Nestled into a corner of Caloundra, it would be easy for Bulcock Beach to get swallowed in the bustle of a growing city, to simply become another part of a rapidly growing whole. And, in some ways, that’s what seems to be happening. Certainly the precinct is growing quickly: with a new resort (Rumba) and a soon-to-be-opened foreshore development, local residents can be excused for feeling as though the entire place has been in a state of constant construction.
But talk to some of those residents and a different picture emerges; an impression that all the construction isn’t bringing something new, but is restoring what was once there.
“There was always a boardwalk along there, and we used to fish and walk along that section,” Trish McColm says. “There used to be a beautiful barbecue area there.” The restored boardwalk, scheduled to open this summer, will bring back much of that same feeling.
Trish’s memories of Bulcock Beach go back to her childhood in the late 1950s. Her family lived near the beach, and playing there was an essential part of her childhood.
“Dad used to take me down there every afternoon after school. We had so much fun,” she says.
Talk to her now and the impression is that very little has changed. This is, perhaps, surprising, because on another level everything – even the very landscape – has changed dramatically and repeatedly.
Less than a century ago, Bulcock Beach wasn’t even a designated beach. The land belonged to Robert Bulcock, an English immigrant who had bought 277 acres in 1875 and settled on it a decade later. His eldest son, Robert Junior, became a township councillor, and in 1917 decided to subdivide part of the land into 404 allotments and sell them off, calling the development Bulcock Estate.
From its very beginnings, Bulcock Beach was a holiday destination, where most people bought the lots to build vacation homes rather than to settle there. Few of those original vacation homes remain. Most – including Bulcock’s own house – have long since been pulled down to make way for blocks of flats and other units that cluster along the rolling landscape. There is a handful of older homes, including a pair of Queenslanders that date from the 1930s, but for the most part the architecture of Bulcock Beach reveals the trends and styles of apartments and flats.
For early holidaymakers, the appeal of Bulcock Beach was that it offered so many diversions in a fairly small area. Fishing along the Pumicestone Passage was superb. The beach itself was sheltered by Bribie Island and a deep sand bar, creating a naturally safe spot for families to swim. Those who wanted to surf didn’t have far to go, though: on early maps of the region, the waters of nearby Kings Beach are marked as a superb surfing spot. Even the rocky headland that divided Kings Beach from Bulcock Beach was an attraction, providing interesting rock pools to explore at low tide.
As people began to flock to the area, more attractions were added. Boat hire shops proliferated, pony rides were offered on the beach, long wooden diving boards were installed near the site where the surf club now stands, a steam engine was placed in a park for children to play on.
Special events were held on and around the beach. A carnival and parade every Easter drew enormous crowds and so did regular visits from a travelling circus that set up shop along the shore. Businesses began to proliferate – restaurants and gift shops along the foreshore; other shops in the commercial district a few steps away on Bulcock Street. The only thing lacking was a cold beer: a strict temperance advocate, Robert Bulcock placed covenants on his land, and it wasn’t until 1956 that the first licensed hotel opened.
Within a few decades, Bulcock Beach was one of the most popular spots in the region.
“You couldn’t even put up a beach umbrella there,” says John Groves, a local historian who first came to Bulcock Beach in 1954. Judging from old photos of the beach, he estimates there were ten times as many people as there are on a busy weekend now.
“The amount of people in the water is incredible. It’s just packed. What you see now is nothing compared to what it was.”
In those days, he notes, many other beaches in the area were thick with mangroves, or too badly eroded, or just inaccessible. Bulcock was the beach of choice.
Even now, with so many other options, Bulcock is still a popular and bustling place. And for many of the same reasons it always was.
“There’s fishing, there’s the boardwalk, there are restaurants,” says Neil Newman. “There’s something to do, something to eat, and places to just sit and watch the world go by.”
Neil is a business development manager with Rumba resort, and has been coming to Bulcock Beach all his life (his godfather built a holiday house here in 1939). He says the combination of a beautiful beach in an urban setting makes Bulcock Beach quite special.
“If you look at the Sunshine Coast as a whole, apart from Hastings Street in Noosa which is really quite exclusive, there really isn’t anywhere that you’ve got open space, accommodation, dining, shopping all on the waterfront.”
The waterfront itself has changed quite dramatically since the days when Robert Bulcock subdivided his land. Cyclones and changing currents have done their work. Erosion has stripped away many acres of land, including the site where the travelling circuses used to set up.
What was once a gentle current in the Pumicestone Passage has become a torrent, making a swim to Bribie Island a hazardous venture. The sandbar in front of the beach used to reach so near the island that soldiers in World War II claimed they could jump from the island to Caloundra.
The industrial side of the waterfront has diminished too. Gone are the oyster boats that once worked the Pumicestone Passage, and the freighters carrying oyster shell to market and bringing back supplies.
But for everything that has vanished, something else has taken its place. The enormous sandbanks at Happy Valley where Trish McColm played as a girl have been washed away; now Happy Valley is famed for play of another type as novice surfers learn to stand there.
“It’s a great beginner wave,” says Graeme Parsons of Q Surf School, which offers classes at Happy Valley. “It just rolls in there really gentle.”
Pony rides are no longer offered on the beach, but the changing currents have created a favourite spot for kite surfers. And despite the changes to the sandbar, the beach remains a sheltered, calm spot for families.
Change is endless at Bulcock Beach, but the spirit of the place remains constant. Stroll along the shore on a Sunday afternoon and you’ll see families playing in the shallows, anglers working the current in search of flathead and bream, boaters loading a picnic lunch aboard and heading across to Bribie. The tree-shaded shopping district along Bulcock Street still appeals, and the dining choices are endless.
The clothes are different, and some of the toys have changed, but it seems a weekend at Bulcock Beach is not so far removed from the way it was when Robert Bulcock started selling his land.
“We would take a lunch and go down there all day, and our parents wouldn’t see us until evening,” Trish says. “But they weren’t worried. Bulcock Beach was always very safe."
TOP THINGS TO DO IN AND AROUND BULCOCK BEACH
- Learn to surf at Happy Valley, one of the best beginner waves on the Sunshine Coast.
- Shop in the fig-shaded commercial district along Bulcock Street.
- Eat out in one of the many restaurants, or take fish and chips down to the boardwalk.
- Look for stars on Bulcock Street, where plaques in the pavement pay tribute to Australian musicians.
- See what’s showing at the Caloundra Art Gallery, located five minutes’ walk from the beach on Omrah Ave.
- Walk up the coast, following the boardwalk and walking track that goes to Shelly Beach (2.5km).
- Fish the current that flows past Bribie Island, a spot that has attracted fish and anglers for decades.
- Watch the kite surfers – the waters off Bulcock Beach are a favourite among advanced riders, so there’s some excellent action to be seen when the wind is out of the southeast.
- Shop for bargains at the street market, every Sunday morning on Bulcock Street
words andrew wagner-chazalon