Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The father of surf-swimming in Australia

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted
1902 William Gocher, Australia’s father of surf-swimming, took the plunge.

Australia is known internationally as a nation of white and golden beaches, and Australians as a water-loving people. It is a given that Australian swimmers and surfers rank highly in world competitions, far beyond what would be expected on a global per capita basis, given this nation’s relatively small population of about 20 million. It comes as no surprise, really, because about 90 per cent of Australians live in close proximity to beaches.

It does comes as a surprise, however, that ocean beach swimming was long outlawed Down Under.

In 1843, the government of New South Wales passed an act prohibiting bathing in the ocean between the hours of 6am and 8pm. (In those days, the British colony of NSW accounted for most of what we know as Australia today.) Seventy years later, in September, 1902, some yachtsmen landed at the ocean beach of Manly (one of the city of Sydney’s northern beaches – “Seven miles from Sydney, and a thousand miles from care” has long been its motto), hauled their craft ashore and took a dip in the sea. They were immediately arrested by the dutiful constabulary.

A Manly newspaper proprietor, William Henry Gocher, challenged what he believed to be an absurd and unjust law. He announced in his paper, the Manly and North Sydney News, that he intended to go bathing on October 2 in daylight hours, thus breaking the Victorian-era law. Though Gocher invited arrest by plunging into the ocean at midday, police didn’t take his bait, but finally on his third violation of the law, they did take him off to the lockup.

Under Gocher’s editorship, the News continued a vigorous campaign for the repeal of the law, and on November 2, 1903, Manly Council rescinded the by-law that prohibited bathing after 7am. The Council passed another by-law allowing people to swim at all times of day, provided that swimmers over eight years of age wore neck-to-knee costumes – a far cry from today’s topless Aussie beaches ...

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