Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Shooting through Bondi’s history

The peak of summer is when Bondi does its thing best. Everyone comes out to play – surfers, tourists and shoppers, to form part of the buzzing crowd.

It would come as no surprise to you that this is the way Bondi has always been. For a century now, it’s the place to be on a Sydney summer day.

But postcode 2026 has a much more fascinating history, from its first indigenous tribes, to European settlers and mid-century gangsters. Here are six things you probably didn’t know about our famous (and infamous) beachside suburb:
  1. “Bondi Points” could refer to the headlands on either side of the beach. But rather, it’s a term used to describe spear blades used by the local indigenous population some 4,500 years ago. Where the Bondi Pavilion now stands is thought to have been a tool trading “shop” for them, based on the number unearthed there.
  2. When World War II broke out in 1939, Bondi’s famous sand was covered with barbed wire and iron stakes as it was thought to be a potential invasion point. Swimmers could still reach the shoreline to bathe by negotiating their way through the maze of fortifications. The locals nicknamed it the “rat run”.
  3. Tamarama Beach was the scene of Australia’s first rollercoaster. The Switchback Railway opened in 1887 and was a diving, plunging, hold-your-breath circus attraction above the sands near the waterline.
  4. Freshwater lagoons once lay behind Bondi Beach, while rolling sandhills ran from there to near Rose Bay, some 4km away. These hills can still be seen in pictures of the area up until the 1920s.
  5. Bondi had an underbelly all of its own. The suburb was the scene of the first organised car bombing in Australia in the 1960s.
  6. Shark fishing on the beach was a popular pastime last century. Rather than discourage sharks, the lifeguards would actually try and lure them closer to the shore for the fisherman. Their favourite method for doing this? Tying pieces of meat to those famous Speedos and then swimming out beyond the waves!
3. Tamarama Beach was the scene of Australia’s first rollercoaster

2. Bondi’s famous sand was covered with barbed wire and iron stakes

Judy Parnell and friends sitting on railing, Bondi Beach c. 1947

* Cassie Mercer is editor of Inside History, a bi-monthly magazine focused on Australia’s genealogy, history and heritage. Kimberly O’Sullivan is Waverley Council’s historian. She is passionate about cultural memory and Bondi’s local history.


  1. Love the Bondi stories.
    Mr Geniaus has many great ones from his time as Waverley's Town Clerk.

    1. Thank you, would love to hear those stories sometime Mrs Geniaus :) There's some great history on the Waverley Council site as well ::