This week, with the holidays here and the weather being warm and humid, many Sydneysiders will be heading for the beach. Even more popular will be those beaches with other attractions – playgrounds, cafes, fairs and so on. Once, one of the most popular beaches of all, and one which had it all so to speak, was Clifton Gardens.
As we discovered last week, Clifton Gardens had, since the 1870s, provided entertainments like music and dancing. Yet swimming was not an allowable attraction, despite the beautiful beach and surrounding area on which the pleasure ground was situated. The first swimming allowed at Clifton Gardens was in the late 1880s, but would have been vastly different to what we are used to today! Thompson, the proprietor of the hotel and pleasure grounds, imported an English bathing machine in 1888. The machine could be taken into the water, and then lowered a shark proof enclosure into the water. The swimmer themselves would not be easily visible at any time, in line with the then decency laws. In the same year, Thompson also opened a skating rink at the pleasure ground, providing yet more attractions and again increasing the popularity of the area.
In 1900, Thompson died and the entire estate, including the hotel, pleasure grounds and all of the attractions, were purchased by Sydney Ferries in 1906. By this time, decency laws were relaxing, and the ferries built a large, circular swimming enclosure, noted at the time to be the finest in the state. Swimming at Clifton Gardens had truly arrived, and although the enclosure is long gone, remains a popular diversion for visitors to the area.