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.

Ettalong Beach

This week, with holidays well underway, it seemed the perfect opportunity to share the image above, Ettalong Beach. The image above provides a snapshot on the history of a holiday destination which has long been popular with Australians looking for a little sun. Even in the colder winter weather, many will still head to beach resorts, like Ettalong, these July school holidays.

Ettalong Beach has been known for almost as long as European colonists have been in Australia with Governor Phillip visiting the Central Coast and stopping at Ettalong Beach in 1788 and again in 1789. At the time of this first visit, it was noted that there were a large number of Aboriginal people on the beach and in the surrounding area, but this population was quickly decimated by European diseases, particularly smallpox.

The first European to permanently settle in the area was James Webb, who took up a formal grant of land in 1824, a grant which eventually grew to include most of the Woy Woy area. Other early Europeans in the area were men who collected and burned the huge number of shells to be found in the Ettalong and Woy Woy areas. These burned shells provided the lime necessary to build the colony. Still other settlers were boat builders, who used the Brisbane Water area to build and launch hundreds of boat between 1829 and the decline of the shipbuilding industry in the area in the 1950s.

Then, in the 1880s, the railway was extended to the Central Coast. By 1888 Woy Woy had its own railway station and by the 1890s, the Central Coast was something of a tourist wonderland. Woy Woy and the nearby Ettalong Beach became known for fishing, oysters, boating, picnicking and bathing, and people came from far and wide to enjoy the seaside resorts. Boarding houses, hotels and pubs began to spring up, and even seaside theatres were built at Ettalong, Woy Woy and Avoca. The main attraction though was, of course, the beach itself and Ettalong in particular was known for its beautiful beach.

Boating On Sydney Harbour

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View to south over Coogee Beach with half dozen boats on sand. Homes on steep slopes facing water in distance.

This week, with the weather beginning to cool down and winter approaching, it seemed the perfect time for The Past Present to turn its attention to a popular beach pastime. In summer, the beaches become a haven for water sports and swimming, but as winter approaches, more people begin to look for different ways to enjoy the beautiful harbour and various other waterways. Boating has long been a popular choice.

Recreational sailing in Australia actually has quite a remarkable history, which stems from the history of Sydney as a working harbour. Some of the earliest boat races to be held in Sydney were between the captains and crews from ships which were visiting Sydney harbour. The smaller skiffs which were carried on board the large boats (and some boats even carried specific racing skiffs) would be used for the races. As time went by, regattas became more organised, and they also became popular public events which many Sydneysiders watched from the increasingly crowded shoreline. From 1837 here as even an annual regatta to celebrate the founding of the NSW colony!

Slowly but surely, boating became a more widespread, popular pastime. The public no longer simply watched from the shore. Boats could be hired out from many different boat sheds and beaches. Today, boating continues to be a popular pastime.

Keeping Cool At Balmoral Beach

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This week, with the days being so hot and humid, many Sydneysiders will be looking to the seaside for a welcome break from being too hot! Whether swimming, or hoping for a slightly cooler seaside breeze, the beach has been a popular destination for Australian’s hoping to beat the heat for decades. As the postcard above shows though, visiting the beach today is certainly a different experience to what was the norm in the early 20th century.

Since the earliest days of European colonisation, and doubtless before, the sea has been a popular way to cool down on a hot Australian summers day. Balmoral Beach, featured in the image above, has been one popular destination for Sydney residents. Yet where today the beach might be teeming with skimpy bathers, in the past moral codes and social views of propriety meant that visiting the beach was a very different pastime. As the image above shows, people went to the beach fully dressed in suits or long dresses, even at the extremities of the day when it might be expected that such social mores would be relaxed. Even children had to be appropriately ‘turned out’ for a visit to the seaside!

 

Vaucluse Bay – An Informal Pleasure Resort

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Vaucluse Bay. Section less fully developed than most other bays. Native brush and trees shown. used by some visitors as less formal resort area.

With the holidays drawing to a close, many Sydneysiders look to spend Australia Day and the final weekend of the school holidays closer to home. Sydney has a varied range of beautiful parks and wonderful beaches, many of which have a long history as ‘pleasure resorts’, both formal and informal. The evocative image above, taken by an unknown photographer in circa 1936, shows Vaucluse Bay, a ‘less formal resort area’, according to the photographers description.

According to the description by the unknown photographer, Vaucluse Bay is a ‘section less developed than other bays’, one of the reasons why it apparently became a popular, informal resort for many Sydneysiders. Yet the reason why Vaucluse Bay is so undeveloped in comparison to other bays is in itself a fascinating glimpse into history, for Vaucluse Bay was once part of the grounds of Vaucluse House.

Vaucluse House began life as a more simple stone cottage built in 1805 by an eccentric Irish knight, Sir Henry Browne Hayes. It was he who named the property Vaucluse after a village bear Avignon in Southern France. In 1827 though, the cottage and property were purchased by the famous explorer William Wentworth. Soon, he began the process of improving the property, first building a range of outbuildings, including a rather grand Gothic revival style stable, which still stands today. He also began to extend on the cottage, adding bedrooms, a dining room and drawing room. By the 1830s, he had even completed a boathouse on the bay itself. The Wentworths were also committed to creating beautiful grounds for the increasingly grandiose (though never quite completed) house. Wentworth died in 1872, and was interred in a mausoleum built on the Vaucluse estate.

The house, and Vaucluse Bay itself, continued to be private land until 1911 when extensive public pressure caused the state government to resume over 20 acres of harbour front land. By 1912, the Vaucluse Park Trust was granting public access to the bottom level of the house and in 1915 regular visiting hours were established. Soon, Vaucluse Bay and the grand house it once belonged to were a popular, if relatively undeveloped, tourist resort for Sydneysiders. In 1980 the entire property was acquired by the Historic Houses Trust.

Surf Bathing, Coogee

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This week, with holidays nearly upon us and the beach going season well and truly here, it seemed the perfect time to share the image above, of surf bathing at Coogee. Although surf bathing, or swimming in the ocean, continues to be a popular Australian pastime, there have been many changes to beach culture over the years, not least in the standard of dress.

Even after laws which prohibited daytime swimming in Australia had been changed, there continued to be a moral conundrum concerning propriety, and what was appropriate to wear for swimming, especially as daylight swimming allowed bathers to be seen! Although concessions had to be made to allow bathers to move (vital if drowning was to be prevented), many people were offended by what they saw as inappropriate ‘exhibitionistic’ clothing, which displayed much more of the figure than people in the early 20th century were used to. As a result, many councils enforced their own laws which imposed minimum standards for beachwear.

One of the more famous of these laws was proposed by Waverly Councilin 1907. They tried to impose a law which required men to wear bathers which had sleeves to the elbow and a skirt extending to their knees. Although many supported strict regulations about swim wear, these laws went too far! One of the first actions of the Surf Bathing Association of NSW, which was the precursor of Surf Life Saving Australia, was to protest against these proposed requirements. They were concerned that the bathers would emasculate men and organised a public protest which took place at Bondi, Manly and Coogee. Men flocked to the beaches wearing womens clothes, underwear and even curtains or tablecloths and essentially made a mockery of the proposed swim wear. The general public and media both viewed the protests very positively, and the council abandoned their new laws.

Surf Bathing At Ocean Beach, Manly

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This week, with the weather heating up and many Sydneysiders beginning to get into the Summertime beach culture, it seemed the perfect time to share this image of ‘surf bathing, Coogee’. Today, we are often used to seeing beaches full of people, often clad in reasonably skimpy swimmers, enjoying their modern take on ‘surf bathing’. Yet as this postcard shows, although surf bathing has a long history in Australia, it has changed a lot over the years – especially the clothing choices!

Although we don’t often use the term surf bathing today, swimming at the beach (or in the surf, hence the name) was, and continues to be, an extremely popular pastime for Sydneysiders, and Australians more generally. Since the earliest days of European colonisation, and doubtless before, the sea has been a popular way to cool down on a hot Australian summers day. Yet until 1902, you certainly would not have seen a scene like the one above. For many years, bathing in public during daylight hours was illegal, but in 1902, Mr William Gocher broke the law. In September, at Manly, he swam during daylight hours, breaking the Australian law against swimming during ‘prohibited hours’ (which was essentially any daylight hours. Soon others were following his example and also challenging the law. They forced the issue of daylight swimming, and before too long, the law was changed, allowing daylight bathing to occur without risk of penalty or prosecution.

Of course, the next problem arose around what was proper dress for surf bathers. As the image above shows – it was vastly different to what we consider appropriate today! Come back next week to find out more.