Pony And Donkey Rides at Sydney Beaches

Bondi Beach Kerry Resort PC Front

This week, with Autumn under way, and the end of the hot weather on the horizon, it seemed an ideal time for The Past Present to turn attention to some of our alternative beach culture and it’s history. Australia is known for it’s abundance of beautiful beaches, and the opportunities for swimming and other water based activities they provide. Yet in the past, some of Sydney’s beaches had other attractions.

If you look carefully in this postcard of Bondi Beach, you can make out a horse or donkey walking along the beach. I can find no written record of animal rides being offered at beaches in Sydney – or at least, not this far back in history. Yet I have heard many anecdotal stories, including from my mother, of pony and donkey rides once being offered along the sandy shores of Sydney’s beaches.

Do you remember having a pony or donkey ride on a Sydney beach?

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Narrabeen Bridge

Narrabeen NSW Bridge front

The image above beautifully captures the history of a place which many Sydneysiders are familiar with, visiting for its excellent beaches and surfing. In fact, so famous are the beaches that Narrabeen is even mentioned in the Beach Boy’s song Surfin’ USA.

Narrabeen has long been a popular destination for Sydneysiders wishing to visit the seaside, or to go boating on the beautifully still waters of the Narrabeen Lagoon. In fact, the area was widely promoted as an excellent destination for people wishing to improve their health, being far enough from the city to be advertised as ‘country’. Yet early visitors to the area had no choice but to ford the Narrabeen Lake, as although there were basic roads in the area, there was no bridge over the lagoon.

Then, in in the early 1880s, a timber bridge was constructed across the lagoon. As the image above shows, the first Pittwater Road Bridge was quite narrow, and although it was suitable at the time it was built, by the 1920s was too narrow for the increasing traffic and sometimes created a bottleneck, of the kinds we are all too familiar with today. It wasn’t just that the bridge was narrow though, often anglers used the bridge to fish from, and both sides of the roadway could be lined with hopeful fishermen. An iron barrier was installed in the 1940s to protect the fishermen on the eastern side of the bridge, and fishing was banned entirely in 1945. Of course, many locals simply ignored the ban! Finally, plans to build a new, more substantial concrete bridge were made and in 1954 the concrete bridge which we see today was constructed.

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach Front

The image above is a beautiful snapshot of one of Sydney’s most famous international tourist destinations – Bondi Beach. Bondi has long been a destinational place for people to visit, Sydneysiders and tourists alike, but many who visit the iconic beach little realise the amazing history encapsulated in the area.

Bondi was once known as the Bondi Estate, and belonged to Francis O’Brien. The entire area, including the beach, was part of this estate but in 1855 O’Brien decided to open up the beach and surrounding area to the public. He opened the area as a picnic ground and pleasure resort, but many times threatened to stop access to the beach itself. Part of his reasoning, and indeed the public view at the time, was that swimming at Bondi was dangerous because of the threat of sharks and stingrays. Then, in 1882, the government itself took over the beach area, and official declared Bondi Beach a public beach.

Bondi quickly became one of the most popular stretches of beach in Sydney, with people flocking to enjoy the pristine water and white sand. Bus services were run to Bondi Junction by private operators and in 1906 the first electric tram service began to take beach goers directly to Bondi. By 1929 it is believed that 60,000 people were visiting Bondi Beach on an average summer weekend! Even in the early 1920s, when cars were not as common as they are today, upwards of 1000 cars could be found parked near the beach on a fine summer day. Today, thousands continue to flock to the beach and parking remains a significant problem.

A Day At The Beach – Bondi

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This week, as the weather begins to warm up and fresh Spring days begin to show the heat of Summer, it seemed the perfect opportunity to share the stunning image above. The image, taken by an unknown photographer in circa 1936 shows a beach which all Sydneysiders and indeed many people around the world are familiar with – Bondi.

The photo above is a very different view to the Bondi of today, with few people crowding the beach and no tourists posing for photographs! One thing which does remain the same though is the red and yellow flags marking out safe areas to swim and demonstrating that surf life savers are patrolling the beach.

Surf lifesaving actually began its life, in Australia at least, in Sydney. At the turn of the 20th Century Manly Council employed two fishermen, the Sly brothers to patrol the beaches from the sea and then in 1905 appointed an actual life guard, Edward Eyre. The first official life saving club though, established in February 1907, had it’s home at Bondi. Soon many other clubs had been set up around Sydney and even further afield and in October the new life saving clubs were all brought together in the Surf Bathing Association of NSW.

These surf life saving clubs played, and continue to play, a vital role in protecting swimmers using our beaches. They patrol, supervise and also establish which areas of a beach are safest for swimmers. These safe places are, of course, demonstrated by the use of the red and yellow flag, though original patrol flags were actually blue and white. The red and yellow flag was probably based on the International Code of Signals for ships at sea. The signal for man overboard was a red and yellow flag, divided diagonally, and it seems plausible that this became the inspiration for the flag we see on beaches today. This red and yellow life saving flag was introduced in 1935.

Dee Why and Curl Curl

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The image above is a beautiful snapshot of places which many Sydneysiders and visitors alike are quite familiar with – Dee Why and Curl Curl. Both of these areas are popular with beachgoers, for their beautiful beaches and well established beach culture. Yet the Dee Why and Curl Curl of today is also vastly different to the places which are captured in the photograph.

Dee Why and Curl Curl are today, mainly residential areas with row upon row of houses, and of course the associated shops and amenities. Yet the photo above shows a Dee Why which was relatively unsettled. In fact, the caption describes settlement in this area of Dee Why and also Curl Curl as ‘sparse’. Settlement began at Dee Why and the surrounding areas early in the 1800s, with William Cossar given the first grant in 1815 (though the grant was not confirmed until 1819). By 1825 though, James Jenkins owned this grant, and, along with his daughter Elizabeth, owned all of the foreshore land all the way from Mona Vale to Dee Why itself. Elizabeth Jenkins was intensely religious, and very impressed by the Salvation Army, and in 1885 she gave them 30 acres of land at the Narrabeen Lagoon. She later gave them more land at Dee Why, and eventually transferred all of her land to the Salvation Army, in return for an annuity. She died in 1900, and after legal battles with her nephew Phillip, the Salvation Army continued to control her land, paying the annuity to Phillip until his death in 1931, after which, the land passed more completely to them.

Even before Phillips death, the Salvation Army decided that it owned far too much land and that the money raised by selling the land could be used for the good of the community. In 1911 the subdivision of Salvation Army lands began, coinciding with subdivisions by other land owners around the same time. It was about this time that the actual town of Dee Why began to develop. In 1911 there had only been five homes or dwellings in Dee Why, but by 1915 this number had grown to 125. However, most of these houses were used as weekenders or holiday homes. It was not until the 1920s that more permanent settlement at Dee Why began, with the establishment of a school, Dee Why Public, in 1922. Then, in 1924 the Spit and Roseville Bridges were opened, making access to Dee Why much easier, and settlement again grew. By 1932, when the photograph above was taken, settlement was slowly growing, but still sparse outside the town centre. Yet over the coming decades, people continued to move into the area and build homes, until the Dee Why we recognise today was established.

Sirius Cove Part 2 – Curlew Artists Camp

The image above is a stunning snapshot of a beautiful bushland area in Sydney. Sirius Cove, and Little Sirius Cove which is pictured above, remain beautiful waterfront locations in Sydney, though perhaps a little less undisturbed and forested than they once were. Yet even more fascinating than their beautiful character is the history which pervades Sirius Cove and Little Sirius Cove.

One of the most famous episodes in the history of Sirius Cove was the artists camp established on the shores of the harbour in 1890. The camp, which was actually located in Little Sirius Cove (pictured above) was established by Reuben Brasch, who was a wealthy Sydney identity. He manufactured clothes and also owned a department store in Sydney, but on weekends he and his brothers used the camp which he had established as a peaceful getaway.

Soon enough though the camp and its beautiful surrounds also began to attract the creme de la creme of the Australian art scene. In 1891 Arthur Streeton moved into the camp, having moved to Sydney from Melbourne. It was not long after this that Tom Roberts joined him at the camp. The pair offered art classes in a Sydney studio as a way to supplement their income and pay their way, but as plein air painters, camp life was ideally suited to them. The rent for staying in the camp was low, but the camp was well organised and comfortable, with a dining tent, dance floor and even a piano. Other artists also visited the camp for varying lengths of time, including Julian Ashton and Henry Fullwood and for a time the camp was a popular place for musicians too. Then, after 1900 most of the artists moved on and the camp became popular with those interested in outdoor life and water sports. In 1912 the camp closed for good, with Taronga Park Zoo soon after moving to the ridge above the site.

Sirius Cove – Part 1

The image above is a beautiful, peaceful glimpse into the history of one of Australia’s significant cultural sites. Sirius Cove, and the nearby Little Sirius Cove, are significant areas to Sydney’s history, and the greater history of Australia in general. Yet so many who visit the area have no idea of the extent of history contained in these beautiful foreshore areas.

Before European colonisation of Australia, the protected and beautiful foreshore areas of Sirius Cove and Little Sirius Cove were the traditional lands of the Borogegal People. The most famous of these Borogegal People was Bungaree, who grew up in the traditional lands of his people and would have been very familiar with Sirius Cove.

Yet it wasn’t long after European colonisation that European history began to be linked to the beautiful Sirius Cove. In fact, the name of the cove itself reflects its first role in European history. In 1789, just a year after European colonisation, HMS Sirius was careened at Sirius Cove. Sirius Cove was perfect for careening (or learning away barnacles etc from the ships hull) as it was a convenient cove, and relatively sheltered. The ship, which was the flagship of the First Fleet, was wrecked less than six months later.

Of course, the most famous episode in the history of Sirius Cove is the artists camp which was established in 1890 at Little Sirius Cove. Come back next week to find out about the history of Curlew Camp.