Coogee Beach History

Coogee Beach is a semi protected surf beach east of Sydney that has been popular seaside location since the 1880’s. Coogee Beach History is very interesting, and it is one of the few beaches in Sydney to feature a pier.

Coogee Beach from the North

Like many Sydney beaches, Coogee owes its name to the indigenous peoples that lived there before western colonisation. Koo-jah, meaning ‘bad generally; stinking; a bad smell caused by decayed seaweed washed ashore’ 1, is generally agreed to be the basis of the name Coogee, which was officially gazetted as a village in 1838.

The Coogee Palace Aquarium opened on Friday 23rd December 1887. An excerpt from the announcement in the Evening News stated:

‘The aquarium, baths, and pleasure grounds at Coogee … were formally opened by the Hon. J. Inglis yesterday. …Mr. Inglis praised the aquarium and its surroundings very highly, and thought that the completion of such a ‘ fairy piece of architecture’ within five months was a wondrous feat. 
The addition of such a complete and beautiful ‘building’ to the places of amusement and recreation in the vicinity of Sydney he believed to be a matter of sincere congratulation to all. The aquarium was a suitable feature to tie ‘the’ picturesque beauties of Coogee Bay, and seemed one of the prettiest and best adapted of all the places of public resort with which Sydney was replete.

… The main building, which comprises a concert hall (with stage), art gallery, part of the aquarium, organ loft, and refreshment stall, is 100ft by 150ft, and is surmounted by a dome 60ft…, arranged so as to give the best possible light. 
The approaches and entrances are of the prettiest, and the concert hall will seat 2000 persons. The fish tanks are of original design, the rock-work and other submarine features being most tasteful. The seal tank is large, and now contains five seals from the Solomon Islands, one being the largest in the colonies, beside a number of penguins from the same place. There is a very pretty lawn, provided with seats, and where the thick foliage of the trees gives a grateful shade at such a season as the present. The bath is 100ft long and 50 wide..’ 2


Above image is © Lindsay Bridge under CC BY

In 1902 work was completed on an electric tram that terminated at Dolphin Street near the Aquarium. This gave Sydneysiders an easy way to get to the beach and increased its popularity some.

Coogee Baths and Life Saving Club

The Coogee Surf Life Saving Club was opened in 1907 and is a founding member of the SLC movement in Sydney.
As one of the clubs the members performed firsts in the field of life saving. Of particular note is the actions of Jack Brown, who on the morning of 2nd March 1922 rescued a surfer from a shark, while the shark was still attacking.

It was reported 24 year old local Merv Gannon was surfing 15 metres off shore when he was attacked. With no line or float attached, Jack Brown jumped into the ocean, swam out to Merv and began to pull him into shore. While on the way in the shark struck again, biting Merv on the back. Jack finally got him to shore and he was taken to hospital in a critical condition. 3

Panorama of Coogee Beach

On Saturday 10th November 1928, after 4 years of construction, the Coogee Pier finally opened. As reported by the Sunday Times:

‘Only a few people gathered outside the entrances to the Coogee Pier yesterday at 2 p.m., when it was to be thrown open to the public, but later the crowd swelled to considerable proportions. Hundreds rushed on to the pier when it was finally thrown open, and various side-shows did a roaring trade. It was considered, late in the afternoon, that a record crowd was at Coogee. …. 4

Modelled on the traditional English seaside amusement piers, complete with a theatre, ballroom, restaurant and penny arcades, Coogee Pier soon became a huge attraction, and a shining beacon at night;

‘With the advent of warm weather, Coogee Pier is becoming, the Mecca of thousands nightly. Brilliantly illuminated each evening, the pier presents a beautiful sight, and fills a long-felt want in as much as it provides a means of enjoying open-air amusements.’ 5

Unfortunately it was not to last. Although Coogee is some what sheltered from swells by the small Wedding Cake Island off shore, it is by no means completely protected and big storms took their toll. The cost of repairing the structure was too much to bear and in 1933 the Randwick Council voted to demolish it, with one council member declaring it a ‘Grand Mistake that had ruined the beauty of Coogee’ 6 with work completed in 1934.

  1. McCarthy; 1963
  2. Evening News 24/12/1887
  3. Arrow 3/3/1922
  4. Sunday Times 11/10/1928
  5. Sunday Times 9th Dec
  6. Newcastle Herald 5/10/1933

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