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hill : surfing history, 1921 
E. J. Hill  : "Freedom of the Seas"
The Story of Surfing and Mixed Bathing, 1921.

Extract from
Hill, E. J.: "Freedom of the Seas".
The Story of Surfing and Mixed Bathing.
Some Historical Facts.
Sea, Land and Air.
The Australian National Monthly of Topical Interest.
Official Journal of the Australian Aero Club.
The Wireless Institutes of Australia and New Zealand.
The Mercantile Marine War Service Association of Australasia.
Edited by S. E.Tatham.
The Wireless Press, 97 Clarence Street, Sydney.
September 1, 1921, pages 412 to 415.


Page 412

WITH the advent of surf-bathing, a a new item was added to the long category of sports indulged in by the English-speaking peoples, and like our other outdoor sports, there is none more beneficial unless carried to excess.

Long before anyone outside certain islanders of the Pacific thought that surf bathing could become a national sport, as it has done in Australia, swiming baths had been excavated here and there on the beaches, and the old time bathing machines with shark-proof en-closures were in evidence on at least one beach in New South Wales.
The fight by those who, more broad-minded than local councillors and mid Victorian officials, realised the health-giving properties of live water was, though brief, a fairly stubborn one.

"Over the top" on a breaker.

During those years when Captain Cook was on his voyages of discovery which led to this sunny land of ours being made one of the brightest jewels in Britain's diadem, King George III. made sea bathing fashionable in England because his medical advisers ordered him a daily dip.
Up till then there had been swimmers in the open, notably the men of Devon, Somerset and Cornwall, but as a fashionable pastime the salt waters of the Channel were looked askance at until royalty
led the way.
The waters around Weymouth received the royal person.
Fashionable doctors ordered fashionable patients the same treatment.
Ladies and ...

Page 413

... gentlemen of quality journeyed to sea-side places, as previously they had gone to Bath or Harrogate, or other spas.

But there were no neck-to-knee costumes in 1770.
There were not even V's, and, according to the London Bystander, Majesty itself, Majesty's sons and daughters, the most noble Lords and ladies, the most respectable of the landed gentry and their beter halves bathed in the sea even as Aphrodite might have done or Adam and Eve before their adventure with the apple.

Naturally, too men bathed in one spot and the women in another, and as remotely as possible-
hence the custom that obtained before we learnt common sense and started mixed bathing.

Coogee Beach (N.S.W.), looking north, 
showing Beach Street towards the 
end of the last century.
Today the whole of these hills are 
covered with residences and shops.

Coogee Beach, looking south, in 
pre-surfing days, showing bathing 
machines with shark proof enclosures.

One has only to turn back to the early numbers of Punch to get some idea of what sea bathing was in "the days that were but are not."
The huge hoods over the seaward door of the bathing machines were a survival of the eighteenth century method.
Beauty descended from its machine into the water hidden from all view by the hood.
Nothing could possibly be seen of Beauty beyond Beauty's head emerging from beneath the hood. But she was robed only by the water.
Yet nobody wrote letters to the newspapers about it.
Perhaps it was because minding other people's business was not so general as it is to-day.

Then came what one might describe as "the costume period," when Beauty arrayed herself in voluminous and violent eoloured bathing dresses more suitable to a sack race than natation.
As far as bathing was concerned she was limited to the length of the rope attached to the seaward end of the bathing machine, and after bobbing up and down for awhile retired to the seclusion of that fearsome vehicle to dry hertelf and dress.
Clad as they then were, it is small wonder that women had no wish to be seen by, or mix with, their male relatives or friends.
Also, the men were not yet ready for social intercourse while bathing.
Their costume, all right amongst themselves, was hardly the thing for calling.
Like the gentleman in Kipling's verse, "The raiment that he wore was nothing much before and rather less than 'alf of that be'ind".

Only a few years ago mixed bathing was absolutely taboo at English watering places.
Trippers who had visited Osrend and Trouville and other continental bathing resorts spoke of the scenes there where men and women lolled on the sand (the latter with considerably more on than they wear in a ballroom to-day), or entered the water (up to their ankles only, hand in hand, with bated breath.
It was "so foreign, you know."
With the passing of Queen Victoria, however, and the ascent to the throne of King Edward VII., the Englishman and woman began to realise that life need not be all drab monotony and strict segregation.
Suitable bathing costumes for both men and women were evolved and beauty, freed from the tyranny of the bathing rope, and emancipated from the dangerous and clinging toils of that unspeakable bathing gown, can use to-day, what we always really knew she possessed, her- legs, and swim in the sea.
To-day Beauty competes in cross-Channel swims, the ...

Page 414

... Olympic games and puts up long and short distance records that are a credit to her.
Artistically, of course, the change is nothing short of miraculous.
Instead of being a blot upon the seascape, she adorns it, and where else in the world can one see finer specimens of young womanhood than on the golden sands of the beaches, fringing Australia's eastern seaboard.

The freedom of the seas as far as surf bathing in New South Wales is concerned was not achieved in a moment.
As recently as 1904 local Bumbledom even forbade men the joys of surf bathing between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.
That Beauty would ever dare to breast the breakers was unthinkable.
But the men who a few years later scaled Gallipoli's heights were not likely to be beaten by a few narrow-minded local aldermen, even though these latter were backed up by the police.
Test cases were fought in courts from Manly and Coogee, and eventually common sense won the day and the surf became the sports ground of local residents daily, and of the tired city toiler of both sexes every week-end.
The surf bath and the sun bath are to-day a part of our national life, for unlike the icy waters of the English Channel, the North Sea, or the Irish Channel, Australian waters are not of too Iow a temperature during the winter months to debar anyone who cares about it bathing all the year round. There are many men- curiously enough, mostly well over middle age- and women too, who never miss their morning dip in the long Pacific swell.
Handsom surf sheds for both sexes adorn the majority of our beaches, and the profit from them forms a comfortable addition, in most cases, to the local council's revenue.

Coogee Beach at the present time, 
showing the great development that 
has taken place since surf bathing 
was allowed.

With the advent of surf bathing, and especially mixed bathing, came the creation of live-saving clubs on almost every beach, and on more than one of our beaches the local council maintains a permanent and paid life saver.
One cannot speak too highly of these life saving clubs and the work they do.
It is no small thing for a young man to give up his Saturday afternoon, his Sunday morning or afternoon, and a portion of each public holiday, to keep watch and ...

Page 415

... ward over those in the water, and to also give up many of his evenings to strenuous drill so that when the call comes he may with his fellow life-savers make no mistake with belt, line or wheel.

Only a few months ago a borough councillor in England made himself notorious by denouncing mixed bathing, and stated that no man would want to marry a woman once he had seen her come wet from the water "looking like a skinned rabbit."
We had a similar parallel in New South Wales a year or two ago, when a local mayor decreed that no woman should enter the surf on the beach over which his council held authority unless she wore a skirt.
He based his decree on much the same line of argument as the councillor in the old country.
Nothing is more dangerous to a woman in the water than a skirt, and before he passed over to the Great Majority the mayor was converted to the neck-to- knee habit, just the same as the borough councillor in England eventually struck his flag to mixed bathing.

One of the chief arguments against surf bathing in New South Wales was that it would bring an undesirable class of people to the beaches and that property would deteriorate.
How wrong that argument was has since been amply verified.
There are no more orderly or respectable parts of the Commonwealth than our beaches, and as to adjacent property deteriorating, it has improved in value beyond the wildest expectations of those who owned it less than a quarter of a century ago.
If in wilder or less civilised parts of the globe trade follows the flag one can certainly affirm also that trade follows the surfers.
Manly, Coogee, Bondi and Maroubra and other beaches bear unwavering witness to the fact.

Our fathers won the freedom of the seas by policing them unceasingly for centuries.
We in Australia have won the freedom of the surf for the benefit of coming generations, and having once won this right, are never likely to relinguish it.

The Govenor of New South Wales, 
Sir Walter Davidson, (centre), inspecting 
resucitation work by a member of the 
Coogee Surf Life Saving Club.

Sea, Land and Air.
The Australian National Monthly of Topical Interest.
Official Journal of the Australian Aero Club.
The Wireless Institutes of Australia and New Zealand.
The Mercantile Marine War Service Association of Australasia.
Edited by S. E.Tatham.
The Wireless Press, 97 Clarence Street, Sydney, September 1,1921.

Hill, E. J.:"Freedom of the Seas".
The Story of Surfing and Mixed Bathing.
Some Historical Facts.
Pages 412 to 415.

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home catalogue history references appendix

Geoff Cater (2008) : E.J. Hill : Surfing and Bathing History, 1921.