Randwick & District Historical Society Inc.

Founded in 1957 by Nell Pillars
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Bathing Machine at Coogee Beach
Bathing Machines at Coogee Beach
(from a drawing by John Langford)

Coogee Poster
Coogee the Glorious - poster from the collection of Randwick & District Historical Society

Coogee Beach in 1965

Coogee Beach in 1965


Coogee By the Sea:
From Market Garden to Coogee Palace

The Bidigal people of the Randwick area say the word Coogee means "hilly place" and Coogee is truly a place defined by its hills. Other interpretations suggest the smell of rotting seaweed, or the smell of a dead whale. To the Aboriginal people Coogee was a fishing spot, and today fishermen's boats are still stored at the northern end of the beach.

On 28 May 1838, Coogee was gazetted by the Executive Council as a village. The map of the time shows Coogee Bay Road as Whale Street, Alfreda Street as Bondi Street, Bream Street as Fish Street, and Belmore Road as Coogee Road. Land south of Coogee is designated swampy. The foreshore is specially marked as Reserved for Public Recreation.

However, it was not until 1859, at a special ceremony, Randwick Council confirmed the completion of Whale Street. The name appreciated the spectacular passage of Whales going North to breed in winter and south in summer to feed off Antarctic krill. The park branching to right and left at the beach was named the Whale's Tail because its shape resembled the image of a submerging whale's tail silhouetted against the sea. It was described at the time as "a pretty oval enclosure" that included a Norfolk Island pine tree given by Mr. Wall of the Australian Museum. These hardy trees thrive in sandy soil and are still part of Coogee beach today.

People could travel to Coogee from the west down Whale Street, but people coming from the north had to cross a stream that ran from the west, flowing across Carrington Road and the present sports ground, entering the northern end of the beach along Dolphin Street.

In 1860, a bridge was built across the street at the bottom of Beach Street. It was named Cuthill Bridge after a popular local doctor who had been murdered by one of his patients who held him responsible for the death of his wife in childbirth. When the doctor's will was read, it was found he had left his money towards the building of the Randwick Destitute Children's Asylum.

The first public house in the area was The Picnic Arms Hotel run by Charles White and was situated adjacent to the stream, but at the corner of Whale Street and what is Brook Street. His convivial advertisement for a Christmas celebration included fresh oysters opened all day, Old English Ale and vaudeville in the afternoon. When offered for auction in 1861, the hotel was described as occupying grounds of 4 acres, but of stone with a shingled roof, and verandas along the front and part of both ends.

An early resident of the Coogee Beach area was Charles Catley who arrived in Sydney from Cambridgeshire, England in July 1848 and by June of the same year had bought land at Coogee Beach. He quickly realised the potential of flat land, available transport and the fresh flowing stream at the northern end of the Beach.

The growing township of Sydney needed fresh vegetables, as did those travelling to goldfields in the Bathurst area. Living first in a bark hut, he had by 1866 built a two storied residence from stone quarried on the site, and named it "Cauliflower Hall" after one of the most profitable vegetables in his market garden, now occupied by Coogee Oval.

By 1882 the steam trams had been extended from the junction at Short Street and Belmore Road, Randwick to Coogee Beach, and were arriving every hour.

On 7th February 1882, Randwick Council fixed the following hours for bathing:

  • Ladies up to 9am and after 5pm
  • Gentlemen up to 8am and after 5pm
in response to correspondence from a Mrs. E Milson complaining of the hours fixed for bathing. In 1886 permission was given to H. Grunfield to use bathing machines, which allowed bathers to change in privacy and enjoy the waves in the safety of an enclosed area.

As the 19th Century moved to its end, there was a stirring of interest in financial propositions. The gold rushes had brought wealth and the world to Australia. The wool industry was booming and there was even talk of Federation. As crowds grew around the seaside resorts of Sydney, speculators saw profit in entertaining them. There was a challenge in the air to be as good as the rest of the world. The seaside resorts of England and Europe could draw profitable crowds, Australia with its much longer summer could be very good business. In Paris there were the Follies Bergere and the building of the Eiffel Tower - in Coogee was born the Coogee Palace. Civilization was heading for the Naughty Nineties.

Ellen Waugh

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