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Holidaymakers enjoy a high time at high tide

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New Years Day late 1930s
The crowd celebrates New Year’s Day in the late1930s at Prawn Rock Channel.
Photo: courtesy Denmark Historical Society

Ashleigh Murch, Denmark Historical Society, Denmark Bulletin

Prawn Rock Channel near Ocean Beach is a favourite Denmark swimming and fishing spot.

In summer, with the sand bar open, the channel is tidal with an outflow at low tide which then reverses at high tide with a good inflow of seawater.

It’s then at its best as once the bar closes, the water become stagnant and gradually becomes slimy.

Over summer, particularly on warm days, it draws good crowds of tourists and locals alike to swim, fish or just laze about.

While the channel was known about from Denmark’s earliest days as a timber milling town, it did not become a popular attraction until the late 1920s when Charlie (CE) Smith started using his boats to take groups down to the channel from the town for picnics or to camp during the summer.

School picnic group disembarks
A school picnic group disembarks at Charlie Smith’s jetty near Prawn Rock Channel.
Photo: courtesy Denmark Historical Society

There was only a rough track from the town down as far as Randalls’ property, Mambrey Park, a little to the north of the best part of the channel, so a boat offered the only reasonable access.

Even when the track was extended to allow vehicular traffic to access the channel, Charlie continued to provide a boat service with his large converted lifeboat, Britannia, as there were still many people who did not own cars.

About 1930, another early Denmark settler, John Ricketts, built six weatherboard, two room, furnished huts with wood stoves at the channel to provide more convenient all-weather accommodation for holidaymakers.

His son, Jack (John Frederick) provided a regular delivery of food, drinks and newspapers to the campers.

Then in 1932, John Snr built a plank bridge across the channel to give visitors access to the ocean.

Crossing John Ricketts bridge 1930s
Only people with good balance could cross the channel on John Ricketts’ bridge in the 1930s.
Photo: courtesy Denmark Historical Society
New Years' Day 1930s
Photo: courtesy Denmark Historical Society

Ocean Beach at this time was commonly known as Manly Beach.

Charlie Smith gave it the name as he thought it looked like the ocean beach at Manly in New South Wales.

Facilities in the area were improved, with Jack (JF) Ricketts building swings, picnic tables and a ladies’ change rooms.

About this time, the Ricketts family started to organise events on the sand island across the plank bridge on public holidays such as Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.

Events included foot and sack races high and long jumps, tug-of-war and log chopping.

These celebrations attracted hundreds of visitors as the accompanying photographs attest.

Jack Toms with  7 flounder
Jack Toms with the seven flounder he and his father caught in Prawn Rock Channel in the 1930s.
Photo: courtesy Denmark Historical Society

In 1934, the Denmark Road Board gave John Ricketts Snr caretaker rights at the location and he built a small shop there, supplied from the Blue Bird Tearooms in Strickland Street, which was owned by his son Jack.

The popularity of the area peaked about 1940.

Ill health meant John Rickett’s gave up his caretaker role and Jack Ricketts joined the army.

This together with the general constraints of the war meant events were largely abandoned and it wasn’t until the Ocean Beach Caravan Park was developed in the early 1960s that its popularity really started to rise again.

Denmark Bulletin 13 January 2022

This article appeared in the Denmark Bulletin, 13 January 2022.

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