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Protecting bathers and surfers from sharks dates back to the early parts of the twentieth century, when a spate of attacks prompted action from the government. Evolution of an Icon recounts the measures that were tried and tested by councils and clubs to minimise injury and death by 'shark menace'. 

The following is an excerpt from Evolution of an Icon, pages 102-104

In 1912, the Surf Bathing Committee set up by the New South Wales Government referred to the ‘shark menace’ and discussed the practicalities of constructing fixed enclosures such as the one at Durban in South Africa, but apart from recommending that beachside councils should be encouraged to look into methods of protecting bathers from shark attacks, the matter was not pursued. In the decade after World War I there was a resurgence in the popularity of bathing and during this period (1919 to 1929 there were 15 shark attacks, eight of them fatal, on Sydney and Newcastle beaches.

Following the two Coogee attacks in 1922, the Surf Life Saving Association required all beach patrols to have a manned look-out tower or vantage point and an alarm bell, and that surfboats were to be equipped with shark spears. Many beaches used the portable Hammer Hammer. Approximately six metres high and made of timber with metal fittings, it sold for 15 Pounds. Today there remains only one permanent tower on the NSW coast, and possibly in Australia. The timber structure, perched on a rock outcrop at Redhead Beach south of Newcastle, was built in 1928. Redhead members, laid off from a local colliery, transported timber from a disused mine to construct the 14-metre tower, which became heritage listed in 1988 – a modern-day reminder of those times when shark attacks were a constant threat.

SEE ALSO: When Was The First State Junior Carnival First Held? 

In June 1928, the association convened a meeting with representatives of the state’s seaside councils to investigate methods of combating the ‘shark menace’ but its major recommendations, including that ‘regular and systematic netting affords a cheap and effective way of greatly minimising the shark peril’, were ignored by the government. Other findings questioned the engineering practicalities of fixed-net enclosures. The use of explosives, bait fishing, bubbles, noises and electric shock were not supported, although the provision of manned lookout towers was recommended.

Although there were no shark attacks on Sydney and Newcastle beaches between 1929 and 1932, the early part of 1932-33 surfing season saw a non-fatal attack at Redhead in October 1932, followed by a spate of attacks on Sydney’s Northern Beaches in 1934; at Queenscliff on 7 January, at Dee Why on 12 March, and then at North Steyne in April. Prior to this the very popular beaches north of Sydney Harbour had been relatively free from the shark menace. In response to heightened public concern, the association appointed a Shark Protection Sub-Committee. Within three months (June 1934) the association’s sub-committee had completed its findings, recommending the meshing of Sydney beaches be implemented without delay.

Friday, 3 August 2018