Professor Andrew Short has visited every beach in Australia.
Before anyone could zoom in on the coastline from the comfort of their armchair using Google Earth satellites, Dr Short was flying around Australia's 35,000 kilometres of coastline in a small three-person plane, leaning out the window and shooting photos of the beaches and coastline on his film camera.
He has more than 40,000 black and white slides from beaches around the nation - every beach that is: all 11,761 beaches on the Australian mainland; 12,500 including those on 30 major islands in Australian waters.
Work is a beach
When he took up surfing as a 14 year old living in Sydney, Dr Short would leave his surfboard at the beach and hitch hike an hour every weekend to the coast. He was fascinated by it, captivated. He still visits the beach every day at his home in Moruya Heads on the NSW south coast.
"By becoming a coastal scientist I could be employed to work in the environment I love," he said.
At Sydney University he specialised in coastal geography, winning a scholarship to complete his Masters while studying on the beaches in Hawaii. He worked for a year in North Alaska examining the Arctic Ocean, then Brazil, then Korea.
All beaches around the world are similar, Dr Short says - they have sand, waves and tides. However, over his research, Dr Short developed a system for classifying all beaches into 15 categories. The international beach states system has only had a few minor changes since Dr Short developed it in the 70s.
Using science to improve beach safety
When he returned home to Australia, he was eager to use his knowledge and understanding of all the elements of beaches for the benefit of the public.
"I was interested in applying my knowledge to beach safety," he said.
"If we can help people understand the beach better, use it and stay safe, it's important for us to do that."
When he was approached by Surf Life Saving Australia and asked to create a database for all NSW beaches in 1986, Dr Short jumped at the opportunity.
The task would require him to visit all the beaches along the coastline, recording data and, importantly, providing a safety assessment at every beach.
"I thought there were 155 beaches in NSW," Dr Short said. "There were actually 755 beaches."
When the project was completed, Surf Life Saving Australia were so delighted with the outcome they asked him to do the same for the entire Australian coastline.
More than half of Australia's 35,000 kilometres of coastline is beaches, yet Dr Short said no one knew very much about the beaches at all.
He accepted the challenge in 1987 and began in Victoria, then moving to Queensland.
He classified a beach as anything at least 20 metres long that had sand or cobbles.
Dr Short circumnavigated the nation by plane taking photos. He visited beaches by car where possible - about 25 per cent of Australia's beaches are accessible by 2wd; 45 per cent by 4wd and 55 per cent have no vehicle access at all. For these, Dr Short travelled in a CSU3 workboat. He would arrive at a beach, make sure to wade through the shallows avoiding stepping on stingrays, and then start analysing each beach. Sometimes there were fresh crocodile tracks in the sand. Very rarely were there any other human prints.
"The typical Australian beach is unnamed and inaccessible," Dr Short said.
There are three beaches longer than 200 kilometres, however the average Australian beach is 1.3 kilometres long, has a rocky headland at each end, is uninhabited and unnamed.
"No two beaches are the same," he said.
After Queensland he began on South Australia, then Western Australia, over time completing a boat journey from Brisbane to Broome. After 14 years, he completed his study of the entire Australian mainland.
Dr Short had created a database of beaches through a feat he said would never be undertaken again.
Surf Life Saving Australia's national Beach Hazard Rating used in the Beachsafe app was based upon, and still uses, the data and photos from Dr Short's research.
The beaches of each state were published as separate books, and 'Australian Coastal Systems' was published in 2020 as a combined anthology.
In all, Dr Short has written 11 books, edited another five and published more than 200 scientific publications and reports. In 2010 he was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for his contribution to both coastal science and beach safety.
Where is the best beach?
One of those books was '101 Best Australian Beaches' published in 2012 and co-authored by Brad Farmer.
"I wrote that and I didn't include my favourite beach," Dr Short said.
"Anyone who lives in the Eurobodalla knows we have the best coast in Australia and, having seen the whole coast, I can agree with that.
"There's no bad beaches, but I do have a favourite.
"I don't tell anyone my favourite beach - I don't publicise that."
Dr Short did provide some clues, however.
"I like a beach with a surf, a nice headland so you get good views of it, uninhabited, accessible but with difficulty, with no facilities," he said.