The image above is a stunning glimpse into the history not only of a popular Sydney beach, but of the way in which beach culture has changed in Australia over the past century or more. Balmoral Beach has long been a popular destination for Sydneysiders and visitors alike to enjoy the seaside and relax in the water, but the skimpy costumes which many people now prefer would have scandalised the people photographed in the image above!
Ever since the very earliest days of European colonisation in Australia, and likely before, swimming at the beach has been a popular Sydney pastime. Yet swimming as we know it today is a far cry from what those who lived in the 19th century or well into the 20th would have been familiar with. In fact, until the early 1900s, daylight swimming was illegal! In 1902, Mr William Gocher broke the law by engaging in the scandalous conduct of swimming in public during the day. Others soon followed his lead and the laws against swimming when the sun was up were overturned. Yet even after swimming became common during the day, the moral conundrums continued. Social mores of the time were against revealing more than was strictly necessary. Concessions admittedly had to be made to avoid people drowning, but swim wear was encouraged to be as discrete as possible. Cumbersome neck to knee swim suits were the norm and those who wore something a little more comfortable were criticised for wearing ‘exhibitionistic clothing’. Many councils even had their own laws setting out minimum standards for swim wear! If you weren’t swimming, social mores dictated that people visiting the beach would be dressed as they would be for any other event or outing. As the image above shows, men wore suits and women, full length dresses or skirts, hats and long sleeves.