On This Day …

Monday, 2nd November, 1903

Did you know that before 1903 it was illegal to swim at the beach in daylight hours in Australia? Well, particularly in Manly (Sydney), I find. But it seems to follow the current moral trend of the time.

Bathing machine 1893

Public swimming on the beaches was banned completely in the 1830s. Those naughty soldiers were always so hot in their uniforms that by the end of the day, they would just strip down naked and jump into the ocean. As you can imagine, that was unacceptable for society at that time, so the governing bodies clamped down on this behaviour.

As time went on, people could use bathing machines — a kind of tent on wheels which was rolled into the ocean. Women could slip inside to change in and out of their bathing costume and have their swim in modesty. Of course, bathing costumes in that era would have made swimming, particularly in the ocean, quite dangerous. All those layers of material would be so heavy once filled with water — I can imagine the downward pull that would have in the water.

Swimming costumes in 1864

In 1902, William Henry Gocher, who ran the local paper in Manly, declared his intention to swim in daylight hours on the 2nd of October, in a newspaper article, defying the current laws. He followed through with his threat, though it was not until the third time he dipped in the ocean that he was finally arrested. However, he was never charged.

It took another year of campaigning for the right to swim before the Manly council revoked the law and on 2nd November, 1903, daylight swimming was allowed. There were some tight rules still applied, however. Costumes had to be neck to knee and women and men swam at different times. But these things did slowly change over the years.

Can you imagine if it was still illegal to swim at the beach? Would you obey, or sneak off to a secluded beach somewhere and go for a dip anyway?

Published in: on 2nd November, 2012 at 10:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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