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    Adelaide - Beaches and Bathing


    (Also see:
    South Australia - Sports - Swimming,
    South Australia - Leisure and Allied Matters,
    Picnics and Holidays
    Place Names - Grange,
    Place Names - Henley Beach and
    Place Names - Semaphore

    A Brief Essay on Beach Bathing

    (Also see under Place Names - Glenelg for another essay.)

    With the advent of summer months the pools in the bed of the River Torrens became an attractive place to cool off for Thebarton citizens but with the coming of the Port railway they quickly sought less polluted water for their leisure moments. While sea bathing was an activity attractive to many people the moral standards of the day were an inhibition in making it a pastime to be shared mutually by the whole family. Other forms of transport to the seaside were aboard one of the numerous carts that traded along the Port Road or, for the more affluent, in the "Comet" described as:

    With the advent of the railway to Port Adelaide in the mid-1850s another seaside excursion other than to Glenelg was available to Thebarton families but the hierarchy of the churches and their satellites raised serious objections and a worker was to complain:

    Once upon the beach a problem arose as to undressing and donning bathing attire- "to seclude the ladies entirely from observation during [this process]... four light poles cut about seven feet in length... pointed at the end ((were used)). To these strips of canvas were nailed... the posts were fixed firmly in the sand near the water's edge... [and] formed a snug little cabin, where on hooks attached to each pole the ladies could hang their dresses or dripping bathing gowns..." This procedure applied generally until the late 1840s when bathing machines were introduced:

    In 1928 a lady of Adelaide published entertaining reminiscences of "Sea Bathing Sixty Years Ago" together with comments on the changes in public attitudes to "mixed bathing":

    The varying attitudes of the public can be gauged from the following extracts from newspapers:

    General Notes

    A bathing machine is described in the Adelaide Times, 11 March 1850, page 3d:

    Letters re "bathing nuisances" at Glenelg are in the Register,
    9 and 10 February 1857, pages 3f and 3b;
    letters re "bathing houses" appear on
    3 and 6 January 1863, pages 3f and 3c:

    "Well Sinking in the Sandhills" is in the Register,
    21 June 1862, page 2d.
    A letter expressing concern at "the sandhills - our natural bulwarks are rapidly disappearing" is in the Register,
    23 November 1877, page 7b.
    "The Conquering Marrum" grass in respect of sandhills is in the Advertiser,
    16 November 1907, page 8f. See essay at end of this section.

    "By the Salt Sea - Plants of the Sandhills" is in the Advertiser,
    14 January 1911, page 14e.

    An Essay on the Coastal Dunes

    When Europeans arrived in 1836 sand dunes ran along the coast from a little north of Largs Bay to Seacliff and comprised a succession of long ridges, dunes and swales. The taller of these sandhills were at Brighton and near Estcourt House between Semaphore and Grange, the highest being about fifty feet, while the breadth of them was no more than a few hundred yards.

    Older sandhills, indicative of an earlier coastline and reddish in colour, commenced near Somerton, ran through the Kooyonga Golf Links and continued past Seaton along the eastern bank of the Port Creek to Port Adelaide, terminating in the western part of Torrens Island. They also stood up to fifty feet high and, following European settlement, were depleted steadily when it was realised that they were a ready source for garden and building sand.

    The coastal sandhills were vegetated thickly with acacia, teatree and sedges, while the higher red sand dunes inland supported stands of native pines, eucalypts and sheoaks. Behind these dunes was an extensive low-lying swampy area extending from the upper reaches of the Port River southwards through the Reedbeds at Fulham to the Patawalonga ('swamp of snakes') and reaching as far inland as Richmond and Cowandilla (Kaundilla - 'freshwater place').

    There have been times in the history of South Australia when drift sands were unknown on the shores of St Vincent Gulf, near Glenelg but, as long as the industry of man goes back, the holders of land between the Patawalonga mouth and the Grange were put to constant expense in connection with drifting sandhills. It was a common experience to get up in the morning and find that a sandhill, which the evening before was a landmark on one portion of a section, had succumbed to the superior strength of a heavy wind and moved bodily to another site and in its course enveloped fences, buildings and other objects.

    A few plants capable of growing in very arid soil, and withstanding the salt air, took possession of these loose heaps and they had to be deep-rooted to bind the loose material of the dunes together, while shallower species also did much to prevent shifting of the surface. When this vegetation was destroyed the ground became loose and moved by the prevailing winds until fertile tracts of country were inundated, while fresh dunes were formed continually at the rear. Chief among the plants fixing the sand was Spinifex hirsutus which extended as long, knotted trailing stems, rooting at every joint. This grass continued all along the coast and the stoutness of its stems, its downy overcoat, and the breadth of its bracts, that folded almost around the nodes, equipped it admirably for battling with the elements.

    Another plant restricted to the border of the sea was Lepidosperma gladiatum, or sword-like scaly-sand sedge, sometimes obtaining a height of seven feet and said to furnish excellent fibre and pulp for paper. Among the shrubs were Stiphelis Australia with stiff lancet-shaped leaves; its flowers were made up of small white blossoms, succeeded by small round berries, white when ripe, and appreciated by the younger members of the community. Other plants included a few Melaleuca parvifolia mingled with the commoner species M. pastulata.

    Then there was the wonderfully juicy fig-marigold (Mesembrianthemum), vast quantities of which covered the surface in many places. The fleshy leaves, two to three inches long, were arranged in pairs and each succeeding pair was set crosswise to that below it. They were so thick that a section of one was almost an equilateral triangle, with a side of nearly one-third of an inch. Its name signifies 'moon flower' and is given because the flowers of this plant, which are nearly two inches across, only opens in bright sunlight.

    Not infrequent was the beautiful white everlasting (H. leucopsidium) with solitary terminal heads an inch or more across, while also at home in this extreme environment were the yellow Helichrysum (H. apiculatum) and Wahlenbergia, the latter almost at home there as it was on the top of Mount Lofty. Other plants to be seen were the mealy-white Rhagodia Billardieri, a kind of salt bush, and the curious Brown's Calocephalus, a composite having rigid intricate branches, clothed in a white wool and furnished with minute close-pressed leaves. The box-leaved Alyxia was also abundant, while Staminate and Pisillate flowers occurred separately, the latter forming large globular beads of stiff spines.

    On the sea face of the dunes was to be found Lotus Australis which produced thick, succulent foliage, and in the more sheltered hollows the evening primrose. The small native geranium (G. pilosum) was plentiful and could be distinguished from the naturalised dovesfoot geranium by the carpels being heavy, but not transversely wrinkled, and the seeds covered with minute reticulations instead of smooth. One of our native pelargoniums (P. australe) made bushes 18 inches long, while the Hawkweed picris was a frequent composite, its habits short and stout.

    In appropriate seasons these dunes were a mass of colour; for example, in 1887 members of the Field Naturalists' Society described them and painted a picture not to be seen by the citizens of South Australia today:

    Marram Grass

    The sand comprising the dunes at was so fine that, when perfectly dry in the summer, a stiff breeze would carry hundreds of tons from one place to another. Ballasting was tried on a small scale, but it was found that the cost of carting soil to spread over the sand was prohibitive. Consequently, the planting of couch and other grasses was resorted to. When the couch of the Reedbeds had got a good hold it soon subdued the drifts to a large extent but, generally speaking, the worst hills defeated the couch until something else came to the assistance of property owners.

    As far back as 1510 a proclamation was issued by Emperor Maximilian of Austria enforcing the planting of the marram grass on sandy wastes. It was introduced into Australia by Baron von Mueller, of Victoria, and it was he who sent cuttings to the Borough of Port Fairy. In May 1892 Mr A.B. Bennett brought the attention of the Glenelg corporation to an article appearing in the Australasian in respect of 'a grand grass for binding shifting sands and upon which cattle could feed', and he went on to say:

    Subsequently, the grass was planted with marked success at Corny Point on the shifting sands near the lighthouse. In 1893 Mr John Butterworth, of Normanville, planted a ton of it on the sandhills near the jetty and it did so well that he ordered a further four tons and, closer to home, it was suggested that 'the sandhills from the Port Lighthouse to Brighton would be a capital place to plant this grass.'

    It was not until 1895 that the Glenelg council obtained a supply of marram grass 'which was planted in several places in the town with a view to keeping back the drift sand.' After various experiments the wiry marram grass appeared to be the only growth that could master the situation and was planted with success on the sandhills south of the Henley Beach Road.

    In 1907, Mr Herbert G. Gray placed beyond doubt the value of the grass for combating drift hills and ultimately converting them into good fodder producing areas. On the property adjoining the Morphett estate Mr Gray and his father before him, had to contend against a serious nuisance in the form of drifting sandhills, which were almost incessantly on the move in the summer.

    Several methods were tried to bring them under control, but everything failed until marram was planted in spadeholes about six feet apart. The small roots stooled well and on one mound,, once regarded as the worst on the estate, had grown so well that the sand was almost completely hidden by marram and ordinary fodder grasses. In time, Mr Gray had enough marram on this one hill to plant the whole of the remaining drifts and, when they were under control, he followed the example set by Mr J.W. Porter at Victor Harbor and planted the adjacent slopes and flats with succulent fodder crops.

    Restrictions on bathing and the segregation of sexes are reported upon in the Register,
    11 April 1863, page 2e and
    11 October 1864, page 3a; also see
    7, 8 and 9 November 1865, pages 3g, 2f and 2f:

    "Sea Bathing 60 Years Ago" is in the Register, 11 January 1928, page 12d:

    A prediction of an immense tidal wave is in the Register,
    4 February 1869, page 3f; also see
    23 September 1869, page 2d.

    A gentleman expresses his concerns in the Advertiser,
    22 January 1872, page 3g:

    The intrusion of jockeys, horses and attendants on to the "Ladies' Reserve" on the Glenelg beach is the subject of comment in the Register on 16 and 17 December 1881, pages 1c (supp.) and 1e (supp.):

    "Seaside Fashions" is in the Observer,
    24 September 1881, page 42a.

    "Bathing From the Beach" is in the Register,
    4 April 1884, page 4g.

    "Sea Bathing Dresses" is in the Observer,
    3 January 1891, page 8c.

    "Common Sense Bathing" is in the Express,
    14 February 1894, page 3e,
    13 and 15 February 1894, pages 6g and 6g,
    "Bathing and Swimming" on
    20 February 1894, page 4f,
    20 February 1897, page 4h,
    "Bathing and the Seaside" in the Register,
    17 December 1897, page 4g.

    "Decorum in the 90's" is in The Mail,
    28 December 1935, page 7g.

    "Common Sense Bathing" is in the Express,
    14 February 1894, page 3e.

    "Trial of Lifesaving Apparatus" is in the Observer,
    27 May 1899, page 15d.

    "Bathing and Prudency" is the subject of diverse comment in the Register,
    5, 6, 7, 13 and 16 February, 1903, pages 3f, 3f, 6i, 7g and 7d;

    The question "Is the Community Too Prudish?" is posed in the Advertiser,
    14 January 1905, page 6e:

    "A Warning to Bathers" is in the Register,
    2 December 1905, page 7a.

    "Swallowed by a Shark [at Outer Harbour]" is in the Register,
    28 April 1906, page 7a.

    "The Glory of the Seaside" is in the Register,
    28 January 1907, page 6e:

    "Self Life-Saving by Floating" is in the Observer,
    25 January 1908, page 40a.

    "Camp Out - On the Beaches" is in the Register,
    7 January 1910, page 7d.

    A photograph of a sand artist on a beach is in the Chronicle,
    15 January 1910, page 30.

    "Booming Bathing" is in the Register,
    27 January 1910, page 7e.

    "Bathing Houses on the Beach" is in the Advertiser,
    4 February 1911, page 12g and
    information on lifesaving exhibitions on
    5 February 1912, page 8f.

    "Bathing Houses to be Opened" is in The Mail,
    28 September 1912, page 5d,
    12 October 1912, page 20d.

    Photographs of "lady bathers" are in the Chronicle,
    15 February 1913, page 29.

    "Patrolling the Beaches" is in the Advertiser,
    13 January 1913, page 8g,
    "Calf Love on the Beaches" in The Mail,
    10 January 1914, page 5g.

    "The Menace on the Beach" is in The Critic,
    7 and 14 January 1914, pages 4 and 4,
    11 February 1914, page 4.

    "Transparent Bathing Houses" is in the Register,
    22 December 1914, page 6f.

    A complaint about sea-bathing at Brighton is in the Advertiser,
    27 January 1915, page 6d where "men and girls were playing leap frog and there appeared to be an entire absence of modesty."

    "The Cult of the Sea - Its Influence on South Australian Womanhood" is in The Mail,
    22 January 1916, page 2h.
    "How We Make Love - Immodest Change in Courting Methods - Women Police Get Evidence From Seaside and Torrens Banks" is in The Mail,
    4 March 1916, page 4f.
    "Beach Police - Citizens Sworn In" is in The Mail,
    1 February 1930, page 1c.
    "Seaside Costumes - Visit of Women Police" is in the Advertiser,
    28 January 1931, page 7c:

    There was one objectionable practice among bathers... the custom adopted by some young men and women of lolling about the sands too close together...

    Also see South Australia - Women - Women Police

    A photograph titled "1820 Shocked at 1920" is in the Observer,
    8 January 1921, page 23.

    "How to Popularise Our Beaches" is in The Mail,
    12 November 1921, page 2d.

    "Bathing Costumes" is in the Advertiser,
    10 January 1923, page 12d:

    "That Bathing Suit - One-Piece to be Forbidden" is in The Mail,
    27 January 1923, page 2g,
    "One Piece or Two" on
    10 November 1923, page 3f,
    "What Bathers Should Wear" on
    27 November 1926, page 1a.

    "Improving the Beaches" is in the Advertiser,
    21 September 1923, page 11c.

    "Beach Beauties - Varieties of Costumes" is in The News,
    6 October 1923, page 5d.

    " Drowning Fatalities Stir Public" is in The News,
    20 and 21 December 1923, pages 1a and 1a.

    "On the Beaches - Preparing for Summer" is in The Mail,
    19 September 1925, page 1c,
    "Sea Beach Deficiencies" on
    14 November 1925, page 2e,
    "Beach Games" on
    6 February 1926, page 9c.

    "Beach Morals" is in the Register,
    10 December 1926, page 8e.

    "Beach Rescues - Life Savers Organise" is in The Mail,
    9 January 1926, page 14c,
    "Beach Patrols" in The News,
    3 January 1929, page 17c,
    "Making Beaches Safe - Life Savers to be on Duty Constantly" in the Advertiser,
    23 December 1933, page 18f,
    "SA Lifesavers Advance" in The Mail,
    14 December 1935, page 1,
    "Lifesaving on Beaches" in The News,
    21 July 1936, page 3f.
    Also see Place Names - Chiton Rocks andPlace Names - Henley Beach.

    "A Foreshore Vision" (marine drive) is in the Register,
    16 November 1926, pages 8d-9c,
    16 March 1927, page 11d,
    30 March 1929, page 55d.

    "A Noble Heritage - Adelaide's White Beaches" is in the Register,
    1 February 1927, page 11c.

    "Improving the Foreshore" is in the Advertiser,
    23 July 1927, page 18b.

    "Unique Beach Assets" is in The News,
    24 November 1927, page 15f.

    "Motors on Beaches" is in the Register on
    28 and 29 November 1927, pages 8f and 9f,
    20 December 1927, page 8g.

    "Bathing Fashions - Brighter and Briefer - A Plea for Moderation" is in the Register,
    10 December 1927, page 11h:

    "Sideshow Season on Beaches" is in The News,
    22 November 1928, page 23b,
    "Misuse of Sea Beaches" on
    26 November 1928, page 8c.

    "Our Beautiful Beaches - From Seacliff to Largs Bay" is in the Register,
    2 January 1929, page 14g,
    "Danger on Beaches - Restrictions on Motoring" on
    9 January 1929, page 11c.

    "The Beaches and Unclothed Women" is in the Advertiser,
    28 December 1929, page 18g:

    "No Shark-Proof Bathing in Adelaide" is in The News,
    7 March 1930, page 8c,
    "Waging War Against Sharks" on
    8 December 1931, page 8c,
    "To Get Rid of Sharks" on
    17 January 1934, page 5h,
    2 February 1934, page 2g.
    A proposal for shark sirens on beaches is discussed in the Advertiser,
    26 February 1934, page 9f.
    Also see South Australia - Flora and Fauna - Fish and Other Sea Creatures.

    "Men Complain About State of Undress" is in The News,
    30 October 1930, page 6c.

    "Beach Busybodies" is in the Register,
    29 December 1930, page 6c,
    1 January 1931, page 31e,
    "Moral Danger on Beaches" in the Observer,
    5 February 1931, page 6d.

    Modern fashion in feminine attire disquiet the puritan's mind... Our open columns have borne testimony to the shock occasioned by the bare arms and legs of sea bathers... Hence the enactment of by-laws requiring... a neck-to-knee covering, or, as allowed at Glenelg, the wearing of a single-piece costume with a V-piece.
    (Advertiser, 29 January 1931, page 6e.)

    "Bathing Dress" is in The News,
    13 March 1931, page 7e,
    "Backless Bathers at Glenelg Only" in the Advertiser,
    15 and 18 August 1931, pages 16c and 10d,
    14 October 1931, page 7i,
    "Glenelg Ban on Topless Bathers" on
    25, 28 and 30 October 1933, pages 19d, 20b and 8g,
    1 and 23 November 1933, pages 20f and 15d,
    "Topless Bathers" in the Advertiser,
    12 October 1937, page 18d.
    "Five Bathers Fined" is in the Advertiser,
    4 November 1937, page 13d,
    1 and 7 December 1937, pages 30g and 13f

    "Shorts for Bathing" is in The News,
    16 August 1933, page 5c,
    "Ban on New Bathers" on
    6 and 7 October 1933, pages 1g and 4d,
    "Men in Topless Bathers - Police Take Six Names" on
    30 October 1933, page 1h,
    21 and 22 November 1933, pages 1h and 1g,
    "Topless Bathers Banned" on
    4 July 1934, page 3h.
    "SM on Topless Bathers" is in The News,
    8 January 1936, page 8g.
    A photograph of "topless bathers" at Moana beach appears on
    20 January 1936, page 12; also see
    25 January 1936, page 5g.
    "Topless Bathers: Why Not Allow Them?" is in The News,
    18 December 1936, page 6f; also see
    The Mail,
    31 July 1937, page 2b,
    28 August 1937, page 1b,
    The News,
    8, 25, 28 and 29 September 1937, pages 7, 1d, 7a and
    6 (cartoon), 14 October 1937, page 12h,
    4 November 1937, page 10 (cartoon),
    1, 6 and 7 December 1937, pages 13e, 5c and 7g,
    5, 6, 13, 20, 21, 22, 24 and 25 January 1938.

    "Bathers to be Backless" is in The News,
    18 October 1932, page 1g.

    "Parking Charge at Beaches?" is in The News,
    4 February 1932, page 7a; also see
    19 January 1934, page 5f.

    "Beach Games on Sunday" is in The News,
    14 December 1932, page 8f,
    "Bathers in a Quandary" on
    15 February 1933, page 4d.

    "Drive Along the Foreshore" is in The News,
    1 September 1933, page 6f,
    24 July 1934, page 4d.

    "Beaches Ready for Summer" is in the Advertiser,
    10 October 1933, page 14h.

    "The Call of the Beaches" is in The Mail,
    17 November 1934, page 2.

    "The By-laws and Beaches" is in The News,
    20 November 1934, page 6d.

    "Scant Beach Attire" is the cause of complaint in the Advertiser, 14 January 1936, page 18d:

    "Councils Should Control Dogs on Beaches" is in The News,
    18 January 1936, page 4d.

    "The Battle of the Beaches" is in the Advertiser,
    31 January 1936, page 22f,
    "Bathing Old and New" on
    17 October 1936, page 11c.

    "Topless Bathers: Why Not Allow Them?" is in The News,
    18 December 1936, page 6f.

    "Councils Firm on Bathing By-Laws" is in the Advertiser,
    29 September 1937, page 24b.

    "Beach Improvements" is in the Advertiser
    10 and 21 December 1937, pages 30d and 25d.

    "Nude Bathing Charges" is in The Mail,
    13 February 1937, page 2a; also see
    The News,
    13 February 1937, page 1d.
    "When Adelaide Bathed in the Nude [1880s]" is in the Chronicle,
    22 April 1937, page 50c.

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