Kims Beachside Retreat

by LukeAdmin

Kims, a journey through time

Words Dorian Mode. Photography Kims Beachside Retreat

With seniors being the most vulnerable group with COVID-19, there’s never been a better time to support your local tourism businesses. Not only are you securing local jobs, but you don’t have to travel far from home. Did you know there’s one resort on the Central Coast that’s the oldest continuous family-run resort in Australia? Not only is it like staying in Byron Bay on the Central Coast, when you stay at Kims, you are stepping back in time…

Kims’ history dates back to 1886, when a local seafaring merchant, Captain Frans Charlson, established “The Camp” on the shore of Toowoon Bay. On his trading route to Norfolk Island, Charlson stopped at the picturesque inlet (then called Chinaman’s Bay) for freshwater, attracted by the natural spring running down to the pretty yellow ribbon of beach. (It was the Captain who planted the stately avenue of Norfolk Island pines we enjoy today – he planted over 100 in the general area. – inclosing The Entrance.) 

Charlson thought the bay an excellent place to bring professional people to camp on his way to ferrying cargo to Norfolk Island (collecting his guests on his return voyage). Soon a slab-timbered kitchen was built which also served as the dining room. A bell summoned guests to this dining room and rang thrice daily for more than a century. This custom dates back to when men wore pocket watches, which they would not risk on sandy beaches, and the tradition of using a brass bell to signal the hour would have come naturally to Captain Charlson.

In those days guest accommodation was crude, comprising tents and later simple timber cabins. Timber was in ample supply in the area. Indeed, the neighbouring suburb of Tumbi Umbi was highly valued for its timber. Tumbi Umbi is the Darkinjung word for ‘place of tall trees’. This timber was carted by bullock team to Chinaman’s Bay (now Toowoon Bay). And later Charlson blazed a horse and cart track from Long Jetty to Toowoon Bay. 

Kims Camp was a ‘gentleman’s only’ retreat until the turn of the century when rules were relaxed to allow women to stay at Kims. Moreover, Australians constricted by Victorian notions of propriety, enjoying the beach was very much a ‘dress up’ affair, with nary a glimpse of flesh allowed. It was not until 1902 that laws prohibiting bathing on open beaches during daylight hours were lifted.

In the 1920s, two Americans, the McKimmins brothers, who started Sydney’s first ice cream parlours (the brothers’ secret recipes are still in use today at Kims), purchased the retreat and improved the accommodation. It was the McKimmins who used their surname to create the name “Kims Camp”. However, by today’s standards Kims was still a rustic experience. Walls were bare timber and the furniture consisted of an iron bed with Kapok mattresses and a night chamber pot.

In the 1940s enter a retired British army colonel, Colonel Clive Loc Hughes-Hallett. The Colonel was a colourful character. Before the war, he studied Japanese, subsequently winning a scholarship to study in Tokyo University in the late 1930s. During this time, he took many secret photographs with a tiny spy camera, which proved invaluable to the war effort in years to come. Reporting directly to the British Secret Service, the Colonel also travelled to Vladivostok and across Siberia taking hundreds of secret photographs. But more on “Siberia” later. 

After the end of World War II, the colonel, purchased the retreat from the McKimmins brothers, and shortened the name from Kims Camp to “Kims”.

The Colonel, being a military man, kept many of the naval traditions of Captain Charlson and the bell chimed guests to the dining room for nigh on a century. During the Colonel’s time, Kims acquired a reputation for its dining room – one that has been honoured ever since. When you sit in the main dining room and look up, you’ll see Kims’ punkahs. A punkah is a Hindi word meaning a type of fan used since the early sixth century B.C. The word pankha originated from pankh, the wings of a bird which produce a draft when flapped. The punkahs underscore that Kims is a palimpsest of its erstwhile owners’ eccentricities. One of things I love about Kims.

Why punkahs? Kims is renowned for its curries. The Colonel’s father was part of the British Raj. (The British Raj refers to the period of British rule on the Indian subcontinent between 1858 and 1947.) Hughes-Hallett’s father’s batman (in the British armed forces a batman is an officer’s servant) brought back curry recipes from India for Kims (recipes still used in Kims’s curries today). At a time when olive-oil was sold in chemists, ingredients for authentic curries were impossible to find in Sydney. So Kims sourced them from Veeraswamy, a restaurant in Piccadilly London, (still in business today) that’s been operating since 1926. 

The Petrov Affair dominated Australian headlines in the 1950s. For months Australians were fascinated by stories of espionage and political conspiracies. Indeed, the Petrovs defection was regarded by Western intelligence services as a critical Cold War incident. However, few people know that the Petrovs were hidden from the poison-happy KGB at Kims Camp. For approximately six months Mr Petrov worked as a gardner, while Mrs Petrov worked as a scullery maid. It’s believed that the Colonel – who’d as aforementioned spent time in Vladivostok before the war – still had connections with the secret service and facilitated their stay. It was very hush hush at the time, but the clue lies in the fact that six cabins on the far side of Kims in the late 1950s – with a wink and a nod – were always known as “Siberia.”

Haldane and Marie Strachan and their son Andrew (the current owner) arrived at Kims in 1957. They eventually purchased the retreat from the Colonel who wished to retire. The name was changed to Kims on the Beach and later to Kims Beach Hideaway. Haldane and Marie Strachan were born in Scotland (Dundee and Aberdeen). Mrs Strachan passed away in 1993 but her Scots jam-making skill lives on in the kitchen. Guests can still sample such marvels as quince jelly, Seville orange marmalade, melon and pineapple jam and lime chutney that Mrs Strachan made famous. Moreover, if you’ve ever stayed at Kims on New Year’s Eve, you’ll enjoy the troop of kilted Scottish Pipers piping in the haggis.

During the 1970s and 80s, numerous celebrities wishing to eschew the long lens of the paparazzi discovered Kims. International music icons such as The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson and numerous other international notables stayed at Kims over the years. For nigh on a century, celebrities have valued the chilled, ‘hideaway’ aesthetic of Kims.

The mast, set in the gardens in front of the dining room, underscores Kims’ long connection with the sea, reaching back to Captain Charlson. This mast, however, is from the yacht Satin Sheets, belonging to Andrew Strachan (current owner), who at the time represented Australia in yachting. Andrew famously captained the winner of the Sydney to Hobart Race in a small 47-foot yacht Ninety-Seven – the smallest boat to win the coveted prize since 1947. Many leading boats had to retire that year due to the huge seas. Andrew sailed on to win the race.

Andrew refreshes Kims seafaring connection by going to sea when time permits. But if you look carefully, you’ll find the Kims seafaring aesthetic in the cabins themselves, with their vanished timbers and porthole skylights and giant seashells. Indeed, win the evening, when I look north and see Norah Head Lighthouse winking at Kims through the long dark, I think of Captain Charlson.

And if you do stay at Kims, say hello to the resident jazz pianist. He’s played at Kims for over 17 years. And he’s the researcher and author of this history! 

Due to the current regulations that were introduced by the government, Kims restaurant is no longer serving its famous buffet dinner and breakfast until further notice. Kims Restaurant is open for our inhouse guests to enjoy dinner and breakfast with their new a la carte menu.

If your local and a senior, why not take advantage of the special Midweek Tariffs from $290.00 per night?

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