When I was a young girl, my family went away on holidays with another family a few times. There were four adults and five girls – my sister and me, and the other family’s three daughters.

In late January, we went to a somewhat run-down holiday house right on the beachfront at Callala Beach, on the south coast of the Australian state of New South Wales.

Callala Beach

There were so many beautiful things about this location. 

From the living room window, we could see dolphins swimming past in the evening, splashing through the sparkling waves. Our families would marvel at their sleek forms from the comfort of the lounges.

"It was in this house that I, though young, began to see beyond the confines of my immediate family and saw how another family organised their life. Though our holiday companions were similar to us – we went to the same church, and our parents had the same parenting ideas – I was fascinated to see how a different family lived in close quarters."

The upstairs verandah had a long blue staircase leading down to a sandy track on to the beach, where we could sit and watch the water. I spent several solitary hours out there playing my guitar and enjoying the peace.

The downstairs area featured a huge bunk room where all the young girls hung out together, playing board games, watching TV shows and then helping each other put on our sunscreen before hours of body-boarding.

The beach outside was on a sheltered bay, so the swell was mostly calm, perfect for children who’d grown up in suburbs far from the beach.

Of course, the house was old and it wasn’t perfect. There was only one shower to share between nine people. There was no air conditioning and only one small fan. The mattress my parents slept on was so saggy they ended up having to put it on the floor to gain any back support. By the end of the week, the house was full of sand, and well, when sand isn’t on the beach it’s pretty much just dirt.

And yet I still consider this house one of the most significant places of my childhood.

It was in this house that I, though young, began to see beyond the confines of my immediate family and saw how another family organised their life. Though our holiday companions were similar to us – we went to the same church, and our parents had the same parenting ideas – I was fascinated to see how a different family lived in close quarters.

It was in this house that I forged lifelong friendships with the girls from the other family. Two went on to be bridesmaids at my wedding and the other said a beautiful prayer. These girls shared their games and toys with my sister and I and became like three extra sisters for us.

It was in this house that I gained a deeper appreciation of the fact that my parents were not just my parents – they were also people with a social life! When we kids went to bed, our parents stayed up together, enjoying adult company over a bottle of wine. Though I complained back then about being made to go to bed so early, I am glad now that they took time for themselves.

It was in this house that I embraced nature. As a child I was quite a homebody, and definitely preferred spending time inside. But at the beach house, the outside was just so beautiful that I couldn’t just stay curled up in my bed! The beach, with its white sand and impossibly blue water and grassy dunes, beckoned to me regularly and I loved dancing under the sun with the other girls.

It was in this house that I enjoyed far more freedom than usual. The town was so quiet and peaceful that our parents let us walk up to the shops to buy ice creams, and to run unsupervised on the beach. Back in Sydney this never would have happened, but at the beach house everything was possible.

And it was in this house that I had the most enjoyable weeks of my childhood. It just goes to show that expensive overseas holidays aren’t really what children need – they need nature, family, friends and freedom.

That’s what makes a beautiful holiday.