The beach has always been vital to Australians. Aboriginals fished off the coast and collected food along it for tens of thousands of years. In the rolling sand dunes where people now like to build million-dollar houses, you can still find the piled-up remnants of shellfish feasts enjoyed long ago. The beach was where Aboriginals first met white settlers, where Australians' love of swimming and the outdoors was born. Our most famous battle was fought on a foreign beach and some of our greatest art, music, theater and literature has pondered the beach's place in our national psyche. As is often noted, the beach is a wonderful leveler. Australian beaches are open to all comers: rich, poor, locals, blow-ins. They're the place where we come closest to the egalitarian ideal.
If you want to get an idea of how much Australia (and New Zealand for that matter) has changed over the past 50 years, the beach is a pretty good place to start. A snapshot of bathers at Bondi circa 1959 would show a society both modest and homogeneous. Visit Australia's most famous beach today and you will see a complex nation, and a more confident one. It's a place that's changing fast but one in which the simple things a swim, a picnic, a run along the wet sand are still celebrated and held dear. That was true when TIME started publishing this edition; it's just as true today; it will be true again tomorrow.