The view may not be postcard-perfect, but visitors to Brighton Le Sands come for something more important – a sense of community and belonging
Right behind Sydney’s airport, Brighton Le Sands is indistinctive for a beach; the kind you’d drive past on your way to somewhere else. But one crucial geographic quirk sets it apart: it is the closest beach to people from western Sydney. That fact has turned its shore into a thriving scene, heaving with people on sunny days and warm nights.
As an industrial port, mammoth cranes and stacks of shipping containers dominate half the curving bay’s horizon, but the beach itself is framed by palm trees. It’s not exactly a postcard Sydney view – but its convenience for those out west, the character and identity visitors bring to Brighton’s calm waters, and the acceptance they find, keeps people coming back.
On a humid and cloudy Sunday afternoon, Hassan pauses when asked why he likes to come to Brighton, taking long drags of his shisha and staring out at the ocean before answering.
“I come all the way from Picton, nearly an hour-and-a-half drive … There’s just something different about it; you relax when you see the ocean,” he says.
Hassan visits Brighton often, and sets up his own hookah, complete with his favourite flavour – double apple.
“It’s the closest beach to us, and it’s got more of my community here compared to other beaches. I relax much more here,” he says.
Anwar Elahmad agrees the beach’s proximity to the city’s west makes it a preferable destination for him and his family, who drive from Guildford.
“It’s the M5, one way … all the way down. It’s easier than going to the other beaches in the eastern suburbs.”
Elahmad, who has just finished praying with his friends, says while Brighton isn’t his favourite beach (“a one out of 10 compared to Coogee or Bronte”), pure beauty is not the only thing that matters.
“It’s a bay! No waves, the water isn’t the cleanest, but I’m satisfied with one out of 10. I’m content and I’m comfortable. That plays a big part,” he says.
“You don’t get looked at, you don’t get picked out, you don’t get profiled. Unfortunately, as Muslims, you do get that at other beaches.”
Ibrahm Sabra comes to Brighton at least once a week, saying he loves the atmosphere. His friends prepare their jetski behind him.
“I like bringing the jetski, [Brighton is] kid-friendly and it’s just beautiful.
“It takes around half-an-hour for us to get here from home. I just feel like I’m at home here. It’s closer than other beaches. It’s central here, we bump into lots of friends and family – I love it.”
Having a space like this is “essential for myself and for my family”, he says.
As night descends, the number of people swimming dwindles but the walkways along the sand buzz.
Something shifts in the night air. Hotted-up cars blare at the traffic lights, groups of teenagers strut along the promenade and families bring ice-creams to watch the sunset.
Sarah Mazen, who is visiting from Melbourne, says she had to see the beach for herself. Everyone talks up the nightlife, she says.
“I’ve heard about this place all over social media. I have another friend coming from Melbourne and we’re about to go pick her up, but thought we’d stop here first.
“I can see how vibrant it is here, how alive it feels. We don’t have much of this in Melbourne.”
Royce and Karina are locals, taking their dog for a walk along the beach. They love the suburb at this hour.
“The nightlife is great, you can come out and everything is open. Other places shut at eight at night, everything is dead, but here it goes to midnight, people walking around, in the water, it’s nice to see.”
Royce has lived in San Souci, a neighbouring suburb, for 24 years, and says much has changed in that time.
“The footpath used to be garbage, you couldn’t ride your bike, it was never as packed, it was all a bit rundown. But life happened – and they’ve revamped the area, it’s so much better.”
John is out celebrating his graduation from high school with his friends and says the beach attracts a certain type of fashion.
“People come and dress up nice, drive their cars, enjoy their time. People make it like this; make it their home.
“People are friendly here, it’s just nice walking around, its a nice experience.”
Naz and Fatima have come to Brighton from Coogee, where their night began.
“It was so boring!” Naz says of the eastern suburbs beach. “Here you have people walking past 24/7, you can have a laugh. You wouldn’t see a crowd like this in Coogee.”
Fatima elaborates, saying many of the visitors to Brighton would feel out of place at other beaches.
“There’s a lot of Muslim women in hijab here, and it’s good to see them in their element, not judged or stared at,” she says. “Out in the eastern suburbs, of course they’d be going to be looked at. They feel part of a community here.”