Publication Details

Metusela, C. (2005). The Illawarra beaches 1900-1945: a place to become bronzed. Rhizome, 1 (1), 203-213.


It was not until the early 1900s that the Australian beach first emerged as a western recreational space. Swimming (known as surf bathing) became a legalised practice, surf lifesaving became institutionalised and activities such as surfing were introduced; all things that make up an important part of Australian culture today. This article examines the emergence of the surf lifesaving movement in the lllawarra between 1900 and 1945. By analysing surf club records the beach space can be seen as a place that has been 'made' and socially constructed. The surf lifesaving discourse brings insights into the beach making processes and the discursive practices that socially construct the beach. It raises questions of who the surf lifesavers were as well as investigates what processes and practices were involved to become 'bronzed'; to attain the prized bronze medallion. The analysis of the surf lifesaving discourse portrays it to be prescriptive and regulating with embedded themes of masculinity, humanitarianism, discipline, eugenics and nationalism. This article is work related to my PhD research on leisure spaces of the lllawarra beaches between 1900 and 1945. It aims to examine the emergence and social construction of surf lifesaving in the lllawarra. Surf club records1 from the early 1900s to 1945 have been utilised to help shed light into how the surf lifesaving movement has been socially constructed through discourse and discursive practices. I was able to access surf club minutes, annual reports and other historical material regarding membership, carnivals, fundraising, recommendations and requests to council, revenue, and club histories. Surf reports (often called 'Surf Notes') published in the lllawarra Mercury, written by publicity officers from the various lllawarra surf clubs, were also used. This article raises questions about who the surf lifesavers were and also investigates the processes and practices involved in becoming 'bronzed', attaining the prized surf bronze medallion.

Link to publisher version (URL)

Wollongong University Postgraduate Association