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Home sweet home


Home sweet home

Richard O’Leary has spent his life alternating between bush life and beach life and is happy to have his toes back in the sand.

I was born just a short walk from a beach in southern New South Wales. My parents wouldn’t have been able to hear the surf, but the salty smell of the ocean would have been strong.

And that could have been my life: sand, sea and surf. But my dad’s falling out with his brother saw him move the family 400 kilometres inland to a country town where the closest thing to the coastal life was a small strip of sand on the otherwise muddy banks of the meandering Macquarie River.

It was a good place to grow up. Mates’ houses only a pushy ride away, rugby league, cricket, basketball and swimming in the Olympic pool on the weekends. The smell of eucalyptus and pollen.

Everyone knew who you were, which was good when you were good and bad when you were bad.

I loved the dry heat and the quickening of the pulse produced by the petrichor of a summer storm.

I was a bush kid. Then I grew up, moved out and moved on. And that’s when I realised what I had missed.

Renting an apartment above Newcastle Beach, I fell in love with all those different oceans I saw through salt-soaked windows.

The glorious green sea gently frothing on a winter’s morning, the picture-postcard azure ocean of a summer’s day or the swirling black eddies illuminated by lightning and soundtracked by the growl of thunder.

But after months or sometimes years, I’d find myself missing the bush, and would go back again. This dance has continued for decades, and so it has during my time on the Sunshine Coast.

When I first drove up the Bruce Highway I turned right at the Caloundra turnoff to first live at Golden Beach and then Moffat.

But when I bought my home, I went inland to plant my feet in the rich soil of the hinterland. On acreage I could grow vegies and fruit trees, and the hundred acres of bush surrounding my place provided a buffer between me and the rest of the world.

A goanna stole all our chook eggs, foxes or wild dogs killed our hens, and only last week I had to remove a brown snake from the Tupperware cupboard with a pincer movement of mop and broom, but it was real, and raw and home.

But the sea and salt has drawn me back. On Sunday I was scrunching sand between my toes as I watched my boys boogie board, after yet another move.

The hills still beckon, but they can wait awhile. My children have some waves to catch.


Richard O’Leary is a journalist, a political advisor and a father who knows there’s a deeper meaning to life but struggles to find it.

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