Saturday, December 1, 2012

Beachside History

  • 1 Dec 2012
  • The Sydney Morning Herald

Treasure trove of pictures casts a new light on beachside history

Sydneysiders black and white have long cherished the sea, writes Rick Feneley.

WHILE their coachman waits in a horse-drawn cart, the Allen children build sandcastles with their mother, Ethel . . . on Bondi Beach. It is Bondi as we don’t recognise it: pristine dunes but no hoons, no cafes, no G-stringed promenaders and not a real estate agent within cooee.

Photo: Photo Arthur Wignam Allen/ State Library of NSWDressed for winter . . . the Allen children, wearing stockings, shoes, hats and coats, in July 1901.
The only hint, in the distance, is the chimney from the North Bondi sewage outfall. It is 1901, the year of Federation.

Arthur Wigram Allen’s picture of his family is among a treasure trove of old and new photographs in a book that presents Sydney’s southside beaches in a whole new light – through the sands of time.

The actor Jack Thompson and the Aboriginal MP Linda Burney will launch Saltwater People of the Fatal Shore – Sydney’s Southern Beaches, by John Ogden and Cyclops Press, at Hazelhurst Gallery at Gymea on Saturday.

While the book is rich with the post-colonial evolution of beach life – the neck-to-toe bathers of the 1880s, the Beach Belles and the Mermaids of the early 1900s, the cliffside cave dwellers near Kurnell in the Depression years – its persistent thread is the indigenous history of the coast.

Ogden, in his companion book last year on the northern beaches, hails the ‘‘true saltwater people’’ of the Eora, Dharug and Dharawal nations. 

Challenging misconceptions that Aborigines feared the sea, he writes: ‘‘Theirs was a canoe culture. It is estimated that the fruits of the sea and estuaries provided up to 80 per cent of the Eora and Dharawal diet. They . . . were known to dive off rock ledges into the surf and emerge with lobster and abalone.’’

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