Banned from the beach?

With Tourism and Australian Beach Cultures published this week one of the authors, Christine Metusela, tells us about the restrictions that bathers were subject to in Australia.

Can you imagine being banned from bathing in the sea? This was the case in New South Wales, Australia, from the 1830s to 1903. At this time the state government banned bathing in the sea in public view between 6 am and 8 pm. Our book, Tourism and Australian Beach Cultures, explores why bathing was banned and the political and cultural processes that subsequently transformed the beach. We begin by exploring the dominant moral values of the British colonial gentry that led to the ban on daylight bathing in public view, even at beach resorts in New South Wales. The focus of the book then traces the emergence of the bathing reserve, bathing ordinances and beach inspectors as mechanisms given to municipal authorities to restore respectability to a growing number of middle-class people that bathed, swam or sunbathed at the beach. The transformation of beach cultures is examined in terms of the implications of new forms of mobility like the train and car, along with the emergence of swimming clubs and surf clubs among the middle-classes that changed understandings of ‘race’, masculinity and healthy bodies. These ideas are illustrated drawing on examples form the Illawarra, some 80 kilometres south of Sydney.

‘Seaside Holiday… Sunburn and laughter and a dipping sea’ (The Australian Women’s Weekly 1933, 25 November)

When this front cover of The Australian Women’s Weekly was released in November 1933, bathing ordinances provided a set of rules governing the bathing costumes of both men and women. Until the mid1930s, men and women could be fined for not wearing a costume that measured three inches in the leg. Bathing ordinances also required men to cover their chests, and conceal their penis behind a skirted trunk. Yet, as this illustration from The Australian Women’s Weekly suggests (along with photographs in our book of bathers at the beaches of the Illawarra), these rules were difficult to enforce.

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