4 January 2024

Life's a beach: new exhibition celebrates all things sun, surf and sand

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A couple with a longboard at North Wollongong Beach in 1956.

One of the photos in Wollongong Library’s Sun, Surf and Sand exhibition, taken at North Wollongong Beach in 1956. Photos: Wollongong City Libraries and the Illawarra Historical Society.

A bright Wollongong hotel operator was ahead of his time when, in 1856, he had an idea for transforming part of Brighton Beach into a private sea bathing area.

Edward Johnson, the licensee of the Brighton Hotel on the corner of Cliff Rd and Harbour St, was granted a “permissive occupancy” for part of the beach, opposite his house.

According to Port of Wollongong, a publication of the Illawarra Historical Society, Edward’s plan was to “enable the inhabitants and visitors to Wollongong to enjoy sea bathing, in security and privacy”.

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He built a bathing machine called Mermaid, which was about 3 m long and 1.6 m wide, complete with seats, and launched it on 5 January 1857.

Edward claimed it was the first bathing machine in NSW. He charged a small amount for bathers, and according to the publication, the “venture was moderately successful”.

The Illawarra’s beach culture has certainly come a long way since those early days and thankfully there’s no charge to enter any of our beautiful beaches.

Wollongong City Council has a new photographic exhibition, Sun, Surf and Sand, which celebrates summer and our beach culture.

It features the enjoyment of the surf, sun and sand and includes pictures of surf life saving activities, children playing, family picnics and beachwear, from neck to knee costumes to bikinis.

The exhibition is on display now at Wollongong Library, or can be viewed online.

Here are a few of the photos from the exhibition:

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