Archives Outside

For people who love, use and manage archives

Archives Outside - For people who love, use and manage archives

Can you date this photograph? [Bondi Beach]

A Moment in Time……

The weather is starting to warm up… To encourage it here’s a beach scene.

This image, showing the northern end of Bondi Beach is a hive of activity. We haven’t got a date for it but there are lots of clues. Can you date this photograph?

Larger version on Flickr

We have many other undated photographs in Photo Investigator and on our Flickr account. If you know the dates or any other interesting facts about these images please let us know.

  • enno says:

    I can see no cars which can definitely be identified as post-war. There seems to be a white volkswagon near the right edge of the photo, but I suspect this is an illusion. If there was a VW, there would surely be an early holden as well.

    So I assume it is pre-war. There don’t seem to be many 1920’s type cars so I assume it is very late 30’s.

    There are two large walls extending out across the beach, I’ve never noticed a photo of bondi with this feature before.

    Should the sewer vent tower be visible in the background of this shot ?

    September 12, 2011 at 11:24 am
  • Robert Mills says:

    Well lets start the ball rolling by identifying some key elements:

    1. The Pavillion is in place (c1929)
    2. A surf carnival is in progress (hence hessian ‘walls’ on beach)
    3. Considerable urban form (flat development) is present at Nth Bondi as is the tram extension
    4. Bus in foreground (can’t make out the route no) shows buses are operating to this location
    5. Norfolk palms are established but not very high
    6. Steam tram turning circle at beach has been removed
    7. Two concrete piers are present – so predates WW2 ?
    8. Surf is moderate.

    So … without resorting to digital newspapers I would suggest image is from the 1930-39 period, probably mid 30s as the palms are not too high. The Surf Carnival will probably define the exact day (a weekend no doubt) …. and perhaps the car types present will define a lower end to the time scale.


    September 12, 2011 at 11:35 am
  • Kimberly O'Sullivan says:

    The image was taken sometime between December 1928 and September 1942 for the following reasons:

    The finished Bondi Pavilion is visible in the far left of the photo, this was completed in December 1928 so the image must post-date this. The two piers, known as ‘groynes’ ,which are visible in the photo in the middle of the beach, were destroyed in September 1942, so the photo must pre-date this.

    A scheme of beach and park improvement was carried out by Waverley Council in order that Bondi would become equal to, or better than, the world’s best beaches for attractive surfing facilities. It was known as the Bondi Beach and Park Improvement Scheme and it included the laying out of Bondi Park behind the beach.

    This scheme started in 1928 and as the trees are slightly mature, reaching above their protective barrier, I would estimate this photo is a number of years from their initial planting in 1928. This pushes the date range of the photo from 1928 to 1930-ish and gives a date range of 1930ish to September 1942. The crowd on the beach indicates it is probably summer, although crowds can be seen on Bondi Beach throughout the year.

    Background to the blowing up of the ‘groynes’: In September 1942, after the submarine attacks of June 1942 on Sydney Harbour, the Australian Army, on the orders of the American military authorities, destroyed the large concrete groynes that had been built at the centre of the beach in the late 1920s.

    The ‘groynes’ were tunnels which allowed people to walk to the water after having changed in the Bondi Pavilion dressing sheds. The amount of explosives required to destroy them was overestimated and chunks of concrete were thrown great distances. The buildings of Campbell Parade were sprayed with concrete, breaking tiles and smashing windows.

    You can read more about Bondi during the war years and the hitory of Bondi Pavilion this on the Waverley Library Local Studies website (free plug for my website thanks Archives Outside!)

    September 12, 2011 at 1:04 pm
  • JennysOldCars says:

    The range of cars shown indicate a photo date no later than 1938/39 and I’d even venture a 1936/37 date could be considered. There are a few late 1920s to 1930 cars scattered amongst those in the car park but the majority of cars are early to mid 1930s – a few have the distinctive ‘sloper’ bodies produced on the GM range by Holden body builders, there’s a couple of ‘bustle’ boot (enclosed trunk) sedans. Most show the early to mid 30’s styling changes that took auto body designs from the straight up and down styles of the 1920s to the broad rounded bodywork of the late 1930s.

    September 12, 2011 at 3:15 pm
  • Anna Gray says:

    Excellent start everyone and lots of interesting extra info coming out of this! You might have this one done and dusted in no time!

    September 12, 2011 at 3:55 pm
  • Karen Hitchcock says:

    Sent a copy of the Bondi Beach photo to my parents who grew up in Bondi during the 1930’s. The following are comments from Joan and Lloyd from Forster.
    The bus in the foreground is probably the private bus that ran from the Junction and along Birrell Street. It was always full of school children from St Gabriel’s and Christian Brothers schools. The bus stop at the Junction was on a corner with a shoe shop on one corner and a bank on the other. The car behind the bus is a 1934 or 1935.
    The concrete structures on the beach were called “THE PYLONS”. When walking from the beach through the pylon to return to the change rooms one walked through a foot pool containing chlorine. The northern pylon housed a room from which deck chairs and surf planes could be hired. There was an amusement park on the other side of Campbell Parade opposite the pavilion.
    At the northern end of the beach was a rock pool called the “Bogey Hole” where young children would swim. Continue walking over the rocks toward the headland to the “BOOT”, an enormous boulder which was washed away in a storm.
    Behind the Pavilion on the opposite side of Campbell Parade was an amusement park. The sewer vent did not come until later.


    September 17, 2011 at 12:30 pm
  • enno says:

    There are two surf boats on the water.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:14 am
  • Kimberly O'Sullivan says:

    Just some clarification about some of the issues raised in this great discussion about the photo (you must be happy at State Records!). One of the ‘groynes’ which extended onto the beach did hire out beach equipment (deck chairs, sun shades, surf-o-planes and the like), this was run by three generations of the McDonald family starting with Stan McDonald, always known as ‘Stan Mac’. The business was often called ‘Mac’s’ or ‘Mac’s Beach Hire’. The big rock known as ‘the Boot’ is at the southern end of Bondi Beach around the headland from the Bondi Icebergs pool. It is still there. The big rock at the northern end of Bondi Beach is called (simply) the ‘Big Rock’ or sometimes (if your memory stretches back that far) ‘Mermaid Rock’ named for the two mermaid statues which used to be on the rock. These are two different rocks. Big Rock/Mermaid Rock is also still there, neither of them have been washed away. Although there are different theories about how Big Rock/Mermaid Rock came to be where it is now it is generally believed it was washed up in a major storm on 15 July 1912.

    September 19, 2011 at 7:24 pm
  • Anthea Brown says:

    There is a wonderful story of Bondi beach unfolding here. I’d never heard of ‘groynes’ before but I’ll be sure to try and use it in a sentence today!

    There is so much activity in this photo that we’ve replaced the Flickr version with a super large one; it might help pinpoint some of the smaller clues.

    So far it looks like you’ve narrowed the date from late c.1930s to pre-September 1942.

    September 20, 2011 at 8:06 am
  • Robert Mills says:

    Hi All

    I think that close inspection of the image shows that there is no evidence that this is a war time era photograph.

    There are no persons in uniform present and there is no physical evidence of war time preparations on the beach (ie barbed wire, gun positions etc). In fact the beach is jammed with people watching the progress of the Carnival.

    It appears that surf carnivals at this beach were cancelled ‘for the duration ‘ by January 1942. The number of parked cars suggests that war time petrol rationing is not yet in place.

    Given Jennys comments re car types it seems that this image is most likely from the 1936-39 period. Problem is that Trove throws up hundereds of Bondi Surf Carnival references for just the 4 years prior to outbreak of war.

    Perhaps one the blocks of flats present at North Bondi will better define the actual date or at least the most likely year of the image.

    What do others think ?

    September 20, 2011 at 9:40 am
  • Sophie Kinna says:

    This is fascinating! My first guess is around 1940, given all the clues and the unfolding story. The buses are quite likely late 1930’s – 1940. Just a suggestion.

    September 21, 2011 at 3:38 pm
  • Kimberly O'Sullivan says:

    A humorous aside, further to Anthea’s post about the term ‘groynes’. I first heard this from an older Bondi resident who said of a time in Bondi Beach’s history something like “of course there were no groynes on the beach then”. In my mind I heard this as – “of course there were no GROINS on the beach then” and jumped to the conclusion that this was because swimming costumes used to be more modest!!!!! Despite it being, to me, a very odd term for something that appears to be a pier, but which was in effect a tunnel (a tunnel from the Bondi Pavilion dressing sheds to the beach) the word ‘groynes’ is used widely to describe these two structures. It seems that it is a misnomer, ‘groyne’ actually is a a protective structure of stone or concrete which extends from the shore into the water to prevent a beach from washing away. This was not its function at all. Another definition I have found is a civil engineering one, with the word meaning a wall or jetty built out from a riverbank or seashore to control erosion; also called spur breakwater. So it might not be the right term, but it is the one which had been adopted by the Waverley residents of earlier times and has nice seaside ‘naughty’ sound to it!

    September 21, 2011 at 6:11 pm
  • enno says:

    Groynes are normally small breakwaters erected perpendicular to the beach to attempt to suppress flow of sand along the beach. They are very common in England. Sydney has some along Kurnell Beach. There are also some in Melbourne.

    Those structures at Bondi don’t appear to extend to the water and don’t seem to have this purpose. If they were called groynes, thats probably inaccurate.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:44 am
  • Anna Gray says:

    This has been a great discussion – so much more has been gleaned than just a date!
    In terms of the date though – I did find an article indicating surf carnivals were still going on during the war:
    However the lack of uniforms in the image is suggestive that it was pre-war and Jennyoldcars comment about the cars is also suggestive it is pre-war.
    The groynes are a great indicator – we know these were removed in 1942 so it can be no later than that.
    So to sum up I thought a mid-1930s-1942 is probably our best bet!
    Thanks to all for sharing your stories – really interesting stuff!

    September 27, 2011 at 9:39 am
  • Tony Bremner says:

    What a memory-orovoking picture! We moved to Bondi in 1946 when I was seven. It looked very like the photograph, though the much-discussed ‘groynes’ were not there. I went to Bondi Public. “Are you a Catholic or a Public?” was what you asked a kid. Trams moved at a stately pace along the road in the foreground, and I well remember the amusement park that somebody mentioned, opposite the pavilion. My brother and I used to play in an smelly old stormwater tunnel that emerged from the promenade and allowed a trickle of nasty water to run down to the sea. My grandmother saw the famous ‘tidal wave’ accident before the war. She was sitting on the promenade and the beach was packed with people. Then from nowhere a great wave rushed up the beach. What was horrific, she said, was that suddenly there was nothing there, not a person, not a towel, not a surf board – just an awful emptiness.

    December 14, 2011 at 7:44 pm
  • Fiona Sullivan says:

    Thanks for sharing your stories Tony! They really help to bring this photograph alive. Your reference to the tidal wave sent me off to Trove to learn more ( ). What a tragedy.

    (Edited because there is a big difference between refence and reference!)

    December 15, 2011 at 2:27 pm
  • Tony Bremner says:

    Yes, and now that I re-read my entry, I see there’s a difference between orovoking and provoking!
    Tony Bremner

    January 4, 2012 at 10:21 pm
  • barry rocard says:

    Hv just caught up with Tony Bremner’s comment re pic and Bondi Public school. We must hv been near-contemporaries because we moved from Randwick to Bondi in 1946 – I was 7. Not sure, though, whether you mean Bondi Beach Public School or ‘Wello’ ie: Bondi Central Public School in Wellington Street. Re the photo: The old bus would have been a White, probably, from the 1920’s and taken over by the gOvernment transport crowd in 1932.So I’d guess that together with the late-30’s type American cars, the ‘groynes’ and what seems to be an absence of the sewerage chimney (or stinkpot as we called it!)we’re talking mid-to late 1930’s.

    November 6, 2012 at 5:02 am
  • barry rocard says:

    Whoops! Have just seen a photo of BOndi Beach dated 1929 and contrary to what I surmised in my ealier message, the sewerage chimney is very much in the picture!

    November 6, 2012 at 5:12 am
  • tony bremner says:

    I’ve just seen Barry Rocard’s comment (a few years back now). I went to Bondi Public, north end opposite the beach. In a low building by the swimming hole (I had forgotten ‘Bogey Hole’ but remember it now) there was a ballroom dancing class at weekends attended by little girls in their party dresses. My brother and I used to go the the Saturday arvo pictures at Hoyts Six Ways. The ‘tidal wave’ that my grandmother remembered seeing was eventually featured in an ABC TV movie called Kindred Spirits that I ended up being commissioned to compose the music for.Things go round and round!

    March 8, 2015 at 9:06 pm
  • Evan McHugh says:

    If you were looking for an exact date, my suggestion is February 19, 1938. It fits the slot other respondents have suggested but it’s also the date of the special surf carnival held as part of the sesquicentenary celebrations (150 years of European settlement). Such an event might explain the large crowd in attendance and the large marshalling area on the beach.
    I’m currently writing a book on Black Sunday at Bondi, that happened a fortnight earlier, so I’m pretty up to date with this period of Bondi’s history at the moment.

    September 7, 2015 at 3:14 pm