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    Adelaide - Beaches and Bathing

    Mixed Bathing

    An Essay on Mixed Bathing

    During the first few decades of colonial settlement the men didn't trouble about wearing costumes but bathed in their birthday suits and, of course, were relegated to a position about a mile away from the jetties. The women folk, by payment, had the use of bathing machines. These were weird contrivances like a tiny room on wheels and the woman in charge would hitch a horse to this caravan after the ladies had clambered aboard and tow it into about two feet of water. Those inside the 'kennel' would doff the multitudinous garments then worn and then don the bathing suit.

    More than once the finer feelings of gentlemen bathers were shocked and put to personal inconvenience from the thoughtlessness of many ladies intruding on the gentlemen's reserve:

    One of the first advocates for mixed bathing in South Australia was a Governor, Sir James Fergusson, when, in the 1870s, he requested Thomas Bastard of the Adelaide City Baths to teach his son and two daughters to swim. The worthy tutor felt some scruples but Sir James pointed out that this was but false modesty and, further, added that in travels about the world he had observed in every place where bathing was practicable, the males and females bathed together in costumes and concluded with the remark that 'Evil be to him who evil thinks.' It was, however, many years before mixed bathing was permitted in South Australia.

    By the turn of the 20th century the Adelaide press announced that:

    Neck to knee bathers were designated as an 'immoral atrocity' in Edwardian Adelaide and the introduction of mixed bathing is possibly explained by the fact the noted Australian swimmer, Miss Annette Kellerman, came to South Australia in 1904 and not only was she the first woman swimmer to appear in public here at the City Baths, but she discarded the conventional pantaloons for what approximated a neck-to-knee costume. Her visit was a great success and South Australians realised that the barbaric custom of mixed bathing as practised overseas might have had something in its favour.

    Public opinion, by which the world was governed in those far off days, irrespective of parliaments, was a good servant, but tyrannical to those who dared not stir a hand or foot because of what their neighbours might say. There were many who considered that to introduce dancing classes for boys and girls from the slums under careful supervision, and in a well lighted room to enable them to get to know one another better, was to be preferred to scraping an acquaintance around dark street corners in an illicit, underhand manner. Surely, it was said, would not far less mischief eventuate from the former Mary Lee, the renowned feminist activist, was to say in 1906 in respect of teaching children to swim:

    However, their were many dissenters in the community who contended that the old rule, namely, 'gentlemen bathers on one side and ladies on the other' was true to a profound ethical instinct that society would do well not to ignore:

    To this contention a young woman informed the disciples of Mrs Grundy that:

    By way of explanation the term 'Mrs Grundy' relates to a name associated with an imaginary person proverbially referred to as a personification of the tyranny of social opinion in matters of conventional propriety. A humorous example of this indigent social malaise is to be found in the Advertiser on 14 January 1905:

    Finally, new bathing regulations permitting properly costumed persons to have their dip at any hour of the day, and from any wharf or jetty and in 'Nature's garb' from midnight until 6 am, were read a first time at a meeting of the Marine Board on 1 February 1910.

    To this newly-found freedom a few citizens aired their respective views:

    By 1914 it was evident Dan Cupid was alive and well upon our suburban beaches as evidenced by the following extracts from 'Letters to the Editor' columns of the morning press:

    Indeed, there is ample evidence to suggest that dalliance in the sandhills was still a favoured pastime in the 1920s and evidence of a marked departure from the stern edicts of the Victorian and Edwardian eras:

    Further, in February 1930 there were complaints about the mode of conduct on the beaches at night and, accordingly, a pair of women police were detailed to take action against more than 100 girls under the age of 17 years who had been found on the beaches with young men. Nude bathing parties at both West Beach and Glenelg were disturbed and in one case the men who had motored the girls to the beach were too intoxicated to drive home. Additional lights were placed on the beach at Glenelg and a vigilance committee was formed by owners of shacks and bathing boxes in the neighbourhood.

    General Notes

    "Mixed Bathing in Victorian Times" is in the Advertiser,
    25 March 1925, page 9b.

    On 28 February 1903, page 6f of the Register a correspondent ventures an opinion on "mixed bathing":

    A photograph is in the Chronicle,
    3 February 1906, page 27,
    "Bathing and Decency" is in the Register,
    3 February 1910, page 5g.

    "Mixed Bathing - By a Woman" is in the Register,
    26 January 1906, page 7h,
    1 February 1906, page 3g.
    A photograph is in the Chronicle,
    3 February 1906, page 27.

    A controversy over mixed bathing at the Semaphore Public Baths is aired in the Advertiser, 24 and 25 January 1906, pages 4d and 6b.
    Also see Semaphore.

    "Mixed Bathing" is in the Register,
    18, 22 and 24 January 1908, pages 9i, 9c and 7g.

    "Mixed Bathing - What is the Objection?" is in the Register on 6 January 1910, page 7c:

    "Bathing and Decency" is in the Register,
    3 February 1910, page 5g.

    Also see Register, 8 and 21 January 1910, pages 6f and 10d:

    The following verse is taken from a poem which appears in the Register, 1 February 1910, page 5b:

    "Bathing on the Beaches - Proposed New Regulations - Mixed Bathing Provided For" is in the Advertiser,
    4 February 1910, page 8i.

    Also see Register,
    4, 15, 21 and 24 February 1910, pages 4e, 3d, 9c and 5a.
    For its "legalisation" see
    5 May 1910, page 6e and
    4 February 1911, page 12g (area between Elizabeth and Kent Streets, Glenelg allotted).

    Also see Register,
    30 November 1911, page 6f,
    10 February 1912, page 47d,
    14, 16 and 22 February 1912, pages 3h, 9c and 8b - "Those who mix their bathing are in quite as bad a way as those who mix their drinks",
    7 and 9 March 1912, page 14f,
    The Mail,
    12 October 1912, page 20d,
    11 January 1913, page 9f,
    15 February 1913, pages 9f and 9a,
    20, 23 and 30 November 1912, pages 9e, 11g and 11b,
    17 October 1913, page 3f,
    21, 22 and 24 November 1913, pages 3h, 18c and 9g,
    22 December 1913, page 6g.

    The subject of mixed bathing is again the subject of lengthy debate during 1912:

    Also see Register,
    15, 16, 19, 24, 26, 28 and 30 October 1912, pages 5d, 11e, 7b, 5h, 7a, 8g and 8f,
    2, 6 and 16 November 1912, pages 11g, 7e and 11f.

    "A Lazy Evening at Glenelg - A Mixed Bathing Reverie" is in the Advertiser,
    12 January 1914, page 15c.

    "Building on the Beaches" is in the Register,
    15 June 1914, page 9f.

    "Mixed Bathing" is in the Register,
    11 November 1916, page 5d.

    "Backless Bathers" is in the Register,
    27 November 1929, page 6c,
    2 December 1929, page 7b.

    "Mixed Bathing - Arcadian Innocence No Mere Dream" is in the Observer,
    16 November 1929, page 47a.

    Also see Semaphore for comment on mixed bathing at the civic baths.

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