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.

Merry Christmas From Sydney Zoological Gardens

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This week, with Christmas just around the corner, and Christmas holidays well and truly upon us, it seemed the perfect opportunity to share this beautiful postcard. The postcard, which shows the zoological gardens in Sydney, was published especially for Christmas, and is quite a different scene to those which appeared on many seasonal cards of the time.

The zoo in Sydney, now Taronga Zoo, has long been a popular destination for holiday makers, whether at Christmas or at other times of the year. Yet the zoo as we know it is very different from the zoological gardens in this postcard. In fact, they aren’t even in the same place! The Sydney Zoological Gardens were established in the 1880s after the Sydney City Council granted the new Sydney Zoological Society permission to occupy an area of Moore Park. The area where this first ‘Zoological Gardens’ was established was 7 ½ acres in an area known as Billy Goat Swamp. This is an area which today is part of Sydney Girls High School. As time went by, and under the direction of Charles Moore, the zoological gardens expanded eventually even including an elephant house and bear pit.

By 1910 however the zoo was considered not only too small, but too popular. The site at Moore Park was no longer suitable for such a popular tourist destination and Taronga Park in Mosman was selected as an alternate site for the zoo.

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.

Bondi Beach

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Australia has a long and proud history of swimming and beach culture. Indeed, for most overseas visitors a visit to an Australian beach is a nonnegotiable feature of an Australian holiday. Many of these visitors will be making tracks for the beach pictured above, itself one of Australias most iconic beaches – Bondi.
For many Sydneysiders, Bondi Beach may be overcrowded and over rated, yet historically, it is one of Australias more important seaside resorts. The first formal settlement in the era after European colonization came in 1809, when a road builder, William Roberts, was granted land at what is now Bondi. This grant, which comprised 81 hectares, was given in recognition of O’briens work laying out what we now call Old South Head Road. In 1851 Edward Smith Hall and Francis O’brien increased the area of the grant to 200 acres of land, which included the entirety of what is now Bondi Beach. Their estate was named The Bondi Estate. Between 1855 and 1877 O’brien purchased Halls portion of the grant, renaming the estate The O’brien Estate and allowing public use of the beach and surrounding area.
Soon though, the beach was becoming very popular, with flocks of tourists visiting. O’brien threatened to block access to the area, which at the time, was his land. The newly formed council wanted the beach to remain public, and asked the government of NSW to make it so.  In 1882 Bondi Beach became a public beach and two years later, in 1884, tram services began to run to the beach.