“I must go down to the sea again,
To the lonely sea and the sky;
I left my vest and socks there –
I wonder if they’re dry.”
Return to Sorrento (3rd class) by Spike Milligan
As a youngster I was lucky enough to enjoy several family holidays at Sorrento on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula. By today’s standards it was indeed a third class pilgrimage to Melbourne’s playground for the rich and mildly famous. Recollections of that humble beach weatherboard – where I discovered Spike Milligan’s nutty Little Pot Boiler featuring the above mangling of John Masefield‘s ‘Sea Fever’ – remain vivid.
For instance the rear veranda overlooked a sloping yard shaped like a funnel to the back gate. Here every kind of grasshopper and stick insect known to boy was caught.
Beyond the gate and through a short ti-tree obscured track was the Sorrento Cemetery which cultivated a morbid fascination at an early age. The oddest resting place was prone to vandalism and I always wondered what Charles A. Foo (d. 1894) did to warrant being tucked away in the adjacent scrub. Given the era he was interred I’m guessing it was racially motivated.
RIP Charles A Foo; Percy Cerutty was a local legend & Olympic coach
Before one game of backyard cricket was ended by darkness an operatic female voice was heard emanating from the graveyard. We bravely ventured down to check out what was surely Dame Nellie Melba making her greatest comeback yet. To our surprise it was a woman dressed in full army fatigues. Now I’m not saying we saw a ghostly apparition – more likely she was just a couple songs short of an aria – but all the same we scampered back to the safety of the house and probably a Benson & Hedges ODI on TV.
With the town having been unsuccessfully settled in 1803 before another attempt 30 years later, and with memorials related to nearby shipwrecks, the Sorrento Cemetery is still a fascinating way to spend a non-beachy kind of afternoon.
Stance modelled on G Chappell, dummy spit modelled on R Hogg!
Although swimming at Sorrento surf beach wasn’t recommended for those wishing to avoid a graveyard berth, the rock pools were teaming with life. To get there was an adventure via a labyrinth of tracks through the dense ti-tree and past the great sand dunes where Percy Cerutty would inflict his punishing training regime on world champion runners such as Herb Elliott. Due to erosion the dunes are now off limits and the dodgy tracks long gone.
The nearby Coppin’s Lookout was another regular haunt, perched atop the hill overlooking the ocean – and the world it seemed. Plaques on the wall pointed to far off places alongside their distances. Coppin’s Lookout felt eerily and paradoxically like the least and most important place on Earth.
Old photo of Coppins Lookout; view down to Sphinx Rock
Sorrento is now a favourite summer destination for my own family, if only for lunch at the eponymous hotel, a game of beach cricket and a wander round to check out curios such as the remnants of the old steam tram station.
There are of course other Sorrentos in the world, the most famous of which Spike Milligan was referring to in the title poem. Almost 10 years ago my wife and I spent a week there, on the beautiful Amalfi Coast. This Sorrento also boasts a rugged coastline, even harsher in some respects with jagged rocky outcrops and pebble ‘beach’. But what a stunning place it is too. And the main drag is even more chaotic.
A few months after our return from Europe my father unexpectedly passed away. Such was my family’s love of Sorrento he was returned permanently to the place that delivered and continues to deliver so many fond memories.