Ford, Caroline: Sydney beaches

Ford, Caroline

Sydney Beaches: A History, NewSouth, Sydney, 2014

The book looks at

the way Sydney’s beaches came to be as they are: how they came to be public land treasured by bathers and surfers, but not places to set up a shack; how they came to be clean enough to swim in again after decades of pollution by sewage and refuse (and how the keenest continued to bathe amongst the floating garbage); and how beach erosion has shaped the Sydney coastline.

The book embodies the findings of Caroline‘s many years of highly skilled, persistent and perspicacious research in NSW State Records holdings and local collections. Its story of the beaches is utterly intertwined with the stories of Sydneysiders. It makes a highly entertaining read and is replete with stunning images of beach athletes, activists and the general public getting in and out of their swimwear. (blurb)

There is an extract here plus a lot more on beaches at the author’s website. She talks about the book. She talks at length with Phillip Adams. The book is reviewed by Peter Spearritt.

The author wrote on her website about beachgoing at the outbreak of the Great War compared with now.

A century ago the Sydney Morning Herald published an article describing Sydney in late Spring that is as true today as it was then (trams aside):

“Sydney is herself again when surfing begins … The majority of our population run into the sea as inevitably as if they were rivers … The towel brigade occupy the early trams in great force, wherever the said tram is running on a surf beach route. That is one of the characteristics of our city that mark it out like no other city in the world. (SMH 28 October 1914)”

In Sydney the beach, and the surf, is summer. People start to talk about the beach at the first signs of warm weather, and local media publish photos of the gently swelling beach crowds as evidence of the changing seasons. It is an annual metamorphosis of a city that seems entirely natural, a timeless ritual. Except that it’s not. When the SMH published that piece in the early months of the First World War, its readers had witnessed, and participated in, a major shift in local beach cultures. Less than a decade earlier, most Sydney residents had likely not experienced the sensation of diving into the surf, and it was the mountains, rather than the ocean, where local newspapers had directed those seeking respite from the summer heat.

The broader aquatic context is in Ian Hoskins’s Coast. Other sources on related subjects include William McInnes’s Holidays, Bill Garner’s Born in a Tent, and Hannah Lewi’s 2017 article in The Conversation on public swimming pools.

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