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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Coogee and Bronte

When I first saw the topic photograph above, I immediately thought it looked like Bronte Beach, particularly because of the little steam train you can see running in the park, but I see it is in fact Coogee Beach c. 1900, which lies to the south of Bronte, with one other beach called Clovelly  in between. These beaches and the iconic Bondi Beach all form part of a string of beaches that lie south of the Sydney CBD. By the way, the 'oo' in the name Coogee is pronounced to rhyme with the 'oo' in cook, not as in 'coop', if that makes sense. The name apparently comes from an Aboriginal word meaning 'smelly place' due to the seaweed on the beach, but that isn't a particular problem these days.
 We spent the second night of our honeymoon in a motel up the hill on Coogee Bay Rd before heading to New Zealand for a two week holiday and have since returned several more times, staying at a rather better class hotel just opposite the beach. Of course much of that hill you can see in the photograph is now fully built up, but not far away on a headland between Bronte and Clovelly lies the substantial Waverley Cemetery, where the residents who include many famous Australians have enjoyed sites/plots boasting prime views since the cemetery was first established in 1877.  
I have never seen a model train at Coogee and have not discovered anything about its history, but clearly there was one operating way back when the topic photo was taken. A similar train still runs at Bronte however and this was a favourite family picnic place when we lived in Sydney  We initially rented a semi-detached house within walking distance of Bondi but even after we moved across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and up to the North Shore, we would battle the traffic and drive back down to family-friendly Bronte  for a pleasant afternoon there in the park beside the beach. Our children would have been running down the grassy slope towards the Bronte park, rather than away from it like the gentleman captured in the Coogee photograph. According to the Waverley Council web site, Bronte was named not after the famous literary sisters but after Horatio Lord Viscount Nelson. After Nelson and his troops captured Sicily in 1799, the King of Sicily gave him the additional title of Duke of Bronte, which is a town in Sicily.

Coogee Beach is part of the neighbouring council of Randwick, and you can read about its present day features and facilities and see current beach photographs here on that Council's web site. Just off the beach and out of the picture is a rocky outcrop called Wedding Cake Island, which helps make Coogee a much safer beach than some others nearby that are more open. Under the lee of the southern cliff side are a couple of enclosed saltwater swimming baths,  including McIvers Baths, established in 1886 for women and children only. According to the Council web site, 
"[McIvers] is the last remaining women's-only seawater pool in Australia and has been in continuous use since its establishment. The State Government granted the pool an exemption from the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act in 1995. They are open only to women and children. There are numerous other nearby ocean pools that are not restricted including Wylie's Baths, Ross Jones Memorial Pool and Giles Baths."

 Here's another photograph of Coogee Beach from the Power House Museum Collection on Flickr Commons, showing the aquarium in the distance, c 1920-1930. The aquarium dome still exists, but it is now simply part of a hotel.

Below are a few photos I've found in my albums showing some of our visits to the Bronte beach train back in the 1980s. 

Riding the miniature train back in 1981 with first daughter Claire, aged about two

By 1986 it was all aboard for  our 3 children 

These snaps of the nearby playground and the train were taken in 1989 when Laura our fourth and last child was aged about two. All four are having a ride here, with one up the front, two with their father in the second car, and big sister waving from the third one.

Apparently the Bronte train has been in operation in the summer months since 1947. When not in use it is housed in a neat covered shed at the side of the track. The original driver/operator Kevin Colman who established the train passed away last year aged 86, but someone else has been driving it for the last few years. There would probably have been a public outcry otherwise!

 If you are ever in Sydney, there is a great cliff top walk between Bondi and Coogee and this includes a spectacular art exhibition of more than 100 works called Sculpture by the Sea that is staged annually in November along the section between Bondi and Tamarama, which is a beach just north of Bronte. Then if anyone's feeling really fit and energetic, there's also an annual swim between Bondi and Bronte, but I prefer to walk and admire the views.

Here is a collage of photographs taken over the years at Sculpture By the Sea. Many interesting works can be viewed beside the coastal path, on the beach and sometimes even floating in the sea itself.  I think part of the Waverley Cemetery can be glimpsed in the far distance in the top right hand picture.  

For more beach views, model trains, running men, escapees and other things related to this week's prompt, check out Sepia Saturday


  1. It was interesting reading a post by someone familiar with the area in the prompt photo. I especially like the Sculpture by the Sea.

  2. Great memories of places Ihave lived - I do like to be besidd the seaside.

  3. Your collage of pix from Sculpture By The Sea brought back memories of the Emeryville sand flats on the east side of San Francisco Bay. There are hotels there now, but back when I was working in San Francisco my bus passed by the sand flats every day & every Monday there would be new works of art made out of anything you could think of - old tires, rusted car fenders, bits of pipe & pieces of this & that. It was amazing what people could imagine and create out of junk over the weekend out there on the flats. The art only lasted through the week, & by the following Monday, everything was new again, but what a delight it was while it lasted.

  4. So many interesting places in this wonderful country of ours. Another one for my bucket list of places to visit one day. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I haven't been to Coogee Beach since the fifties! and have memories still of a surf carnival there. You have given us an interesting historical perspective of the area.

  6. Thanks for then and almost now...the history as well as personal pictures are so enjoyable to read.

  7. It's amazing how the character of a place changes over the years with the change of structures around it, the clothes people are wearing.. But one thing they can't change are those beautiful waves rolling in, one after the other. Great photos.

  8. A perfect theme photo for you this week Jo. The clifftop walk sounds great.

  9. Well I feel silly. I didn't realise that it was an Australian Beach in the prompt photo.

    I do miss not living near the beach. It is so relaxing going to sleep or waking to the sound of waves.

  10. This was very enjoyable, and interesting as well. I feel as if I was there myself. Lovely family photos too.

  11. What a great post revealing personal history about the very place in the photo. You obviously have lots of happy memories there. I smiled at your honeymoon in the cheap hotel followed by a fancier hotel in later years because it reminded me of the cheap place we could afford back then.

  12. The prompt was tailor-made for you. I’ve also learned something I didn’t know about Lord Nelson!

  13. I'll jump on the bandwagon with everyone else drawn to the collage. My favorite image is the center one on the bottom row.