The rainbow row of Brighton Bathing Boxes is one of the most iconic sights in Melbourne. The brightly-coloured little beach houses are the calling card for Melbourne’s affluent bayside suburb of Brighton, and their likeness is plastered across postcards, prints and artwork all over the city. Our apartment came fully furnished, including a massive print of the Brighton Bathing Boxes hanging in my office.
The cute-as-a-button beach shacks have been taunting me all year as I tap away at my computer, often with only a grey, cloudy view of Melbourne for company. On Sunday we were treated to uncharacteristically sunny weather, so we hopped in the car and made a beeline for Brighton.
Naturally, by the time we arrived 25 minutes later, Melbourne was back to its preferred, cloudy state. I didn’t need clear blue skies though, because the Brighton Bathing Boxes were a riot of colour all on their own.
Brighton’s bathing boxes are hot property. Last year, two were sold for around $200,000, and the current record for a bathing box sale price is $260,000, from 2008. They have been available at public auctions since the late 1990s when they were around $60,000. Boxes purchased decades earlier were bought for as little as $12-$15,000!
Longtime owners of the bathing boxes are sitting on a goldmine, yet most are reluctant to sell. A sale is rare, making the bidding all the more competitive.
Despite the weather, Dendy Beach was still crowded with locals enjoying the relative warmth and tourists posing for photos with the famous boxes. I dipped my toes in the water but found the arctic chill just a little too frosty for my liking. A long day of sunshine had done nothing to warm up the icy water!
Beachwise, I’ve been to better. The water is freezing, it’s in the bay so there are no waves, the beach is quite shallow and there’s a lot of seaweed and other muck washed up on the shore. The bayside is a shipping passage, so a chain of cargo ships littered the horizon. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up swimming in the ocean, not in lakes, lagoons or on the bay, but the relatively still water seemed not as fresh and clean as the rolling surf. The sand is really coarse and is peppered with pieces of broken shell, so while it was nice to leave with feet as smooth as a baby’s bottom, they were also kind of sore by the end.
The soft white sand and Queensland and New South Wales’ sprawling beaches have made me a spoiled little beach brat, I know!
But I wasn’t there for nice sand or warm water. The sight of 82 brightly-painted bathing boxes is the kind of thing that makes your soul happy. I can’t even use them, but just the sight of them had me tickled pink – and yellow, red, blue and green!
The photography project I’d really like to tackle over the next year is capturing Australia’s beach culture. Our national identity is so closely intertwined with beach life, even if you live nowhere near a beach or hate shaking sand out of your hair for weeks after you last beach visit.
The focus is beach culture because I don’t want to just look at beaches across the country in their natural state, but am really interested in beach culture. Beach culture is the way we interact with the beach, the way we feel about the beach, the role it plays in our lives and the clues we leave that we’ve been here.
Dendy Beach is a great, if not wholly representative, example for Victorian beaches, which differ so greatly to the natural beauties up north. The beach culture here is loud and clear, with locals leaving a huge, colourful mark on their beach territory.
Some of the bathing boxes were being used by their owners, allowing us a sneaky peek inside. I loved seeing this bright red one set up like a beach kiosk for a group of friends. Some bathing boxes were used as beach sheds for storing surfboards and swimwear and others were set up like the ultimate dream beach pad – with a small couch, hanging plants and a stereo.
I adore the Brighton Bathing Boxes. They are even more beautiful in person than they are in the postcards, paintings and even these photos. Don’t be deterred by inclement weather, hop in your car or on the Sandringham train line and see them for yourself!
Have you been to the Brighton Bathing Boxes? What is your favourite beach in the world?
PS – I’m all ears if you’ve got a favourite Australian beach you think I should check out for my Australian Beach Culture photography project. Comment below or drop me an email!