Local History

bondi history, atbondi, bondi beach, bondi, sydney, nsw, australia, andy solo


Bondi Beach Early Description

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,

There is a rapture on the lonely shore,

There is society, where none intrudes,

By the deep sea, and music in its roar. 

Wondrously, this is an excerpt from the earliest known written description of Bondi Beach, the 1842 Almanac, p.284-285. Do they still include poetry in the World Almanac these days?!


Bondi Beach History Snippets!

really want to love history but, like trying to comprehend the components of my car engine, my eyes usually glaze over after a couple of paragraphs. If you’re in the same boat, here’s some interesting bite size history snippets, including riots, gypsies, bombings, mermaids and bikini wars!


- The eruption of an immeasurably ancient volcano largely formed Bondi and what lies behind it. It caused Bondi to become a rarity along Sydney’s famous coastline: a south-facing beach.


- Indigenous Australians were observed at Bondi when white man arrived and remained in the area for several decades, before being evicted (we’re really really sorry…)


- Most think Bondi or “Boondi” is an aboriginal word meaning “the noise of water breaking on rocks” or “sound of breaking water.” The Australian Museum, however, records it as “place where a fight with nullas took place.” (A nulla is an aboriginal club, or hitting weapon). Eek.


- There are some eroded aboriginal rock carvings of sea creatures on what is now Bondi Golf Links. A whale and its calf are also scored into the rock beside the path between Bondi and Tamarama. These carvings, known as petroglyphs are estimated to be 2,000 years old.


- The first recorded spelling of the name is “Boondi” in 1788 (the year of the arrival of the First Fleet). Others include: 1809 “Bundi”, 1811 “Bundye”, 1819 “Boondye”, 1827 “Bondi Bay”, 1832 “Bondi” and 1852 “Bondi Estate”.


- The eastern side of Bondi was once part of an island. Prior to European settlement, the land between Bondi Beach and Rose Bay was a series of fresh water lagoons and sand dunes of varying heights. Who knew?

bondi lagoons at bondi history, bondi beach, sydney, nsw, Australia


- The first “official” white landowner was William Roberts, a roadmaker, publican and grazier, who was granted 200 acres by acting Governor Paterson on December 22, 1809.


- Between 1855 and 1877 Francis O’Brien of the Bondi Estate made the beach and surrounding land available to the public as a picnic ground and pleasure resort, but for many years threatened to stop public access to the beach. In June 1882 the Government opened Bondi Beach to the general public.


- On Boxing Day 1884, a group of “drunken rowdies” descended upon the Bondi Dance Hall and a fight over a woman developed into a real “ding-dong go”, with even women joining in, tearing at each others hair and clothing. The crowd turned on attending police and the ‘Bondi Riot’ led to imprisonment for the accused and for “the license granted to Mr John (Johann ) Heinz for Dancing Pavilion at Bondi for the year 1885 be cancelled.”


- The Royal Aquarium & Pleasure Grounds (known as the Bondi Aquarium) opened Oct 1887 offering marine life displays, a roller coaster, skating rinks, regular fireworks and Sunday concerts. ps…it’s long gone.


- Historian B.T. Dowd claims a Gypsy camp existed in Bondi from the late 19th to early 20th century with “a thriving business, selling various kinds of goods and in telling fortunes”. They were possibly Argentinean, Mexican, Greek, Spanish, Lebanese or true Romany gypsies – proof enough for me that Bondi is a long-standing cultural magnet.


- The first electric tram service down to Bondi Beach began late in 1906 and was extended to North Bondi in 1929. The last trams to North Bondi ran on 28 Feb 1960 and in 1934 Bondi Beach had its first regular bus service with the main stop at Lamrock Ave.


- There were originally sculptures of two Bondi mermaids who sat on the Big Rock at Ben Buckler. Sadly, only the remains of one of the mermaids is still in existence, on permanent display in the Waverley Library. The mermaid statues were modelled on two local women: Jan Carmody, Miss Australia Surf 1959, and the runner up, Lynette Whillier, a champion swimmer.

bondi mermaids history at bondi, bondi beach, sydney, nsw, australia



- In the 1920s, Bondi Beach had been newly discovered by artists and writers and developed a slightly bohemian and very hedonistic atmosphere, usurping Manly as Sydney’s premier surfing beach.


- The increased popularity of Bondi Beach in the 1920s meant that some days up to 1000 cars would be parked near the beach. The Council introduced parking fees in 1926 and in the same year introduced 3hr parking limits (and they never looked back…).


- The Bondi Pavilion has morphed many times from the early 1900s, but has always figured large in the local landscape. It has variously housed or been the Bondi Surf Sheds, Castle Pavilion, Esplanade Cabaret, Turkish and Hot Sea Water Baths, North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club, Bondi [Beach] Boy’s Club, American Red Cross and U.S. Military Club, Surf & Dance at Bondi, Bondi Pavilion Theatre, Bondi Community Arts Centre and is now just known as plain old ‘Bondi Pavilion’.

bondi pavilion mural history at bondi, bondi beach, sydney, nsw



- From 1935-1961 the “bikini wars” raged. Many arrests were made for failing to comply to strict cozzie requirements of having legs at least 3″ long, full frontal coverage and shoulder straps to keep the costume firmly in place. Ah, they’d be rolling their graves today…


- On Sun 6 Feb 1938, an estimated 35,000 were enjoying Bondi Beach when a set of rogue waves hit. Its estimated 250 bathers needed help, with 60 near drownings; 35 unconscious (later revived) and five confirmed drownings. It became known colloquially as ‘Black Sunday’ and is still the largest mass surf rescue in Australian history. Tsunami fears anyone…?


- Early on 8 June 1942, a Japanese submarine about 9km offshore fired shells over Bondi. The Rose Bay Air Base was probably the enemy’s intended target but nobody was injured in the attack. Once the war in the Pacific commenced, Bondi was no longer such a desirable place and those who could afford it closed up and headed west to the Blue Mountains.


- In July 2007, Waverley Council adopted a humpback whale as part of the Humpback Whale Migration Icon Project, after humpbacks were added to the Japanese ‘scientific’ whaling quotas. A competition was held amongst local school children to name the whale, with the winning entry being ‘Liberty’.

bondi policies, Liberty Whale supported by local council, bondi beach, sydney, new, australia


For further info, or if you have any historical material you would like to donate or loan, please contact Kimberly O’Sullivan Steward, Local Studies Librarian: 02 9386 7744 or kimberlyo@waverley.nsw.gov.au. She may also be able to put you in contact with local Bondi historian, John Ruffels, a pioneer in this area.