That so that sense of old normality this weekend was also mildly alarming.
Some friends and I cycled to Shelly Beach at Manly but didn’t stay there long. It was completely rammed, yet no COVID marshals seemed to be managing the situation.
There were no visible guidelines or markers to advise about physical distancing, as I thought there might be. Nobody was counting capacity as we entered, the beach a mosaic of people; yellow sand barely visible. Councils have had all year to prepare for this. It surprised me, and we left shortly after arriving.
By 2pm on the Monday of the long weekend, Waverley Council announced Bondi was almost at its 6,000 capacity and urged would-be beachgoers to reconsider their trip, or the beach would have to close.
Waverley had its act together at Bondi: in addition to counting beachgoers, beach ambassadors, rangers and lifeguards patrolled the beach throughout the day, reminding people to stay one towel apart from other groups to maintain social distancing on the sand.
But our beaches are clearly under pressure and inconsistently managed. Outdoor pools are another pinch point. At Prince Alfred Pool, for example, sunbathing is banned, shunting sun seekers onto already overcrowded beaches.
The council has had months to creatively map out a COVID-safe summer. At a pool like Prince Alfred, simply blanket banning sunbaking seems like a blunt instrument.
Its grassy verge is perfect to mark out squares with white rugby pitch paint, indicating how many people per square can fit inside, adhering to 1.5m physical distancing guidelines.
It could be that, by outright banning sunbathing, the pool can welcome more swimmers through its turnstiles, who must swim then immediately leave without hanging around. With sunbathers allowed to stay, the pool would reach capacity sooner.
However, the whole city needs to work together on this. Sydney officially has more outdoor and ocean pools than any other city in the world – with another huge one on its way at Green Square (already built and filled with water).
By pools shouldering some of the sun-seeking capacity, our glorious beaches may not have to close by lunchtime. Or risk becoming new breeding grounds. We need our pools to take the pressure off our beaches so we have a fully COVID-safe city.
This long weekend was the first test for the long summer ahead. I was surprised at the lack of creative thinking applied to our open spaces by elected officials who’ve had more than eight months to prepare more inventive ideas for COVID-safe spaces.
Look, for example, at Britain’s first socially distanced outdoor concert, with groups of up to five seated in 500 individual raised metal platforms. Perhaps timed tickets would ensure everyone gets a turn on the beach rather than just closing it off at 2pm, meaning those who’ve been there all morning can stay all afternoon too. And certainly more cooperation with our world-leading city of outdoor pools. We owe it to the nation as the lucky city to stop being complacent.
Gary Nunn is a freelance journalist. Twitter: @garynunn1
Gary Nunn is a contributor to Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.