Wide open Lorne (Great Ocean Road, Victoria) Published in Royal Auto, August 2012
The picturesque coastal town of Lorne might be just a holiday romance for many visitors and tourists but for the genuine locals it's a passion that can last a lifetime. Story: Melanie Ball
Phil Sutton fell for Lorne in 1977 and his passion shows no sign of waning. "It's great to have been here 35 years and still be in love with it," he says. Sutton's affair with the town started with his introduction to life saving through Lorne Surf Life Saving Club, one of Victoria's oldest, and for 12 years he has run residential camps at the clubhouse, teaching surf safety. And what a place to work and learn. The club sits on the foreshore of Louttit Bay, its first-floor windows framing a sea-and-sand view that has attracted holidaymakers since the 19th century and deters many townspeople from leaving. Having driven through Lorne for years, stopping only to snack en route to elsewhere on the Great Ocean Road, I don't know what to expect from a stay over the June long weekend. What I get, in addition to a chilly dunking on my first crack at kayak-surfing - my husband declares his successful wave ride to shore with Sutton "The best buzz I've had in years!" - is a taste of the Lorne that the 1000-odd locals love. And it's delicious. A favourite eatery is the wrought iron-trimmed Grand Pacific Hotel, which has fed people since 1880. Cobb & Co. ran express services for the landmark hotel's early guests and today's diners can ride home in its blue courtesy Kombi, a welcome service should you order the leviathan Surf and Turf. "That's the way we do it," a waiter says. "We like to fill people up". First choice for a caffeine fix is Moons Espresso Bar, which also serves tasty Turkish pides and squeezed juices, while the dog-walkers who frequent Swing Bridge Cafe, at the Erskine River mouth, know to ask for the sugar. "We have to keep it hidden from the cockies," they say. "They unravel the wrappers!"
And ravioli-sized Pizza Pizza, in the oldest part of town, beside the river, makes the best pizza this side of Napoli. The toppings on the thin crusty bases range from old favourites to the highly creative. Try the pancetta and roast pear. You can take away or eat "in" at a cluster of footpath tables, listening to an eclectic music mix and chatting about the surf and footy news such as Lorne's recent win against Colac. There's now more to life in Lorne than sport, and culture is not limited to movies at the 1937 single-screen Lorne Theatre opposite the foreshore trampolines, skate park and open-air swimming pool. But watching a film here is a wonderful blast from the past, with firm seats - "It's been like that since I was a child," a fan tells me, "and I wouldn't want it any other way!" - and advertisements for boarding kennels, the local hospital and choc-tops. Then the present looms large with a reminder to prepare your bushfire survival plan. One of many Ash Wednesday survivors, sculptor and long-term resident Graeme Wilkie was frustrated with the sporting focus for major events (Lorne hosts the Pier to Pub 1.2km swim and Mountain to Surf 8km fun run each January). So last year he instigated the Lorne Festival of Performing Arts, which will have everything from burlesque to regional fishermen's stories on this year's program (7-9 September), and the three-week Lorne Sculpture Biennial (next one 2013). An older Wilkie creation is Qdos Arts, a gallery-cafe-sculpture garden with Japanese-style accommodation. Qdos' exhibitions, food the bread is baked on site and pots of real tea predominantly attract Lorne's "non-resident ratepayers" (holiday home-owners). Qdos shares the treed block where Wilkie lives and sculpts, and the bush that climbs the ridge beyond is what diverts some Lorne folk's attention, if only briefly, from the beach. The best 4WD tracks, into state forest and national park, are closed over winter but unsealed Mt Sabine-Benwerrin Rd takes you through ferny and at-times misty tall timbers. But it's not forest or regional waterfalls that bring locals out in their 4WDs, says Lorne-born Chris Tully, president of the Business & Tourism Association. "Mostly they park and walk to a river or Lake Elizabeth to fish for trout," he says. Tully would love to see "beautiful" Allen Reservoir on the St George River opened to the public with a boardwalk and platypus viewing platforms, but access is discouraged because the river supplies the town's delicious drinking water. He also thinks that for self-sufficiency and less dependence on tourism, Lorne needs to triple its permanent population and get more "weekenders" to become homes. "It would be a shock for locals but we've got the infrastructure to support it," he says. While trout lure some anglers inland, gemfish, snapper, King George whiting, garfish and other fish are caught by those in sea-going boats or fishing on the rocks and jetty. Then it's into the Lorne Aquatic & Anglers Club to yarn about it, at the bar or on the veranda. Michelle and Luke Wallis joined this family-friendly institution soon after moving to Lorne from Essendon 12 years ago and last year their mob claimed all trophies for the year's fishing competitions. Michelle was only the second woman in club history to win overall. The conditions are poor for the Queen's Birthday competition - rain has browned the water and the tide is "wrong" - but we follow Chris Tully and club stalwart Dick Davies onto the pier. Davies threads fresh hoppers onto a hook for garfish, while Tully prefers pippies. Garfish is "bloody beautiful," Davies says. "Sweet. Once you hit it with a rolling pin to butterfly, you can rip out the whole backbone." Garfish are also hard to catch so they score higher points in competitions. More points than a swimmer? "I caught a scuba diver under the jetty once," Tully says. "He wasn't very happy." But nothing's biting today. "We might be better off going to the fishing co-op and buying some (for the competition)," Davies quips. Only a handful of fish are weighed in, with eight-year-old Laura Wallis beating her younger brother for the junior prize and dad winning overall with a garfish. Unlucky anglers can catch fish at the co-op or order a picnic hamper from Foodworks at Lorne's other end. In between is a string of shops selling books, clothing, homeware and pop art. And you can buy a reproduction 1950s timber bodyboard at Wild on the Beach: "It's like riding a skateboard on a sheet of glass covered in olive oil," owner Murray Walding says. A surf memorabilia collector and author, Walding has lived and surfed in Lorne since the early 1970s and on only rare days since have the waves not attracted wet-suited figures. Among them this afternoon is 13-year-old Ruby Meredith who is getting some tips from Phil Sutton.
"I've always wanted to surf," she says, shivering and grinning. Also fresh from the water to meet me are teenagers Arn Sykes, Louis Wylie, Luke Williams and Lachie Donne, but they are missing waves so I don't keep them long. When is the best time in Lorne, I ask before they head back out.
"Summer," Lachie says. "Well... there are better waves in winter but it's warmer in summer. And there are more chicks on the beach." More Find out what to do, where to eat and where to stay in Lorne at www.lovelorne.com. Many properties also have their own websites: Go to www.clublorne.com.au, www.lornesurfclub.com.au, www.pizzapizzalorne.com, www.grandpacific.com.au, www.lorneswingbridgecafe.com. Melanie Ball stayed at Cumberland Lorne Resort ( www.cumberlandlorneaccommodation.com.au) and Lorne Bush House Cottages (www.lornebushcottages.com.au). Melanie Ball was a guest of Love Lorne, www.lovelorne.com.
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