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Lorne, as Steven Barnes discovered, is not just a haven for the dying Hipster breed, it’s a town as traditional as it is progressive.
The landscape and attitude is changing. The 20th century is giving way to the 21st century’s state of mind. Gone is the seasonal traveler, the surfer down for a weekend fleeting thrill. Instead there are young people dining at bars and young families taking their children to the water to play. Not a baby boomer, nor any grey nomads alike to be found.
Just a kilometre down the street towards the pier the weather is colder and tourists and young people have disappeared. In their place are older men casting fishing lines into choppy water on the pier with their wives sitting down beside them eating sandwiches. The air is clearer than the bustling main street, the atmosphere calmer, and the only noise to be heard is the odd seagull circling a fisherman’s catch.
What has caused these two groups to be so isolated from each other?
The story of Lorne begins well before the times of Schoolies gathering to celebrate the start of a new chapter of their life. This seaside town gained prominence in the 1950s when caravans and day trips were a staple for family holidaymakers. Surfboarding was gaining attention worldwide and capturing the Australian imagination, making Lorne the place to be to grab a board and hit the waves.
In a sense, that trendiness hasn’t left the main street of Lorne. There are still people movers everywhere. But instead, station wagons have been replaced by SUV’s and a frolic in the water replaced by a seaside selfie.
The question remains, what drove the holiday makers of the 1950s to the other side of town away from their younger counterparts? The ever-evolving Lorne no longer can accommodate the older generation in its busy central hub. That doesn’t mean though that they have been forced out or forgotten, but rather like the early morning tide, they have moved on.
Some things in Lorne have not changed but, rather like the Lorne Hotel, have had facelifts. Opening in 1864, the hotel humbly began with only two rooms, but rose to 18 bedrooms by 1877 when an estimated 3,000 tourist would visit the area in peak season.
Fast forward to the present day where an estimated eight million tourists now visit the Great Ocean Road each year and businesses in the area are seeing its ever increasing popularity; though constantly updating, there are still areas of Lorne that remain under-equipped to deal with this large influx of tourists. This is especially noticeable in Summer as Front Supervising Officer of the Lorne Hotel, Hanna Mueller, has seen.
“Over certain periods of the year, it just turns into mayhem. You can still tell over summer that the changes have happened quite quickly and intensely, as Lorne’s infrastructure is still not made for the amount of people that swamp in over summer”.
Mueller, a resident in Lorne for five years, has noticed a change not only in the look of Lorne but in its vibe as well. This change is dramatic and seasonal, with the winter months being much quieter, and summer bringing chaos. According to Mueller, the type of people who come during different seasons also varies.
“It is definitely dependent on the time of year as to who comes to Lorne. During winter, we mainly get elderly customers as well as international tourists. Whereas in summer, Lorne is home to all of those Melbourne people getting away from the city”.
The appeal for the younger generation is also important in Lorne, as they take up the largest slice of the tourism pie. When you enter Lorne’s main hub there is an abundance of the 18-25 demographic. 19-year-old tourist Reece Karslake said the vibrant appeal of the town is immediately clear.
“Lorne always seems to be buzzing. I’ve come here in both winter and summer over the years and there always seems like there is something to do, a party to go to. It’s also really good for, like, families because of how good the surf and sea is here”.
Just as important is the atmosphere in Lorne. There seems to be very little pressure here, and hostility is but a distant thought. People come here for a good time, whether it’s an old fisherman catching his fifth fish for the day or a small child enjoying an ice cream so large he will never quite finish it. This is felt by many in the area, including Karslake.
“The atmosphere is really friendly. Everyone just seems to be in a better mood here, and more relaxed. It just makes everyone really easy to talk to, and that’s a great thing about Lorne”.
So what is here for the humble tourist? Well, walking down the main streets there are a variety of shops to browse, cafes as far as the eye can see and, of course, the soft sand. In the summer months it is always busy down by the water but even during winter there are still crowds trying to soak up what sunshine there is.
The nighttime is probably the only time when the two main groups of people converge. The older generation can be found having a quiet drink at any of the local pubs, whereas the younger generation radiate towards bars with loud music and a lively atmosphere.
Where does this place of such contrast go from here? As the elderly population slowly disappears, who will continue on the traditions of old and act as the balance for this constantly changing community?
For the time being, the old guard isn’t leaving quite yet. Every morning they come in early to fish, come rain, hail or shine. Whether they catch any fish is almost unimportant. The sense of participation and friendship is what helps the man at the end of the pier to keep coming back. Although his clothes may smell of fish and his face worn from years of the hot sun, a cracked smile still beams from his face when he sees one of his old friends.
While he may not be there forever, his spirit – Lorne’s spirit – will never completely disappear. Despite the town being split in two, there is a mutual understanding, a respect for one each other. The new breed have a sense that one day they will no longer be the fresh kids on the block and they will carry on the traditions of this place.
However, it may be many years before they trade in their selfie-sticks for fishing poles.