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Sydneysiders forbidden to swim at the beach

Defining Moments in Australian History

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Surf lifesaving clubs form

Sydneysiders forbidden to swim at the beach

Until the early 20th century, the New South Wales government considered it immoral for citizens to swim in the ocean during daytime. People were allowed to ‘bathe’ at the beach only in the early morning or late evening, and men and women could not swim together.

Swimmers at Manly Beach, 1900-1910
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, PXE 711 / 277.

In 1907, the bathing laws were relaxed. This created a deadly problem as thousands of inexperienced swimmers began flocking to Sydney’s beaches, some of them drowning in the dangerous surf. The answer was found in the formation of the first surf lifesaving clubs, starting with Bondi in February 1907 and several others soon after.