Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sea Baths

I visited the St Kilda Sea Baths to buy a body massage voucher as a gift for someone's birthday.  Several photos of the Sea Baths in older incarnations were displayed along a central walkway. I am sure many Sea Bath photos can be found online, but I like these photos of photos. I read a little of the history of the Sea Baths just now and I've selected a few points that interested me.

Bathing on beaches was not allowed in the 19th century into the 20th century, unless at sea baths. The sea baths were sex segregated.

In the men's area of the baths, back in the 1884, there were complaints about excessive and un-warranted nudity. I suspect that is code for something.

1922 saw more complaints, probably about men again, for night basking on the beach and lewd behaviour.

1926, the baths burnt and were reconstructed by 1928.

We slip a little south to Middle Brighton Pier, where in 1930 many people watch a young man get killed by a shark. Women fainted as they watched the carnage and had to be given stimulants.

Meanwhile back at the Sea Baths, in the 1930s men started rolling down their upper body straps and walking the streets in their swimming costumes and being prosecuted for such brazenness.

1945, an army chap died after being stabbed in the heart by a stingray.

Still in the forties and fifties, the excessive public nudity went on.

In 1980 the shark net was removed from around the Baths and nightclubs proliferated at the Sea Baths. I think I once went to one called Bojangles. Ah, perhaps Hilliers too, run by dykon Jan Hillier.

I visited the baths only once and was very clearly a gay cruising area. There was a walkway deck around the swimming area. It was very shabby. You went on to great things, Mr Fairfax Press executive. You seemed so shy and sweet.

In 1991 tenders were called for the reconstruction of the baths, with the winning tender announced in 1992, awarded to a company called Zarawaters.

1993 saw the baths close for good and demolished in 1995. Some sections were retained to be incorporated into the new design.

The public hated the new building and judged it too big and too bulky. Developer Hannah Friedman appeared frequently in the media, defending the building as construction fitfully proceeded.

By 1998, Zarawaters was in receivership with a new developer chosen in 1999. As per the agreement with the new developer, some of the worst aspects of the redevelopment were demolished.

In 2001, the new Sea Baths opened. I judge it to be reasonably inoffensive.

I understand that St Kilda Sea Baths and Hepburn Spa (mineral) are connected.


  1. I hope that wooden pier wasn't too splintery.

    I have very vague memories of a section of sea fenced off like a swimming pool,with no idea at all where we were at the time. It was up above the water level at low tide and filled with fresh water as the tide came in at night.

    1. River, worn very smooth. I expect all Australian cities had such a facility. Sydney still has it bathing pools, refreshed on high tides.

  2. I am always coming back in the blog to the topics of leisure piers, sea baths, bathing boxes, bathing machines and health campaigns at the turn of the century. The remaining bathing boxes in Melbourne are fairly rare and fairly expensive, but I would REALLY love one.


    In the meantime, we still go to the St Kilda complex for the vegetarian food, the massages and spa baths, and the reliving of courting memories.

    1. Bathing machines are interesting Hels. I know what they are, but I doubt many do. Your post about beach huts was great. Courting memories indeed.

  3. Methinks the 1920/30's were the equivalent to the 1960/70's for major mind set changes Andrew. Love these old photos of the baths, brazen and unwarranted nakedness, rock on haha! Amazing to think that shark attacks have been recorded for as long as people have been swimming in the ocean hey. Sometimes we act as if its something new!

    1. Grace, as far as I know, shark attacks in our bay are very rare. The one I mentioned might have been the last death. You side of the country is a bit more of a problem, but it's their water