Vintage peninsula

Photos: Gary Sissons

Capel Sound photographer, Mandie Hawkins still feels a bit uncomfortable calling herself a photographer, yet she’s a natural. In less than six months, she has developed her own unique style, capturing iconic images of the laid-back idyll of Aussie beach culture. Mandie doesn’t use professional cameras or fancy equipment, she shoots everything on an iPhone.

Summer vacations on the Mornington Peninsula as a child made an indelible impression on the girl from suburban South East Melbourne. Now, she wants to share that sense of nostalgia with her colourful, quirky, beach-themed photos showcasing the Peninsula’s ‘Mid-Century Modern’ beach shacks, the vintage eskies and camp chairs she collects, classic Australian cars, caravans, surfboards, beach boxes and Kombi vans.

At 21, Mandie travelled around the UK, Europe and the United States. She lived in London for a while where it was always grey and dreary. Over Easter holidays she made a break for the beach in Cornwall. She was surprised to see surfers crossing the main street. A convoy of Kombis rolled past and she thought to herself, ‘When I get home, I’m getting one’. She’s had one since 1996. Her current model, ‘Gidget’ is a 1967 VW Kombi camper van named after the classic 1960s TV show starring Sally Field.

Everything Mandie photographs comes from a place of nostalgia. She loved growing up in the 1970s and ’80s. Childhood was carefree and free range. “I want to convey how things were back then. People were more relaxed. There was an ease to everything. Life was more connected. It was a simpler time,” she says.

Mandie fondly remembers family road trips sitting in the back of her father’s Holden heading to the Peninsula. After setting up their beach umbrella, camp chairs, towels and cool drinks in the esky, she and her family would run and jump into the surf. Sea as foreground, beach boxes as background made memories none of them would ever forget.

Mandie also enjoyed roaming around her Capel Sound neighbourhood admiring the ‘Mid-Century Modern’ beach shacks. It struck a chord.

Photography was never on Mandie’s radar. She trained as a pastry chef and worked in that field for many years. Her photographic journey began during COVID lockdowns. Due to circumstance, Mandie resided in Williamstown and Capel Sound. In both places she could wander down to the local beach. She particularly liked shooting sunrises and sunsets, bookending another day tolerated in lockdown.
Mandie also enjoyed roaming around her Capel Sound neighbourhood admiring the ‘Mid-Century Modern’ beach shacks. It struck a chord. She feels this type of architecture is largely overlooked and underappreciated. She wanted to capture these architectural time capsules before their inevitable demolition. It’s a good thing too because many of these old beach shacks have since been bulldozed.

Her artistic inspiration comes more from artists than photographers. She loves Reg Mombassa who also captures the essence of iconic Australian suburban architecture in some of his paintings. She admires Californian artist/designer, Shag, whose art has a Mid-Century vibe reminiscent of classic cartoons of the 1960s, like the Jetsons.
In fact, Mandie ‘tweaks’ her images to give them a little bit of that cartoon-like feel. She won’t say how as it’s her trade secret, but it adds to the sense of fun and nostalgia in her photographs.

Mandie also makes unique greeting cards. Her sense of humour is evident in the sassy messages on some. Fair warning; they are not PG! Mandie has been selling her cards and prints at Emu Plains Market for the past few months. She also sells through her website and at a couple of lucky local shops: Elephant in Sorrento and Flock of Seagulls in Rye carry her work.

Markets are not new to Mandie. She had her own market stall for ten years selling bright, fun, funky home and tableware. Her business was very successful, but she wanted to try something new. That’s when she went to William Angliss Institute in Melbourne to train as a pastry chef. She spent the next 14 years decorating cakes. Last year, she was ready to start another chapter. Her new venture, That Pink Shack Design Studio, was born.

Now Mandie happily cruises around in Gidget looking for places to photograph. “I love the excitement of driving into a street and discovering a new beach shack. I imagine what might have gone on in there over the years,” she says. Her favourite place on Port Phillip Bay is Anthony’s Nose for its proximity to the sea and the uninterrupted stretch of water. Sometimes she sets up her drone camera to follow her on pastel hued sunrise or blazing orange tinted sunset drives. Her favourite back beach is Portsea where she enjoys watching the rolling surf and spotting a whale if she’s lucky.

“Everything about my work revolves around the bay and back beaches. The Peninsula is the perfect place to be a photographer. Often, I am the only person on the beach at sunrise or sunset. It’s incredible. We are so lucky to live here,” she says. I couldn’t agree more.

Peninsula Essence – May 2024