Sunday, January 17, 2021
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Beach maximalism: a frenzy for cabanas and carts is taking over Australian shores | Life and style

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A friend and I took my blue and white-striped umbrella to Noosa beach the other day. I was a bit dismayed. From the path above the beach we surveyed the scene. Perhaps, I thought, we had fallen through the earth on to an Italian spiaggia – one of those private beaches where you can rent a sunbed or cabina and lie alongside rows of the idle rich, inert in large sunglasses.

For half a kilometre or so, from Noosa headland to the breakwater, candy-striped cabanas were jammed, a higgledy-piggledy tent city for refugees fleeing the horrors of 2020. We picked our way through the chaos and found a small campsite near the rising tideline.

But we didn’t fit in. For a start, I am lardishly pale and get freckles in the shade and my one-piece swimsuit is from a discount chain store. My umbrella was also out of place. Aside from its jaunty stripes, there’s not much to recommend it. In terms of technology, it’s backwards, of an era when my bare legs stuck to the vinyl back seat of Dad’s Valiant when we went to the beach and the Big Pineapple was the hottest ticket in town.

As I knelt in the sand – sweating and breaking fingernails digging a hole deep enough in which to secure my unfashionable umbrella’s pole, then struggled against the wind to open its canopy – I felt the eyes of Costa del Noosa upon me.

To our left, a thin, tanned woman shook out a towel emblazoned with the words “Pls Instagram this” and then retreated to the shade of her pineapple-patterned blue cabana. She stretched out on a lilo and picked up her book, The President is Missing. Certainly, he was.

Noosa beach in 2016 and then again in 2020
Noosa beach in 2016 and then again in 2020

Not so far from her, a man lay on a beanbag lounge and rested a beer on his belly. Beside him was a beach cart, that new essential for taking your whole house to the seashore – babies, toddlers, coolers, booze, food, towels, toys. (Seasonal style note: Wahu Surfer Dudes such as Sunny Coast Sammy or Bells Beach Bethany – figurines attached to miniature surfboards that kids toss into the whitewash – are 2021’s bucket and spade.)

Behind us, blokes sitting in the sun outside their cabana were discussing the relative merits of local restaurants’ cocktails. “Would you say seven or eight out of 10?” asked one. “Mate, definitely an eight,” was the reply. Under her breath, my friend, a fan of chivalry, muttered that they could at least have offered to help us raise our recalcitrant umbrella.

The cabana frenzy is pushing aside little old umbrella users like me and taking over prime beach real estate from Portsea to Bondi. “Don’t start me on them,” my friend Karen says of the structures, which have as much potential as an overbearing Sydney harbourside mansion to foment neighbourhood disputes over lost views. “You can’t see the waves.” The biggest cabana made by CoolCabana, which was sketched into being by an architect sunbathing at nearby Little Cove beach and is one of the more popular brands, is 5.76 metres by 5.76 metres.


Another friend Kim, an unflinching umbrella aficionado, has observed a range of inconsiderate, entitled behaviours accompanying this new beach imperialism. “People are more prepared to put their own desire for comfort ahead of consideration of other beachgoers,” she says.

Kim has seen someone erect their cabana on top of a temporarily absent swimmer’s beach towel and boogie board. She’s seen three deserted cabanas erected next to each other with mats running between them and empty sun lounges. Their residents were sunbathing out the front of their dwellings. Conversely, when the sun sinks in the afternoon, the shade often falls beyond the cabana and so people move outside into it, doubling their footprint.

But for every ill-mannered beach builder, there is another who is courteous and simply appreciates a cabana’s practical benefits. “We were sick and tired of having to hold on to the umbrellas and being speared by other people who didn’t know how to put an umbrella in,” Tewantin resident Katrina tells me when I stumble into the cabana she is sharing with her family. I’m hoping she didn’t see me trying to secure my umbrella in the sand.

Katrina notes how easy a cabana is to set up and points out the pockets in its corner struts for things like keys and sunglasses. She has a CoolCabana and matching CoolCabana loungers. Her fold-up Buddy Wagon is parked beside the cabana. “My little one gets in there when we’re coming to the beach,” she says. When she visits the farmers’ market, it’s a blessing for her bad back.


My friend Kim sounds dubious when I ask her about the wagons, which variously come with accessories such as umbrellas, lids, awnings and portable coolers that hang off the sides. Hmm, she says, yes, she can see that if you have a distance to walk with small children they might be a good idea. But she wonders about the people she sees pulling them through Noosa national park. “Should you be visiting the national park with half a house, with everything but the kitchen sink?” she muses. “Trolleys seem to enable excess.”



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