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The Sandringham Sea Baths

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Sandringham Baths.

The Sandringham Sea Baths were situated approximately 150 metres south of Jetty Road, close to the area often referred to as Picnic Point, Sandringham. The story of the Sandringham Sea Baths is not only a record of the construction of dressing rooms and the sinking of piles to create a shark proof area in which to swim in the invigorating waters of Port Phillip Bay, it is a history of the social values and moral standards of the 1880s, and how those standards changed over a period of thirty four years.

It was on November 16, 1885 that tenders were called for the erection of Sea Baths at Picnic Point and it was on Tuesday November 9, 1886 when the Shire President of Moorabbin, Councillor David Abbott, formally opened them. [1] At mid-day, the members of the Brighton and Moorabbin Councils and a few friends were entertained by Mr. Abbott at lunch at his private residence. [2].

An adjournment was then made to the baths, where a number of swimming contests had been arranged for which prizes amounting to about £40 were given. The entries were not very numerous, the barrel race bringing out the greatest number of competitors. Six started in the event and it created great amusement. No sooner had the swimmers got seated on their barrels when the barrels rolled and precipitated the riders one after another into the water. Not one of the competitors succeeded in riding the barrel home and the performance had to be gone over again; but this time the barrels were ballasted. Young O’Mara was very successful in ballasting his barrel properly, and rode it from start to finish, winning the prize. The race for the Duke of Edinburgh trophy was well contested by two men named Binnie and De Little, the former winning by about a yard.

The various other events made up an enjoyable afternoon’s sport. About 250 persons, including a number of ladies, were present.

The following are the results of the contests :

MAIDEN RACE - Two lengths of the baths. Open to all who have never won an advertised race Entry, 2s. 6d. First prize, £2. 2s.; second, 10s. 6d.

Sheffield (1st)
Mouritz (2nd)

BOYS’ RACE - One length of the baths. Open to all boys under 16 years of age. Entry 1s. First prize, £1. 1s.; second 10s. 6d.

McLeod (1st)
O’Mara (2nd)

THE PRESIDENT’S CUP (value £10. 10s., presented by David Abbott, Esq.). Six lengths of the baths. Championship of District; open only to residentsin the Brighton and Moorabbin Municipalities. Entry 5s. First prize The Cup; second, £1. 1s.; third, 10s. 6d.

Sheffield (1st)
Afflexson (2nd)

BARREL RACE - One length of the baths. Barrels provided at the baths for Competitors. Entry 1s. First prize, £1. 1s.; second prize, 5s.

O’Mara (1st)

DIVING RACE FOR DISTANCE - Open to all comers. Entry 1s. First prize, £1. 1s.; second prize, 5s.

Barnett (1st)
Clapperton (2nd)

DUKE OF EDINBURGH HOTEL TROPHY (value £10. 10s.) - Handicap race. Six lengths of the baths. Open to all comers. Entry, 5s. First prize, The Trophy; second, £2. 2s.

Binnie (1st)
De Little (2nd)

STEEPLECHASE - Two lengths of the baths. Open to all comers. First prize, £1. 1s.; second 7s. 6d.

Binnie (1st)
Ferguson (2nd)

BOY’S RACE - Confined to boys resident in district under 16 years of age. First prize, £2. 2s. (presented by M. J. S. Gair Esq.).

F. H. Small (1st)

BEST DISPLAY OF RESCUING AND RESUSCITATING A DROWNING PERSON. First prize, 10s. 6d.; second 5s.

Barnett and Ferguson (1st)

BEST DISPLAY OF AQUATIC MANOEUVRES. First prize, Cup value £2. 2s.; second 5s.

De Little (1st)
Afflexson (2nd)

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On the cliff top overlooking Sandringham Beach.

Council Minutes reveal the ongoing saga of the Sandringham Baths which were a constant worry to the Councillors of the Shire of Moorabbin. [3]

On June 21, 1886 the Council in Committee recommended that the lease of Sandringham Baths be granted to J. Edmonds for two years at a rent of £50 per annum. Seven months later the treasurer reported that Edmonds had failed to pay his rent according to the lease agreement. On. December, 19, 1887 the councillors decided that Edmonds’ lease of the Sandringham Baths be cancelled and that proceedings be taken against him to recover the amount of his dishonoured cheque. Subsequent lessees noted in the minutes were R P Taylor, Dardell, H B Norton, and Margaret Norton.

Storm damage to the baths was a constant worry. On September, 12, 1887 council discussed the fact that piles driven in to the correct specifications had been washed over and recommended that the Baths be repaired with new piles obtained for the outer fence and driven in at least fifteen feet. The estimated cost was £95. The Engineer reported on February 10, 1890.that the ring fence required repairing, one room required lining, windows of bathing boxes required repairing and that the whole of the building required painting. Storm damage in 1892 required that palings be replaced. Gales again caused damage in 1895. In 1899 the sea was so rough the Engineer was unable to make a thorough inspection but five weeks later was able to ascertain a need for "at least two new piles, the whole of the back fence requires renewing with new palings and pickets, also new bolts and washers." [4]

The councillors were ever vigilant that the regulations concerning the conduct of baths and bathers in the Bay were observed. On October 3, 1898 they pointed out to the lessee that a requirement of the lease was that both male and female attendants be kept regularly at the baths. Moreover it was a provision in the Council bye-laws relating to baths that bathers be properly clad and that this requirement must be strictly enforced. They pointed out that the police were to be informed about this matter. [5]

After a complaint by Mr Norton that bathing was taking place adjoining the baths, the councillors resolved to have "a notice board erected with a notification that bathing is prohibited within half a mile of the Sandringham Baths. [6]

In 1917 the Sandringham district received authorisation to form a council of its own and sever itself from the Shire of Moorabbin. The management and maintenance of the baths now became one of the new council’s responsibilities. It was in 1919 that the councillors made the decision to demolish them, a decision which caused considerable debate in the community and extensive publicity in the Brighton Southern Cross of January 25, 1919.

A meeting called by the Mayor, Cr. B. Champion, in response to a requisition from a number of ratepayers, was held in the Sandringham Town Hall for the purpose of discussing the decision of the Council to demolish the Sandringham Baths. Many residents, including Mr. W. J. Toohey, strenuously objected to the demolition of the baths, as he, for one, desired privacy when bathing. Another vocal resident reminded the Councillors of the danger of sharks. "Only last Saturday the Southern Cross carried an article concerning a shark being seen close inshore."

Those in favour of demolition informed those present that only a depth of 5 feet of water was obtainable at low water. Cr. Belyea said he had seen the Baths under all conditions and they were a discredit to the district, and, as baths, useless. The depth of water weighed strongly with him. It had been stated there was a depth of 4 feet 6 inches, and he had been told the exact depth was 2 feet 6 inches.

The Baths, it was claimed, were not availed by the residents or the public, and whenever money had been spent on them it was practically thrown into the water. It would take £800 to put them in order and extend them to get the necessary depth. At the Council meeting one Councillor wanted to know where the Baths were!

Mr. Day said that it was roughly estimated that 75,000 people came to Sandringham, and out of that number at least 65,000 bathed in the open. There was no justification in carrying a white elephant. In supporting the previous speaker, Mr. Gibbs stated that a former Lessee had told him that when the baths were erected, bathers could dive off the roof. "If that were so, the present depth showed that in time there would be no water there."

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Sandringham Sea Baths with sand bank.

The debate continued to and fro for a considerable time until eventually a vote was taken on the demolition of the Baths. The motion was lost - 27 voted against demolition and 14 for it. The result of the meeting was conveyed to the Sandringham Council, and was received without comment. Subsequently Cr. Ferdinando formally moved, on notice, that the motion ordering the dismantling of the Baths be rescinded. Cr. Farrant urged the matter be made a test question at the elections in August. [7] The arguing and debating continued for months, with the Council once more deciding on demolition.

The final chapter in the saga was enacted at the Council meeting on Thursday, July 10, 1919, when a petition from 400 residents against demolition of the Sandringham Baths was presented to the Council. For several minutes the two sections of the Council waited on each other to make the first move, but neither would disclose their hand until the Mayor, Cr. Champion, suggested that the petition would have to go by default. Rather than let that occur, Cr. Ferdinando moved the reception of the petition, and it required an examination of the minutes before the Mayor would accept the motion.

Crs. Ferdinando and Farrant were the only champions of the petitioners’ cause, whilst Crs. Belyea, Hartsman and Beck spoke against their request. The opposition stated that the Baths were unsafe, and a larger expenditure would be required before they could be used to advantage. A losing proposition could be turned into a profit, it was suggested, by letting the site for bathing boxes.

The motion for demolition was agreed to unanimously, and when the Mayor asked what was intended to be done with the petition a suggestion was made by Cr. Grace to let the matter lie in abeyance for 12 months. That was, however, unacceptable to the Council, and on a six to two vote it was decided to inform the petitioners that the Council could see no justification for altering their decision to demolish the Baths. [8]

Despite the decision of Council the total demolition of the baths was not easily achieved. The Brighton Southern Cross reported nineteen months later that the removal of the pile stumps using explosives failed as it left the pile heads in a more dangerous condition. The Town Engineer suggested that the stumps could be cut off at sand level by a diver but in the case of a scour the task would have to be repeated. He recommended using a barge and steam winch. [9] The demolition of the Sandringham Sea Baths dragged on over many years, with some pile heads being left in the sea for decades.

Many factors contributed to the decision to demolish the Sandringham Sea Baths. The tide of social change had swept away the need to segregate the sexes whilst swimming and romping in Port Phillip Bay. The 1919 statistics showed that of the 75,000 who came to Sandringham, 65,000 bathed in the open sea, that is only 14 percent availed themselves of the Baths facilities whilst 86 percent enjoyed bathing from the open beach, without the need to pay a fee.

Bathing boxes had become a popular venue for families and friends to socialise together at the beach with facilities for dressing, undressing and food preparation. From the point of view of the Councillors, the bathing boxes were a constant source of revenue with repairs and general maintenance the sole responsibility of the owners, without contributions from the Council coffers.

The risk of shark attack diminished over the years from 1886 to 1919 as the fish population of Port Phillip Bay was severely depleted as the netting of fish became the practise of the commercial fishermen. Mr. Bertotto, pioneer fisherman, who arrived in Sandringham in the 1850s. was quoted in The Sandringham News of October 26, 1928. He said -

"We caught fish to send to Melbourne, and the bay was full of fish. As soon as nets were allowed, in a few years the bay was done. They killed the big ones and destroyed the small ones. We never make as many shillings now as we made sovereigns then".

Life Saving Clubs were established at popular swimming beaches around Port Phillip Bay. These Clubs provided a significant degree of security for swimmers as their members were constantly on the lookout for sharks in the vicinity.

The changing pattern of beach formations was particularly evident in the vicinity of the Sandringham Baths. Councillors and residents alike attested that there was no longer sufficient water depth for safe swimming and diving. It is interesting to note that in 1909, a wooden breakwater was constructed at the Sandringham Harbour, just to the north of the Sandringham Baths. [10] Did the new breakwater contribute to the build-up of sand at the Sandringham Baths?

Not least of all was the open nature of the particular part of the coastline where the baths were built. Summer and Winter, this stretch of coast is regularly lashed by direct strong south-westerly winds and, on occasions, wild seas. The Sandringham Baths were not located in a relatively sheltered bay, as was the case with the Beaumaris Baths.

For thirty four years the Sandringham Baths provided the hub for joyful activity by thousands of visitors who flocked there to enjoy the clean salt-laden air and crystal clear waters of what was, at that time, one of the most beautiful bays in the world. In the year 2000, the only memories of the Baths that remain in the minds of the elderly residents is childhood recollections of a few rotting piles left in the sand and out in the sea.

Today, the "Sandringham Baths" is relegated to the annals of history with the evidence of their existence lost in the sands of time.

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Sandringham beach with bathing boxes and baths in distance.

Author

Shirley M Joy

References

  • Joy, Shirley M., The Sandringham Sea Baths: 1886-1919, August 2000.

Footnotes

  1. Minutes of Shire of Moorabbin, November 16, 1885.
  2. The Brighton Southern Cross,. November 13, 1886.
  3. Moorabbin Council Minutes.
  4. Ibid, April 17, 1899.
  5. Ibid, June 8, 1909.
  6. Ibid, August 4, 1902.
  7. The Brighton Southern Cross, January 25, 1919.
  8. Ibid,. July 12, 1919.
  9. Ibid, February 12, 1921.
  10. Disney, Graeme. & Tarrant, Val, Bayside Reflections, 1988, page 80.

Article Cat. Historical Features
Article Ref. 59

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