The Story of Bondi


Aboriginal rock carvings reflect early coastal life

Aboriginal rock carvings found along coastal areas of Bondi Beach, believed to be approximately 200 years old, provide a fascinating insight into the traditional coastal life of Indigenous Australians. The rock carvings can be found at Bondi Golf Course, Ben Buckler Reserve and on the Costal Walk at Mackenzies Point. They depict various fish species, and were probably formed by ‘pecking’ small holes in the rock surface with a pointed stone or shell and later joined together by grooving the rock. The largest group of carvings is found on what is now the Bondi Golf Course, which was once probably a ceremonial ground. These depict what could be described as the first recorded shark attack at Bondi Beach with a large, 8-metre shark (whose face has unfortunately worn away) attacking a large, male figure who is swimming diagonally away from the creature.


Bathing banned at Bondi during daylight

Prior to 1905, bathing during daylight hours was prohibited due to concerns over sharks and stingrays, as well as modesty. However, that didn’t stop people from enjoying the sand and the surf. During the 1990s, attitudes began to relax, and the beach became associated with health, leisure and democracy – a playground everyone could enjoy.


First trams arrive at Bondi Beach

From the mid-1800s, Bondi Beach was a favourite location for family outings and picnics. In the late 1800s, a tram network was established to carry beachgoers from Circular Quay to Bondi. Trams ran down to Bondi along the tramway loop and around the esplanade of Bondi Beach. The last tram to Bondi was in 1960


Bondi has its very own amusement park

Though hard to imagine now, the park behind Tamarama Beach was once home to a very colourful amusement park. In 1887, the Royal Aquarium and Pleasure Grounds was established here, with exhibits including sharks, seals and a penguin, as well as roller coasters, sword contests, tightrope walkers and roller-skating rinks. In 1906, the park evolved into Wonderland City, and featured a miniature railway along the cliff tops as well as an airship which was suspended above the beach.


Surf lifesaving starts at Bondi

As sea bathing became more popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, public safety became a concern. In response, the world’s first formally documented surf lifesaving club, the Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club, was formed in 1907. Surf patrol members wearing their distinctive red and yellow quartered caps first appeared at Bondi that summer. Some key features of surf rescue were established in those early years, including several Australian inventions.

From Bondi, the surf lifesaving movement spread through NSW and then to the rest of Australia and the world. Today, Surf Life Saving Australia is one of the largest and most successful nationwide associations of volunteers dedicated to protecting the safety of beach goers. Surf lifesavers have rescued over 520,000 people in the 80 years since records have been kept.


Speedos launches in Bondi

During the 1920s, as people became more relaxed about swimming as a sport and about mixed bathing, the swimwear market grew quickly. In 1910, McRae Knitting Mills was founded in Bondi and expanded its operations to include swimwear. In 1928, MacRae introduced the classic, figure-hugging “Racerback” swimming costume, which permitted greater freedom of movement, allowing wearers to swim faster. This inspired staff member Captain Parsons to coin the slogan “Speed on in your Speedos”, and the Speedo name was born.


Bondi Pavilion (formerly Castle Pavilion) opens

The Castle Pavilion was the predecessor to today’s Bondi Pavilion. The original design had fancy turrets and dressing sheds. The opening of Castle Pavilion in 1929 attracted an estimated crowd of up to 200,000 beachgoers.

Bondi Icebergs Swimming Club formed

The Bondi Icebergs Swimming Club has played an important role in the growth of Bondi’s beach culture. To be a member, swimmers had to brave the chilly Bondi Baths at least three out of every four Sundays during the winter months, for a period of five years. Today, an annual race is held at the start of winter after a tonne of ice is dropped into the pool.


Bondi Beach promoted as ‘Playground of the Pacific’

By the 1930s, Bondi was drawing local crowds as well as visitors from all around Australia and overseas. An advertising campaign promoting Bondi beach as the ‘Playground of the Pacific’ was launched. Today, Bondi remains one of Sydney’s most visited tourist destinations and attracts millions of people very year.


Beachobatics takes off

Only recently uncovered, the photography of Bondi resident, George Caddy, captures the popular trend of Beachobatics, or acrobatics on the beach, which was popular in the 1930s.


Black Sunday disaster

On 6 February 1938, a date now referred to as Black Sunday, three freak waves hit a very busy Bondi Beach, resulting in the rescue of more than 300 people. It remains one of the largest rescues in surf life-saving history.


Surf culture hits Bondi

The first people to surf our beaches were Duke Kahanamoku and Isabelle Latham, who did so around 100 years ago. By the 1950s, surf culture was well and truly established in Bondi.


Bondi Mermaids sculpture installed at North Bondi

Local sculptor, Lyall Randolph, creates a dramatic sculpture of two mermaids, modelled on two Miss Australia Surf contestants: Jan Carmod (Miss Australia Surf, 1959) and Lynette Whillier (champion swimmer and runner-up in the Miss Australia Surf, 1959). The mermaids were installed at Randolph’s own expense on the big rock at Ben Buckler, on the northern headland of Bondi Beach. Unfortunately, they were severely damaged by severe storms and the sculpture is no longer in place, though one of the mermaids can be seen on display at the Waverley Library.

Beach culture thrives at Bondi

In the 1960s, Bondi Beach was a very popular destination. Visitors to Bondi could pay a small fee and be sprayed down with coconut oil, which it was ironically believed would prevent sunburn.


Bondi Beach Sea Wall Mural created

If you’re walking along the beachfront, be sure to snap your own selfie in front of the Bondi Beach Sea Wall Mural, which has been operating since the 1970s. The mural features a mix of street and contemporary art, and over the years, has hosted the work of some of the best-known street artists across the world.

The Sydney City2Surf launches

The Sydney City2Surf has been held as an annual event since the first run on 5 September 1971, which attracted 1,576 racegoers. Today, the race from the Sydney CBD to Bondi Beach is one of the biggest events on the Sydney calendar, raising millions of dollars for a range of charities and attracting over 50,000 people every year.


Festival of the Winds first held at Bondi

To celebrate the start of spring, the Festival of the Winds kite festival was first held in Bondi. Today, the festival has become an annual event, with hundreds of colourful kites – of all shapes and sizes – taking to the skies.  The festival was founded by John Silk, who at the inaugural event, performed a re-enactment of Australian aviation pioneer Lawrence Hargrave’s first flight, and also showcased exciting stunt flying kites and a range of performances.


Bondi Pavilion courtyard mural created

The colourful courtyard mural in the Bondi Pavilion was first painted in 1984 by several community artists and volunteers. It showcased “Bondi the Beautiful”, and was based on the 1920s when Bondi was promoted as the “Playground of the Pacific”.


Sculpture by the Sea exhibition opens

From October to November every year, Bondi hosts the beautiful Sculpture by the Sea exhibition – one of the largest and most beautiful free outdoor exhibitions in the world. The first event was held in 1997.


Bondi Beach made an official national treasure

On 25 January 2008, Bondi Beach was included in the National Heritage List.

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