra beds. From the kitchen, you could see the ocean through tall trees. It was a welcoming house that required little attention, with straw matting on the floor and a green 1970s-style bathroom.

During our visit, we swam in the cold ocean, drank cheap wine, and laughed late into the night. The house became a place of bonding and joy, revisited even after we left university. Eventually, my friend moved away, and I stopped visiting the house.

Years later, I revisited Walkerville South with my children and friends. To my surprise, we stayed in the same house I had visited before. Excited by the familiarity, I discovered that my old university friend’s mum still owned the house, renting it out occasionally. The house remained unchanged, holding memories of my youth.

I explored the house, touching familiar fittings and feeling transported back in time. The house still held stories in its walls, and being back felt like a form of time travel. Standing on the deck, I remembered a time of freedom and joy, feeling grateful for the memories created in that old weatherboard house.