Sydney Beaches - A History
Reviewed by Gillian, Berkelouw Books, Mona Vale
In 2009, historian Caroline Ford was awarded the NSW Archival Research Fellowship that allowed her to write her new book Sydney Beaches - A History.
This means we get a thoroughly researched book tracing the history of European engagement with the beaches. Caroline is most thorough in explaining the way that Sydney beaches gradually came to be owned by "the people". The rights to the beach, forged in legislation, reflect a strong belief on the part of Sydney's population that access to the beach should be free and universal. The author discusses numerous occasions on which challenges to this idea by business and other interests, have been met by determined grass-roots protest, most of them victorious.
Beyond these battles Caroline Ford's book tells a richly illustrated story of our many relationships with the beach.
Among the themes I found interesting was the coverage of camping at Sydney beaches, both as recreation but also as refuge during the depression when families forced out of their homes took up residence under canvas in coastal reserves. The chapter on The Shark Menace describes the many suggestions made to civic authorities to counter the threat of sharks on Sydney beaches - among them stationing artillery at the beach to lob mortars at any sharks spotted close to shore.
The chapter on our use of the ocean as a dump for human, industrial and household waste is frankly horrifying and the descriptions of the flotsam finding its way onto beaches (dead kittens, abbatoir waste and yes, sewerage) are confronting to modern sensibilities. No wonder the sea sometimes seems vengeful. The chapter on the shifting shoreline takes us through times when the sea has taken back its bounty, undermining buildings and carving away beaches and sea walls.
Sydney Beaches - A History has many great photographs and is full of fascinating insights. If you love our beaches, try this book.
Our thanks to Caroline Ford for speaking at Berkelouw Books in Mona Vale in October 2014.