How to live on the beach for ‘free’

There’s a handful of people able to live with waterfront views of some of Australia’s best beaches, and they don’t have to fork over a huge mortgage or rent.

Zac Cracknell is one of few live-in caretakers left at surf clubs around New South Wales.

The 32-year-old trades his work for accommodation at Bilgola Surf Lifesaving Club on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, which means he gets to live right there at the club.

Zac Cracknell is one of few live-in caretakers left at surf clubs around New South Wales. (Supplied)

“There is a rental agreement and I have to perform the chores up to that value in order to keep the caretaker’s position,” Cracknell told

“Being right along the beachfront is the amazing part, the thing is, it’s a job.

“You’ve got to be there, you’ve got to withstand the functions that are on, and the members are the important ones.

“It’s a great place to live but it’s not about the money.”

He said there is a downside to living on the sand of one of Sydney’s most upmarket locations.

“We can’t go away for the weekend as there’s so much to do,” he said.

“When there’s a function or a wedding or an event you’ve got to be there at midnight to make sure everything’s cleared up.”

Then there’s the noise from those parties, which can interrupt his and his girlfriend’s latest TV show binge-viewing, he joked.

Bilgola Surf Lifesaving Club on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. (Bilgola Surf Lifesaving club)

His tasks include everything from being on call for emergencies including volunteering to help in the NSW floods crisis, cleaning the club and even pulling pints in the bar.

In return, he gets the apartment within the club he describes as “comfortable”.

“It’s not a big accommodation, but it has a queen size bed with a bathroom, a small laundry, a kitchenette and a living space, and a balcony you can sit on,” he said.

The 32-year-old admits it’s a pretty amazing deal.

”You’ve got to pinch yourself,” he said.

There’s so few sales in Bilgola Beach that there’s little data to compare the apartment’s worth, but the average house price in Bilgola Plateau is just under $3 million, according to Domain.

A four-bedroom house close to the surf club just sold for more than $8m.

Celebrity landscape gardener Jamie Durie and high-profile couple actor Richard Roxburgh and chef Silvia Colloca have also called the area home.

Swimming carnival, Roseville Baths, c. 1930s, by Sam Hood

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Cracknell was living locally and was in the surf life-saving club when the position was advertised in the newsletter.

“I didn’t get it the first time. Members couldn’t actually be caretakers at the time,” he said.

“They gave another caretaker a go but they moved on. I found out it was coming up again and said, ‘guys, give me another shot. I’m keen’.”

Cracknell has a day job in the water industry, which he does from home.

Remarkably, he’s not a surfer but he does swim in the rock pool when he can.

“I can’t stand up on a board,” he admitted.

Grandfather Barry Osbourne, 61, reckons he’s carried out around 50 rescues since he became caretaker at Sydney’s South Maroubra Surf Life Saving club.

Grandfather Barry Osbourne, 61, reckons he's carried out around 50 rescue since he became caretaker at Sydney's South Maroubra Surf Life Saving club.Grandfather Barry Osbourne, 61, reckons he’s carried out around 50 rescue since he became caretaker at Sydney’s South Maroubra Surf Life Saving club. (Supplied)

On one occasion he was even winched up into a helicopter with the surfer he’d helped when he lost his board in big swell.

For any kind of beach emergency, he’s always on hand.

“I get plenty of surfers coming up with cuts and kids getting stung by blue bottles,” he said.

“I’ll come out and go to the first aid room and get the ice, make sure they’re okay.”

Osbourne lives with partner Lesley Chidac, 67, in the surf clubs’ small studio and juggles his club responsibilities with his day job as a pool attendant at Maroubra Seals Club.

His only major living expense is his Foxtel bill, with his work offsetting any rent.

Osbourne, who has been there for 12 years, said it’s not as lavish a life as people might think.

“The club’s really busy. Everyone thinks I’ve got this life of Riley living on the beach,” he said.

South Maroubra Surf Life Saving club.South Maroubra Surf Life Saving Club is right on the beach in Sydney. (Instagram)

“It takes a certain type of person to live in a place like this.”

He has a long list of responsibilities such as closing up the gym nightly at 9pm, and acting as security for the club, calling the police should any suspicious types be spotted.

“It’s pretty quiet so you do get people wandering around the club at all hours, surfers come early in the morning, you see some interesting scenarios,” he said.

With the nation’s biggest Nippers club gathering on the sand outside, there’s little chance of a weekend sleep-in either.

Every Sunday at 7.30am hundreds of noisy kids turn up, and he’s only too happy to tidy up after them.

“It’s so gratifying – I’ve seen so many kids come through from Nippers and then they’re on patrols and then they start drinking in the club bar,” he said.

During summer he’s also around to help the members on patrol.

“They’re always knocking on the door, ‘Barry have you got the key to this room?’”

He has no plans to leave his unique living situation for now, in the suburb where the median one-bedroom unit price is $741,000.

“It’s a fantastic lifestyle. I can just walk outside and have a swim,” he said.

Barry and his family at South Maroubra Surf Lifesaving Club, where he lives.Barry Osbourne with his partner lesley, son-in-law Christian, daughter-in-law Rebecca and grandson Hunter and his family at South Maroubra Surf Lifesaving Club, where he lives. (Supplied)

Surf Life Saving NSW said live-in caretakers, who are mainly there for security reasons, used to be a lot more common.

“Over time with technology and security systems, CCTV etc their role is becoming essential and often when a long terms caretaker looks to move on, they aren’t replaced,” a spokesperson said.

“Aside from the security aspect, they would also undertake roles such as cleaning, lawn mowing and maintenance for the club.

“Each club is different and some charge a reduced rent for the roles the caretaker undertakes and in some instances it’s a ‘quid pro quo’.”

Victoria also has a small number of live-in caretakers at surf clubs, but they’re a thing of the past in Queensland.

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