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.

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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.

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.

Clifton Gardens

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This week, with the weather rapidly warming up and many Sydneysiders heading for the beach, it seemed the perfect time to share this beautiful image of Clifton Gardens. Today, many Sydneysiders head out of the city in search of the seaside, but once, pleasure resorts such as the one pictured above were all the rage, and much closer to the heart of Sydney than many might expect!

In 1828, the first grant at Chowder Bay was given to Thomas Graham, the assistant to the Government Botanist, Mr Fraser. Graham recognised that the land at Chowder Bay was quite fertile, and soon established a four-acre orchard. By 1832 though, Graham was broke, and the property was sold – 15 acres of it to Captain Edmund Cliffe. Many believe, and it certainly seems reasonable to assume, that Cliffe was the one who called the property Cliffeton, a name which appears to have stuck well beyond his death in 1837. The property continued to be improved upon and altered, but the biggest change came in 1853 when CF Hemmington opened a pleasure ground. Hemmington already operated a pleasure ground called Fairy Bower in Manly, and he named his new pleasure ground at Cliffeton (as it was then known) Fairyland. Being right on the harbour, there was plenty of water access and people could visit by steamer. It wasn’t until the 1870s and the construction of the Clifton Hotel that the area became truly popular though.

The Clifton Hotel was built in 1871 by Duncan Butters and just a year later, Butters was also granted a publicans license making the Clifton Hotel one of the first two licensed hotels in the entirety of Mosman. Unsurprisingly, the establishment of a licensed hotel increased the popularity of the pleasure ground exponentially! Then, in 1879, David Thompson purchased the Clifton Gardens Estate and enlarged the hotel. He also added a wharf and dance hall which further appealed to Sydneysiders visiting the area. In fact, so popular was the music and dancing, and so rowdy did it become, that in 1882 Thompson’s license was amended – he was no longer allowed music and dancing at Clifton Gardens at all! By 1885 he had managed to regain a full license though and reopened the hotel as a massive, 40 room hotel. The dancing pavilion was also upgraded and reopened and was advertised as the largest and best of its kind not just in Sydney, but in the Australian colonies!

Yet swimming was not yet an attraction at Clifton Gardens. Come back next week to find out what happened next!

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.