Australia’s leading garden photographers capture the essence of contemporary landscape design across the state.
Please rotate your device to use this website.
Australia’s leading garden photographers capture the essence of contemporary landscape design across the state.
The photographs of Australia’s most important amateur photographer are an astonishing modernist record of Bondi Beach and its people during a remarkable era. The champion jitterbug dancer captured the incredible displays of ‘beachobatics’ popular at the time as well as fitness fanatics, leisure seekers, bathers and lifesavers enjoying the famous strip of sand during the 30s and 40s.Background:
Australia’s leading garden photographers capture the essence of contemporary landscape design across the state.
In this six-man ground pyramid (from left to right, top row) Wal Balmus, Frank Cottier and Max Stewart hand-balance off Vic Whitehead and Jack Goldberg (face obscured), all supported by bearer Alf Stanbrough. The Graham gymnasts also gave many free displays and exhibitions at various orphanages and institutions for those unable to see their stunts on Bondi Beach. (Digital ID: a2391026)1939-04-16-n539-bondigym.jpg Wal Balmus, Vic Whitehead, Frank Cottier, Jack Goldberg (face obscured) and Max Stewart balance on Alf Stanbrough, 16 April 1939. (Digital ID: a2391026)
The sweep of sand is famous the world over. The view of the water is mesmerising but so, too, is the scene on land. Here is where the beautiful people gather - the fitness fanatics, the fashionable, the lifesavers and lifestyle-conscious, the bronzed and beautiful, the visitors and the regulars.
Welcome to Bondi Beach... 1936.
The picture doesn't sound all that different from today - although, of course, no one was taking selfies back then. So how can we remember it? Thanks to the photographs of one incredibly talented Bondi local, George Caddy, and the collection of his photographs in the State Library of New South Wales, we have a lively and alluring snapshot of the Bondi lifestyle in the 1930s and 1940s - its people, its pleasures, its passions. We invite you to dive in...
This is George Caddy's makeshift studio in the front room of his house in Bennett Street, Bondi. The camera is a nineteenth-century wet-plate Dallmeyer studio camera on a wheeled tripod, which George would have used as a prop, as it simply couldn't have taken the sharp portraits he liked. A rubber bulb activated a simple flap shutter inside the camera's bellows for an exposure of several seconds. (Digital ID: a2391027)1939-05-07-N556-George.jpg George Caddy with 1870s Dallmeyer studio camera, 7 May 1939. (Digital ID: a2391027) A new vision The man who reframed Bondi
Many of us pick up a camera to take a few photographs on the weekend, but it's not often that those photographs go any further than our friends and families. Yet when Bondi local George Caddy started taking his camera to the beach back in 1936, he was creating what would later become an astonishing record of one of Australia's most famous hot spots during a remarkable era. If it weren't for George Caddy's camera, some of Bondi's memorable moments and captivating people would have otherwise passed unseen.
Of course, he couldn't have known this at the time. Caddy, a keen amateur photographer, was simply pursuing one of his passions. Luckily for the rest of Australia, he was extremely good at it.
Between the years 1936 and 1941, George Caddy photographed the fitness fanatics, leisure seekers, bathers and lifesavers at Bondi Beach. Thanks to him, we know a little of how they dressed and how they played. Thanks to him, we have discovered 'beachobatics', incredible displays of fitness and balance performed by local gymnasts on the beach at the time.
Caddy's pictures show a love of people and their lives, and it's clear from them that his subjects, who were often his friends, responded warmly to his lens. But who was the man behind the camera?Who was George Caddy? Life and times
George Caddy was often photographed with his models. This is thought to be Pat McRae, who had appeared in Truth newspaper the previous month, wearing this laced-up Canadian swimsuit. George's camera is a rather unwieldy, large-format Graflex, with a fold-up tripod. To set the shutter speed, the Graflex owner wound up the shutter to one of a series of tensions. Then he selected the shutter slit width with another knob, using a table on the side of the camera, which gave the speed for each combination. But at least someone with a Graflex looked like a professional photographer! (Digital ID: a2391047)1940-03-31-n788-george.jpg Pat McRae and George with his Autograflex camera, Ben Buckler, 31 March 1940. (Digital ID: a2391047)
George Caddy was born in Fitzroy, Victoria, in 1914, the youngest of three children. His father was a printer and his mother a 'fancy box maker'. As a student at the Melbourne Technical Preparatory School, he was described as a 'very careful worker' who, aside from average results, showed a flair for geometry.
Growing up between two world wars, George Caddy was part of a generation that had more than its fair share of hardship and turmoil. In 1929, just before the Wall Street Crash that would trigger the Great Depression, his family moved to Sydney but soon became affected by the economic stresses of the time. Sometime in 1932 his unemployed father walked out after 30 years of marriage, leaving 17-year-old George, his mother Ellen and middle sister Vida living in their house in Bennett Street, Bondi (his elder sister, Melba, had remained in Melbourne when the family moved to Sydney). Vida, employed as a 'tailoress', married the following year so that only young George and his mother remained.
By 1936, things were looking up and Caddy found a job as a paper-pattern cutter for the Australian Home Journal magazine in the city. Meanwhile, he pursued two hobbies - photography and dancing - and during the years 1936 to 1941, he shone at both.
A self-taught photographer who'd won awards in local competitions, he would take his camera down to Bondi Beach at weekends and photograph his gymnast friends, local bathers, lifeguards and leisure seekers. At the same time, his love of Jitterbug dancing at local venues like the Trocadero saw him recognised for his skills on the dance floor.
Sadly, the outbreak of World War II put an end to this part of Caddy's life. He enlisted in the army and from 1941 to 1945 was stationed as a gunner in a heavy anti-aircraft battery near Brisbane. Although he returned to paper-pattern cutting in 1946, he seems to have left dancing and photography in the past. Probably his marriage in 1943 to Betty York, and the birth of his son Paul the following year, redirected Caddy's focus towards home life.
George Caddy died in 1983, leaving behind a box of 290 negatives that were discovered by his son. It is thanks to those negatives that the State Library can share this astonishing series of stories today.BODY OF WORK A modernist in the making
A flash bulb on George's camera has frozen the twin backflips by these two gymnasts mid-air and illuminated the sand suspended beneath them. This ability to anticipate and compose a fleeting moment is a measure of his photographic skill. Although front somersaults are easier to learn, backward somersaults are easier to perfect, as the tumbler can see their landing and correct body rotation. Backward somersaults are known as 'gainers', if the landing is ahead of the take-off spot, and 'cutaways', if the landing is behind. (Digital ID: a2391004).1936-10-04-n144-bondigym.jpg J.Prentiss and another gymnast in the air, Bondi Beach, 4 October 1936. (Digital ID: a2391004)
The years between the world wars (1918–1939) saw a major change in visual art, particularly in photography. Young photographers wanted to portray the dynamism of the new era. They broke with the sentimental soft-focus imagery of pictorialism and made hard-edged photographs from strange angles and even against the light. This very modernist image of women descending steps into Town Hall Station was taken at the stairway on the western side of George Street, looking towards Murdoch's department store, which was on the north-eastern corner of George and Park Streets. Neither the stairway nor Murdoch's store exists today. (Digital ID: a2391001)1936-07-00-n53-nonstudio.jpg Two women enter Town Hall Station near Murdoch's Department Store, July 1936. (Digital ID: a2391001)
George Caddy took advantage of the first night of special floodlighting to celebrate the Coronation of King George Vl, to make this late-night photograph of Sydney Town Hall from St Andrew's Cathedral forecourt. A crowd estimated at 150 000, 'twice as big as an ordinary Friday night shopping crowd, invaded the city to gape. According to The Sydney Morning Herald (12 May 1937): 'George Street decorations reached their climax at Town Hall, which by day is colourful with bunting and flags, and by night an attraction for thousands of spectators. Floodlighting is done in red, gold and blue with remarkable effect.' (Digital ID: a2391012)1937-05-11-n280-coronationweek.jpg St Andrew's Cathedral and illuminated Town Hall, Coronation week, 11 May 1937. (Digital ID: a2391012)
This portrait of George Caddy's fiancée, Betty York, is posed to display her engagement ring. It is one of only two soft-focus images taken by George. The other is of Betty's sister, Hazel. He was either a romantic, or aware that razor-sharp photographs are not always appreciated by the sitter. George and Betty married on 14 September 1943, with Betty two weeks shy of her nineteenth birthday. c. 1943. (Digital ID: a2391060)1943-bettyyork.jpg Betty York, fiancée, ca. 1943. (Digital ID: a2391060)
Not every woman wanted to resemble a Hollywood star. Looking a little like 1930s French screen star Jany Holt, who was renowned for her 'beautiful slightly sunken eyes and hollow cheeks', Marie Perry was photographed facing a floodlight. George Caddy added a slightly weaker, off-centre, high fill-light to accentuate her hat and lace fichu, separating her from the dark background. (Digital ID: a2391007)1937-01-17-n222-marieperry.jpg Marie Perry, 17 January 1937. (Digital ID: a2391007)
This image of a Long Bay tram in Eddy Avenue displays the hard shadows and unusual viewpoint of the modernist photographic aesthetic. The O-class or toast-rack tram was the backbone of Sydney's tramway system for more than forty years, before retirement in 1958. They had transverse bench seats without a centre aisle, with vertical divisions between the seats, which somewhat resembled a toast rack. While the seating arrangement was popular with passengers, the O-class tram conductor had to collect fares from the running board outside the tram – rain, hail or shine. (Digital ID: a2391003)1936-07-00-n58-nonstudio.jpg Long Bay toast-rack tram, Eddy Avenue, July 1936. (Digital ID: a2391003)
<p>Australian Home Journal, Sydney, 1894-1983, Q640.5/9. <a href="https://search.sl.nsw.gov.au/permalink/f/1ocrdrt/SLNSW_ALMA21117249630002626">View Here</a></p>150605_homejournal006.jpg Australian Home Journal, Sydney, 1894-1983, Q640.5/9.
Photo caption: This exuberant image of beach fitness bears a remarkable likeness to a photograph of four people running towards the camera, used in an advertisement for Agfa film, which appeared in George Caddy's copy of U.S. Camera 1936. (Digital ID: a2391036) .
Audio caption: Alan Davies, curator of the exhibition 'Bondi Jitterbug: George Caddy and his Camera' held at the State Library of NSW in 2009, talks about George Caddy and the the lost art of beachobatics.Download MP3 Re-creating an advertisment for Agfa film in U.S. Camera 1936 – 29 October 1939. (Digital ID: a2391036)
Two somersaulting gymnasts are frozen mid-air, the grains of sand they have kicked up glistening in the sun between them. Even today, using digital cameras, automatic flash and auto speed, this image would be difficult to replicate. Yet George Caddy mastered it with a flash bulb on 4 October 1936.
How did such a talent develop? George Caddy seems to have taught himself and been known in local camera club circles. He won prizes in the junior (under 16 years) section of the monthly competitions held by the journal Australasian Photo-Review. Indoor portraits of his sister Vida won him first prize and photographic goods to the value of ten shillings and sixpence ($1.05) in November 1930 and again in February 1931. Portraits of his father and sister came second in 1930, although some pictures were criticised for their depth of field and tonal range.
It was tougher in the senior section, where a 19-year-old Max Dupain of Ashfield came third in April 1930 with a soft-focus picture of a tree. From 1932, George Caddy entered the senior competition but was discouraged by his lack of success. Despite the prevailing trend for soft focus, one criticism of his work read: 'There is considerable loss of definition; in fact, it might be described as particularly fuzzy.'
Caddy, like Dupain, soon turned to a modernist style, influenced by overseas magazines such as Popular Photography from New York. His 1936 photographs of a tram at Eddy Avenue and women entering Town Hall Station display the hard shadows, raking light and unusual viewpoints of the new photographic aesthetic.
After converting the front room of the modest cottage at Bennett Street to a makeshift studio, equipped with home-made floodlights made from tin cans, Caddy experimented with portraiture. His lighting arrangements were dramatic, like the black and white cinema of the time, although he produced soft-focus portraits for Hazel York and her sister Betty, who George married in 1943. Perhaps he was a romantic, or simply aware that razor-sharp likenesses were not always appreciated by the sitter.
But it is the magical frozen moment of those somersaulting gymnasts that reveals Caddy's talent at its most persuasive. Among the 290 negatives, he stored away, his images of Bondi - its people and passions - are unforgettable.A mystery solved The photos in the box
George Caddy sights through the wire-frame 'sports' viewfinder on his Voigtländer Bergheil camera, which was used to make many of the 'beachobatic' photographs. It had a flashlight attachment and roll film back, which produced negatives 6 cm square. George's negatives originally numbered around 900, which seems a small output for six years. He was either very economical with film, or culled his shots immediately on development to retain only the best images. (Digital ID: a2391049)1940-06-30-n852-george.jpg George with Voigtländer Bergheil camera, with roll film back and flashgun, 30 June 1940. (Digital ID: a2391049)
'Do you know anything about this bloke George Caddy?'
This email was sent in 2007 from photographer Jon Lewis to Alan Davies, former Curator of Photography at the State Library of NSW. 'You've got to see these. They're of Bondi and they're sensational.' With those words, a discovery was unearthed that would make its mark on Sydney's photographic history.
After his father died in 1983, Paul Caddy was clearing out his flat in Maroubra when he came across a shoebox full of photographic negatives - 290 in all. They were neatly numbered and dated but revealed nothing more. Who they depicted and where they were taken were mysteries.
In the box, too, were newspaper articles from the time about his father who, it seemed, was a champion Jitterbug dancer. This came as a complete surprise to Paul, although he'd known his father had been involved in photography as he'd seen cameras, magazines and prints around the house when he was young. Bemused, he put the box to one side and forgot about the mystery negatives. More than two decades later, when scanning negatives had become a much easier task, Paul created a website for them. It took another man, Paul's friend Dr Peter Spitzer, to make Jon Lewis aware of the site and, realising its significance, Lewis sent that serendipitous email to Alan Davies at the State Library.
From here, the story is a triumph of sleuthing...
The first clue: Alan Davies found one of George Caddy's photographs - a tableau of seven men lifting five women - in the Library's copy of Health and Physical Culture magazine, published on February 1, 1939. The article identified the people as members of the Graham Gymnasium.
The second: Staff at Waverley Library confirmed that the Graham Men’s Gymnastic Club had been formed in Waverley in 1921.
The third: A story in the local paper, appealing for more information, unearthed a reader who’d kept an album of Caddy’s beachobatic pictures, with the names of the gymnasts on the back of one print.
From here, the Library’s team got to work with books, magazines, newspapers, electoral rolls, telephone directories and their own manuscripts, pictures and online resources. Gradually, the images – and most of the people in the photographs – were identified.
And so a box of unidentified pre-war film negatives introduced Australia to one of its most significant amateur photographers.A strange coincidence 3 men and a camera
George Caddy with his nineteenth-century wet-plate Dallmeyer studio camera. (Digital ID: a2391027)1939-05-07-N556-George.jpg George Caddy with 1870s Dallmeyer studio camera, 7 May 1939. (Digital ID: a2391027)
It’s so bizarre you couldn’t make it up. In 1984, more than twenty years before the State Library exhibited George Caddy’s works, photography enthusiast Alan Davies had gone to a camera auction looking to buy a 1960s Kodak camera. Unsuccessful, he turned his sights towards a rare and very distinctive 1870s Dallmeyer wet-plate studio camera on a wheeled tripod. ‘I had money burning a hole in my pocket so I ended up purchasing this rather nice wood and brass camera,’ he recalls. ‘I thought it would make an ornament in the living room.’
Fast-forward to 2008, when Davies, then Curator of Photography at the State Library, was putting together the exhibition and George Caddy’s son, Paul, was sending him scans of his father’s negatives. One picture featured a Dallmeyer camera on a wheeled tripod that looked remarkably like the one in Alan Davies’ living room! Davies was convinced they were one and the same, but he needed proof.
He rang the auction house, who could not only confirm that the camera had been sold by someone who lived at the time in Mittagong (Paul’s former home), but, even more exciting, that it had belonged to someone ‘who used to take pictures on Bondi Beach’. By a delightful coincidence, George Caddy’s camera had ended up in the home of the person who would one day curate the exhibition of his incredible photos.
This difficult one-hand balance on balance canes is a professional adagio routine. Apparently only one in a hundred hand-balancers can balance on one hand and it takes about a year to accomplish. Maintaining equilibrium, while carrying another person on your back, is another matter entirely. This is Arthur Coutts and his daughter Pauline, who performed at the Tivoli. Professional acrobat Bill Harris, who performed with his wife Thelma as The Marvettes from 1945 to 1980, learnt one-handed balancing from Arthur Coutts and remembers it took him four years to master! (Digital ID: a2391029)1939-09-17-n570-bondigym.jpg Balance canes, Arthur Coots and daughter Pauline, 17 September 1939. (Digital ID: a2391029) What was beachobatics? Spectacle on the sands
Head down to Bondi Beach these days and you'll be guaranteed, alongside the bathers and lifeguards, to see one or more of the following: a body builder, a beach volleyball player, a capoeira dancer, someone doing yoga, someone running, and someone exercising on the beachside equipment. The beach has always been a magnet for the healthy, fit and fabulous.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the fitness scene at Bondi was just as active, yet the feats were far more spectacular. 'Beachobatics', as it was named in Health and Physical Culture magazine, a blend of gymnastics and acrobatics performed on the sand by agile men and women for the delight of the beach-going public. And if it weren't for George Caddy, who captured these displays on his camera for a few short years just before and during World War II, we wouldn't have had the privilege of viewing it today.
Caddy's are the only visual records of the sport, although Pix magazine described it (11 November 1939): 'Millions spend their leisure hour on Australia's wonderful beaches. Some are content to surf and sunbake, others while away the time reading, knitting, playing, singing... some surfers specialise in acrobatics as a form of exercise. Many are exceptionally clever and finished displays of grace and beauty bring colour to beach parties.'Fitness in focus The people behind the pictures
Roya Geale puts on a spectacular display of flexibility and balance, similar to 'needle scale' poses struck by professional adagio dancers and contortionists, in which a standing front split is done, while holding the back leg overhead. Two-piece swimsuits had been introduced to Sydney in 1938, but they were not for everyone. As Pix magazine (10 September 1938) pointed out: 'costumes designed for slim athletic types should not be worn by outsize figures'. 5 January 1941. (Digital ID: a2391054)1941-01-05-n935-bondigym.jpg Roya Geale, 5 January 1941. (Digital ID: a2391054)
So who were these super-fit people? Many were members of the Graham Men's Gymnastic Club, formed in Waverley, Sydney, around 1921.
Central to these was Wal Balmus, a professional strongman and equilibrist, the best known of Caddy's subjects who was famous for his role as Tarzan in the Tarzan's Grip adhesive logo. His handstands and daring feats of balance, from buildings high above Sydney's streets (not to mention Niagara Falls and The Gap), were the subject of articles in Pix magazine. It was Balmus who claimed responsibility for teaching hand-balancing to the Graham Gymnasium, saying, in an article in Health and Physical Culture (1 February 1939), 'At the commencement they did not have one outstanding balancer, but now they have the largest number of balancers of any gym in Australia and I am certainly proud of them.'
There was a strong belief at the time that personal fitness contributed to the nation's strength, a view Balmus summarised: 'Healthy recreational activities like these... will assure a happier and healthier generation to come.'
Accompanying Balmus in many photographs is Alf Stanbrough, who usually appeared as the strongman supporting his fellow gymnasts. Born in 1883, he was a local builder who had served in the Boer War. Wal Balmus ran a body-building and fitness school in Sydney and Alf was one of his prize pupils, used in the school's publicity because of his age - at this time, Wal was 47 and Alf 56.
When World War II came, most Graham gymnasts enlisted, although Alf was too old to join up and Wal died in 1941.
Of course, not all George Caddy's subjects were male gymnasts. By the late 1930s, the club was called the Graham Ladies' and Men's Gymnastic Club, and several of its female members made frequent appearances before Caddy's camera. One flexible regular who appeared in quite a few of his pictures is Roya Geale, the club's female junior champion, who displays agile feats alone and with her fellow Graham members, as well as being a commanding presence in her own right.All the right moves Know your positions
John Henry holds his partner aloft in a 'one-hand back lift to over-head arch'. George Caddy captured a few of these advanced adagio 'poses plastiques'. (Digital ID: a2391055)1941-01-05-n939-bondigym.jpg Backlift, John Henry, 5 January 1941. (Digital ID: a2391055)
In this basic triple balance, Roya Geale stands on the necks of Vic Whitehead and Frank Cottier, who in turn are shoulder-balancing on the feet of Jack Goldberg and Alf Stanbrough. At this time, Alf Stanbrough was a remarkably fit 53-year-old. In 1901, he had served with the 5th Victorian Infantry in the Boer War and suffered an 'almost fatal' chest injury. A star pupil of Wal Balmus's 'Supreme Course of Body Culture', he lived to be an octogenarian. (Digital ID: a2391006)1936-12-06-n209-bondigym.jpg Alf Stanbrough, Vic Whitehead, Roya Geale, Frank Cottier and Jack Goldberg, 6 December 1936. (Digital ID: a2391006)
Alf Stanbrough supports Bonnie Nixon and Hazel with Wal Balmus hand-balancing on top. Most Graham Gymnasium stunts were practised at the southern end of Bondi Beach, away from the crowds, but gymnast Jack Goldberg can be seen watching from the shoreline. Bonnie Nixon had appeared in Truth twice during the year, being described on 14 December 1938 as 'a typical example of Australian beauty'. This image was used by the artist Jeff Koons in 2011 to produce a limited-edition plate with world-reknowned porcelain company Bernardaud as part of Art Production Fund's WOW series. (Digital ID: a2301018)1938-09-25-n457-bondigym.jpg Alf Stanbrough supports Bonnie Nixon and Hazel with Wal Balmus on top; Jack Goldberg observes, 25 Sept 1938. (Digital ID: a2301018)
This seemingly complex eight-man ground pyramid can be reduced to simple two- and three-man balances. Here, Max Stewart is atop Frank Cottier, supported by (left to right) Alf Stanbrough and Vic Whitehead, with Jack Goldberg and Charlie Lusty balancing off bearers Tim Holman and Ken Cumming. (Digital ID: a2391032)1939-10-08-n587-bondigym.jpg Max Stewart handstands atop Frank Cottier, held up by Alf Stanbrough and Vic Whitehead, while Jack Goldberg and Charlie Lusty handstand off Tim Holman and Ken Cumming, 8 October 1939. (Digital ID: a2391032)
Tim Holman acts as 'spotter' for Eve Holman, Max Stewart and Vic Whitehead, supported by bearer Alf Stanbrough. American gymnasts call this a 'triple holdout'. (Digital ID: a2391038)1939-11-05-n615-bondigym.jpg Tim Holman watches Eve Holman, Max Stewart and Vic Whitehead supported by Alf Stanbrough, 5 November 1939. (Digital ID: a2391038)
Alf Stanbrough and another gymnast throw Bonnie Hawkins to a catcher in this risky routine. Adagio dancers the Alvaradoes, who regularly practised on Bronte Beach in 1936, called it the 'Throw up Bird'. (Digital ID: a2391051)1940-09-22-n889-bondigym.jpg ... and Alf Stanbrough cast Bonnie Hawkins to Wal Balmus, 22 September 1940. (Digital ID: a2391051)
This move seems to have been popular with couples, as George Caddy photographed at least three pairs trying it. The magazine Health and Physical Culture cautioned (1 October 1933): 'Never attempt an overhead lift or throw for the first time without a friend or two standing by you in readiness to catch the girl should she fall.'
This triple balance involves one woman standing on the necks of two men, who in turn shoulder-balance on the feet of two others, forming a five-person centerpiece. 'Healthy, interesting, invigorating and thrilling recreation,' beachobat Wal Balmus called it.
One man supports two women with another man hand-balancing on top, as a separate gymnast can be seen watching from the shoreline.
This popular move came in a variety of configurations. In this eight-person version, the two bearers at the bottom support balancers at each end in a 'reverse high-low, hand-to-hand'. They also support the middle men with their feet in a 'tepee'. The middle men lift a gymnast in a straight bridge, while the top balancer uses him to complete the pyramid.
In this tricky move, which puts a lot of pressure on the bearer at the bottom, the guy in front watching is no idle bystander. His job is to act as 'spotter', helping with the formation of the stunt and catching the top balancer if the whole thing collapses.
Flight of a bird
Two gymnasts throw one woman to a catcher in this dangerous adagio movement. Adagio acts were a mixture of dance and acrobatics. When Australian adagio dancers the Reopete Trio performed this throw in 1938, Pix magazine observed: 'This movement requires perfect timing by all three, otherwise the girl might be seriously hurt.'
This image brings a smile to most people familiar with Max Dupain's iconic Sunbaker 1937. In fact, it is an exercise designed to strengthen the chest. As Health and Physical Culture (1 May 1935) noted: '... the breath is literally trod out of the figure on the floor. The idea is to make the chest as elastic as possible – hence full inhalation followed by treading and then complete relaxation and inertion.' 20 February 1937. (Digital ID: a2391010)1937-02-20-n243-bondifeet.jpg Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937. (Digital ID: a2391010)
The man portrayed in Dupain's Sunbaker was publicly identified as Englishman Harold Salvage only after Dupain’s death in 1992. This photograph in the 'Vandyke album' was Dupain’s preferred version of the image and was published just once in Hal Missingham’s Max Dupain: photographs (plate 7), 1948. http://www.acmssearch.sl.nsw.gov.au/search/itemDetailPaged.cgi?itemID=1036947 (Digital ID: a9668019)a9668019h.jpg Camping trips on Culburra Beach, N.S.W., 1937 / Max Dupain and Olive Cotton. 19. Harold Salvage sunbaking, "The Sunbather". SAFE/PXA 1951. (Digital ID: a9668019)
Does anything about this image look familiar? The head resting on the folded arms, the muscled body, the wide sky stretched above the obvious beach setting...
Most of us know Max Dupain's iconic Sunbaker, which the Australian photographer took in 1937 at Culburra Beach, on the NSW South Coast. Yet that same year George Caddy was capturing a similar pose - with a very big difference. In Caddy's picture, a prominent pair of legs stands on the back of the prone figure in what is in fact an exercise designed to strengthen the chest. As the magazine Health and Physical Culture had explained (1 May 1935): '... the breath is literally trod out of the figure on the floor. The idea is to make the chest as elastic as possible - hence full inhalation followed by treading and then complete relaxation and inertion.'
While Dupain's photographs were governed by aesthetics, Caddy's were always centred around personalities. This unforgettable shot, dated 20 February 1937, is in keeping with Caddy's photographs of beachobatics and displays of physical fitness - and part of the unique focus on people that is their charm.
Slightly risqué in her lace-up Canadian swimsuit, North Bondi local Valmae Maher was a favourite subject for George Caddy's camera in early 1940. She had appeared several times as a pin-up in Truth and the day after George took this image, Truth published another photograph of her, with the caption 'Grandmother would have been popeyed, had she sighted Valmae Maher yesterday at Bondi'. When rubberised swimsuit fabric became scarce during the war, Cole of California re-introduced this style of costume as the 'swoon suit'. 3 February 1940. (Digital ID: a2391044)1940-02-03-n739-bondigirl1.jpg Valmae Maher, 3 February 1940. (Digital ID: a2391044) The Girl in the swoon suit Belle of the beach
'Today the beach assumes due colour and importance only when the Australian girl beats time to the music of the surf with a damp and lovely leg,' gushed Man magazine in 1940. Even then, the beach belles in their swimsuits were the darlings of the press, and one in particular was a camera favourite.
Her name was Valmae Maher, and she appeared in several of George Caddy's photographs.
The most unforgettable picture of this North Bondi beauty is of her lying provocatively on the sand on 3 February 1940, wearing a new Canadian swimsuit with adjustable drawstrings known as a 'swoon suit' because of the supposed effect it was meant to have on men once they viewed its peek-a-boo style cut-out panels.
In fact, the suit was a product of slightly less romantic wartime rationing - rubberised fabrics were scarce and the adjustable laces allowed it to fit most figures without the need for elastic.
Nevertheless, the suit made a splash and Maher, who regularly appeared as a pin-up in Truth` magazine, was immortalised with the caption: 'Grandmother would have been popeyed had she sighted Valmae Maher yesterday at Bondi.'Shorts vs Trunks The men's debate
In 1935, Eric Spooner, Minister for Local Government, introduced an ordinance which prevented men wearing swimming trunks which exposed the chest. No portion of the stomach could be seen and costume legs had to be three inches (8 cm) long. Males over twelve also had to be skirted at the front, up to the waist. Although the regulation was enforced, most bathers regarded it as a joke and by 1938 most men wore trunks. As Man magazine (December 1937) reported... 'The battle of trunks versus shorts seems to have been won by the advocates of trunks.' 10 February 1940. (Digital ID: a2391045)1940-02-10-n741-bondipeople.jpg Men in the latest costumes, 10 February 1940. (Digital ID: a2391045)
Bondi's male bathers weren't free of fashion controversy either.
In 1935, Eric Spooner, Minister for Local Government, introduced an ordinance that prevented men wearing swimming trunks that exposed the chest. No portion of the stomach could be seen and costume legs had to be three inches (eight centimetres) long. Males over twelve also had to be skirted at the front, up to the waist. Although this regulation was enforced, most bathers regarded it as a joke and by 1938 most men wore trunks. As Man magazine reported in December 1937, 'The battle of trunks versus shorts seems to have been won by the advocates of trunks.'
Beachobat Wal Balmus, who featured in so many of George Caddy's photographs, had quite a bit to say about beach attire. In an article in Health and Physical Culture magazine that accompanied a picture of the Graham Gymnasium team, he wrote of the more comfortable new style, saying that it gave '... us greater benefit of sunshine and more freedom of movement. It makes one feel so much better.' Balmus spoke for the beachobat generation when he argued the benefits of the exercise, saying it brought 'young couples together to enjoy each other's company, seeing each other as they should be seen - in a bathing costume minus mock modesty'.Beach fashions What will they wear next?
George's friends seated at Ben Buckler are probably hiding from the purple prose of Man magazine, December 1937... Today the beach assumes due colour and importance only when the Australian girl beats time to the music of the surf with a damp and lovely leg. The fit of her costume is a marvel of skill; world's belle-honours may be claimed for the Australian girl – the brightest of all the gems which a benevolent Providence has flashed across a dazzled world. 31 March 1940. (Digital ID: a2391048)1940-03-31-n790-bondipeople.jpg ..., ..., Pat McRae below houses, Brighton Boulevard, Ben Buckler, 31 MArch 1940. (Digital ID: a2391048)
Both 'brassiere-style' and 'Canadian' swimsuits were introduced to Sydney beaches in 1938. Wearing the Canadian costume on the right is Valmae Maher. However, the following year, The Sydney Morning Herald (13 November 1939) observed a change... ...The two-piece 'swim-suit', which was hailed as such a pleasing and, in some quarters, daring innovation, seems to have fallen out of favour. Last season, every second girl on the beach wore one, but now the one-piece skirtless outfit seems to have returned to its own. 3 February 1940. (Digital ID: a2391043)1940-02-03-n738-bondigirls.jpg Miriam Levy and Valmae Maher in 'brassiere type' and 'Canadian' costumes, 3 February 1940. (Digital ID: a2391043)
Fashionably attired from head to toe, gymnast Roya Geale wears the latest beach accessory – the chenille beach jacket – over her brassiere-style swimsuit. The Pacific Chenille Craft Co. began manufacturing chenille in Sydney in 1940 and advertised their products as 'designed in Hollywood ... made in Australia'. 5 January 1941. (Digital ID: a2391056)1941-01-05-n940-bondigirl.jpg Roya Geale in chenille beach jacket, 5 January 1941. (Digital ID: a2391056)
Forgetting the roar of the city for the roll of the surf', these Sydneysiders relaxed beside Bondi's promenade, before the surfing season had begun. The Sydney Morning Herald (13 November 1939) commented on the varied appearance of sun seekers before December... ...That even tan, however, which is almost a uniform for young Australians in the summer months, is for all but a few, in the process – mostly painful – of being acquired. The Brylcreemed gentleman in the centre is not only sporting a dangerously deep tan, but is outrageously attired (for that time) in flowered Hawaiian trunks. 6 October 1940. (Digital ID: a2391053)1940-10-06-n895-bondipeople.jpg Sunbathing under the promenade, 6 October 1940. (Digital ID: a2391053)
According to the fashion editor of Truth (12 November 1939): You simply dare not be less carefully turned out for the beach than you are for the afternoon party or the cocktail hour ... Slacks now! Though they must give the essentially tailored look ... shorts have been so long the orthodox wear for the seaside that it would be impossible for the fashion experts to ring the changes very much where they are concerned. 19 January 1941. (Digital ID: a2391057)1941-01-19-n947-bondigirls.jpg Two women near the obelisk in Ben Buckler park, 19 January 1941. (Digital ID: a2391057)
Beach girl Valmae Maher was often photographed for Truth newspaper, appearing three times in 1940 alone. On 15 September 1940, her photograph was published with the caption 'Valmae Maher makes a lovely picture as she stepped along the prom, yesterday at Bondi'. Here she has turned the tables and used George's Voigtländer camera to photograph one of her proud fans. (Digital ID: a2391046)1940-02-10-n742-bondipeople.jpg Valmae Maher with George's camera, 10 February 1940. (Digital ID: a2391046)
Valmae Maher's swoon suit was a talking point, but it wasn't the only subject of interest.
Roya Geale in her two-piece swimsuit cast a glamorous silhouette on the sands in one of Caddy's unforgettable images, although the look wasn't for everyone. Even in 1938, when the two-piece was introduced to Sydney, Pix magazine pointed out, in a disturbing precursor of today's media obsession with weight and fashion, that 'costumes designed for slim athletic types should not be worn by outsize figures'. In another picture, Geale wears the latest beach accessory - a chenille beach jacket - over her swimsuit. The Pacific Chenille Craft Co. began manufacturing chenille in Sydney in 1940 and advertised their products as 'designed in Hollywood... made in Australia'.
Media comments on beach fashions from the time provide great reading and show, just as today, Bondi's role as a stage for parading current styles. 'You simply dare not be less carefully turned out for the beach than you are for the afternoon party or the cocktail hour,' wrote the fashion editor of Truth magazine on 12 November 1939. 'Slacks now! Though they must give the essentially tailored look... shorts have been so long the orthodox wear for the seaside that it would be impossible for the fashion experts to ring the changes very much where they are concerned.'
Despite the commencement of war, Bondi Beach continued to attract crowds. At the start of the 1939 surfing season, The Sydney Morning Herald (13 November 1939) commented on the phenomenon... There is perhaps a warplane overhead and a warship to seaward, and men in khaki lounging on the esplanade, but the beaches this season are as crowded as ever. To the casual eye, there are as many young men as usual in these crowds, but actually enlistments have hit the surf clubs hard, and, although they are maintaining their patrols, many of them are very short-handed. (Digital ID: a2391039)1939-11-12-n638-bondipeople.jpg Bondi Beach promenade and North Bondi Surf Club, 12 November 1939. (Digital ID: a2391039) The place to be The lure of Bondi
Before the war, it had been the meeting spot for the free and fun-loving, where they could swim, sunbake, promenade and enjoy the entertainment of the beachobats parading their skills on the sand.
But even after the war began, Bondi Beach continued to attract crowds. At the start of the 1939 surfing season, The Sydney Morning Herald commented on 13 November: 'There is perhaps a warplane overhead and a warship to seaward, and men in khaki lounging on the esplanade, but the beaches this season are as crowded as ever.'
Against a backdrop of world turmoil, the links between national health and personal fitness remained strong, and the beach was a place to celebrate this. Just a few years earlier, Health and Physical Culture had noted: 'The troubled state of Europe has made physical culture more than ever popular. The inertia of depression must be counteracted by some means - and the Bright Young Things of both sexes have discovered that physical culture takes them out of their troubled selves quicker and better than the old-fashioned palliatives - drinking and necking.'
If the Herald article of 13 November was anything to go by, the physique of Australian beachgoers suggested the country was in safe hands: 'It is a regular source of amazement to visitors from the older countries overseas... "This makes the A.I.F. understandable", was the comment of a recent French visitor, after seeing a big beach crowd for the first time. "Your soldiers were not surpassed - your women will never be equalled."'Beach heroes A tough day job
Freshwater surf lifesaving club took part in a march-past at Bondi, specially staged for American travelogue cinematographer James A Fitzpatrick, who had brought a prototype three-reel colour movie camera with him. Remarkably, until 'Black Sunday' (6 February 1938), no-one had drowned on any Australian beach while surf lifesavers were on duty and each year established new records for the number of rescues. The 1938 season saw 3442 rescues, which brought the total for thirty years up to 39,149. At that time, by way of comparison, 2000 people drowned in England each year. (Digital ID: a2391014)1938-04-03-n365-surfcarnival.jpg Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club reel team march-past, 3 April 1938. (Digital ID: a2391014)
'Enlistments have hit the surf clubs hard, and, although they are maintaining their patrols, many of them are very short-handed,' reported the 13 November 1939 article in The Sydney Morning Herald.
Among George Caddy's photographs of life on Bondi Beach are some striking images of the local lifesavers. In one, a visiting club takes part in a march-past and Caddy's angle lends an exaggerated heroic quality to their stance. In others, his feeling for a scene and the people involved has allowed him to capture the drama of a young woman's rescue from rough seas, followed by the arrival of the ambulance at the Promenade.
Turbulent surf kept the lifesavers busy and incredibly, until February 1938, no one had drowned on any Australian beach while surf lifesavers were on duty. Then came Black Sunday, 6 February 1938, when three huge waves swept quickly onto Bondi Beach, pulling people out to sea in a deep channel once the water finally receded. Amid the chaos, the lifesavers went into overdrive, manning reels, grabbing floats, surfboards and skis or just swimming straight into the maelstrom. After 30 terrifying minutes the water was cleared and the casualties counted: approximately 250 bathers needed assistance; 150 were rescued unharmed; 60 were suffering from immersion; 35 were rescued unconscious and revived; and five were dead.
The heroic spirit that Caddy captured with his camera was remarked on by a visiting American doctor, Marshall W. Dyer, who said, 'I have never seen and I never expect to see again, such magnificent work as was done by those lifesavers.'
Identified only as 'Norma' on the negative, this young woman wearing a bathing cap epitomised the new surf 'goddess'. Even The Australian Women's Weekly (5 December 1936) sang her praises: '... the lovely distinctive Australian girl – a slender sun-tanned goddess of the surf. 'Mid curling breakers on our sunny strands, you'll find them in thousands, a new race of women that is evolving under the southern skies.' Fortunately, the magazine offered more sensible advice on 30 October 1937: 'how to protect a perm under a rubber bathing cap by wrapping a gauze bandage around the head before putting it on'. 12 March 1939. (Digital ID: a2391023)1939-03-12-n506-norma.jpg Norma, 12 March 1939. (Digital ID: a2391023)
This Dodge ambulance of the Eastern Suburbs service, backing along the north end of the Promenade, below Campbell Parade, was summoned to the rescue of the young woman in the previous image. For volunteers involved in surf clubs, the ingratitude of those rescued during 1937 was puzzling. As The Sydney Morning Herald (12 February 1938) observed: 'North Bondi members rescued 89 people and treated 518 casualties, including sufferers from bluebottle stings, yet no one wrote to thank the club and the only donation was a few bandages.' (Digital ID: a2391009)1937-02-20-n242-bondiambulance.jpg Dodge Ambulance, North Bondi, 20 February 1937. (Digital ID: a2391009)
In front of the Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Waverley and an enthusiastic crowd, Mrs S Price, wife of the captain of North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club, christened the Bondi Weekly surfboat. It was purchased for the club by Harry Goldstein, the proprietor of the Bondi Weekly newspaper. Unfortunately, it had a short life. On 25 May 1941, Bondi Weekly was carried out to sea in a storm and lost. (Digital ID: a2391020)Launching the surfboat Bondi Weekly, purchased for North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club by Harry Goldstein, proprietor of the Bondi Weekly, 6 November 1938. (Digital ID: a2391020)
This gambolling duo entertained onlookers outside Tiny's Café at North Bondi. All seem blissfully unaware of the consequences of events in Europe. Nevertheless, at that time, physical fitness was commonplace. As, xi (1 May 1935) observed: 'The troubled state of Europe has made physical culture more than ever popular. The inertia of depression must be counteracted by some means – and the Bright Young Things of both sexes have discovered that physical culture takes them out of their troubled selves quicker and better than the old-fashioned palliatives – drinking and necking.' (Digital ID: a2391030)1939-10-02-n581-bondipeople.jpg Horsing around outside Tiny's Cafe, North Bondi, 2 October 1939. (Digital ID: a2391030)
Wild seas caused by a cyclone north of Newcastle created havoc along Sydney's coastline. As The Sydney Morning Herald (22 February 1937) noted: 'The sea along the coast in the weekend was very rough, particularly on Saturday. Members of the lifesaving clubs made many rescues.' The young woman in this rescue at Ben Buckler was lucky. The following day, a big wave swept seven-year-old Noel Schneider to his death at the same place, from a rock four metres above the water. 20 February 1937. (Digital ID: a2391008)1937-02-20-n241-bondirescue.jpg Rescue, Ben Buckler, 20 February 1937. (Digital ID: a2391008)
George Caddy and Mavis Lang entertained more sedate dancers at the famous Trocadero with this jitterbug display. By 1941, it was estimated that there were 5000 jitterbug dancers in Sydney and contests were held every Saturday night at the Trocadero in George Street. Jitterbugging was performed close to the Trocadero's stage, where Dick Freeman's orchestra would 'hot up' the music for the jitterbug crowd. Mavis taught tap-dancing and was an Australian jitterbug champion. 1941. (Digital ID: a2391058)1941-03-16-jitterbuggeorge.jpg George and champion dancer Mavis Lang jitterbug, Trocadero, 16 March 1941. (Digital ID: a2391058) What was a jitterbug? The dance craze down under
'Jittermaniacs. Doctors warn of the danger of such eroticism...'
So announced Pix magazine in 1939 of the new dance that was taking America by storm. Jitterbug was a general term for dances we now call swing. It developed in America in the mid 1930s with improvised steps taken from the Charleston, Lindy Hop, Suzy-Q and Truckin'.
Local commentators were keen to predict disastrous results of its high-paced, energetic movements, should it hit Australian shores. As Pix magazine speculated, 'Some have dropped dead, many collapsed, after a night of jittermania. Now it has spread to the rest of America. Will this craze come to Australia?'
The answer came three months later in September 1939, when visiting Harlem 'swingster' Sleepy Williams coached Sydney dancer Della Davis, who then performed with her partner Bill Robinson at the Tivoli.
By 1941, there were about 5000 jitterbug dancers in Sydney, and contests were held every Saturday night at the famous Trocadero in George Street. Jitterbugging was performed close to the Trocadero's stage, where the orchestra would 'hot up' the music for the jitterbug crowd.Caddy's happy feet The Bondi Jitterbug legend
George Caddy loved dancing. Here he leads his partner on Bondi Beach promenade to the music of his wind-up gramophone and probably to the annoyance of the elderly couple nearby. An editorial in the Sun (20 February 1937) commented on generational differences ... 'Dancing has been the theme of complaints by greybeards from time immemorial ... perhaps some of us of the older generation do not quite understand the revolution which has taken place in youth since the days when chaperones were a necessity, mixed bathing was an unheard-of indecency, and ballroom dances were the road to perdition.' 20 January 1940. (Digital ID: a2391042)1940-01-20-n717-dance.jpg George Caddy dancing with unidentified woman to a portable gramophone, 20 January 1940. (Digital ID: a2391042)
A familiar figure at the Trocadero was George Caddy. As well as photography, dancing was one of his hobbies - another surprise for his son, Paul, when he discovered his father's long-neglected box of negatives and newspaper clippings. Photographs of George Caddy appeared in The Daily Mirror and Sunday Telegraph and, in 1941, he was described as one of Australia's leading Jitterbug dancers.
Caddy won many contests and his partners in 1941 included Pearl Scott, Muriel McMahon and Mavis Lang, who held the Australian jitterbug championship. Even though it was a hit with the younger generation, not everyone was impressed with the new craze. As music critic George Hart put it: '... what makes the jitterbug jit? Is it some glandular deficiency that causes the youngsters to behave like war-whooping savages every time they hear a 4/4 rhythm? Is it a case of ineffective secretion of the thyroid glands, defective hormones, or what?'
Whatever the case, George Caddy was not only a fan but a very talented one. On weekends, he'd take his wind-up gramophone down to the beach with him and dance with anyone who was willing - two photographs show Caddy dancing with different partners on Bondi's promenade, as at ease by the sands he loved as he was on the dancefloor.
A talented photographer who happened to be a great dancer. A champion dancer whose photographs were mesmerising. Either way you look at it, George Caddy made his mark on Bondi between the years 1936 and 1941, and his body of work has left behind a remarkable and lively record of a special era in Sydney.
George Caddy and partner Pearl Scott surprised patrons at the Trocadero with a hot jitterbug movement called 'side throw with splits'. Despite its popularity with the younger generation, not everyone was impressed with the new dance craze. As music critic George Hart put it: '... what makes the jitterbug jit? Is it some glandular deficiency that causes the youngsters to behave like war-whooping savages every time they hear a 4/4 rhythm? Is it a case of ineffective secretion of the thyroid glands, defective hormones, or what?' Pearl Scott married a United States serviceman and moved to America. 1941. (Digital ID: a2391059)1941-06-10-jitterbuggeorge.jpg George and Pearl Scott dance the sidethrow with splits, 10 June 1941. (Digital ID: a2391059)
Gay premiere. Trocadero Opens. Beautiful Gowns'. Saturday 4 April 1936 The Sydney Morning Herald. http://library.sl.nsw.gov.au/record=b1168369~S1screen-shot-2015-05-13-at-3.36.18-pm.jpg Gay premiere. Trocadero Opens. Beautiful Gowns.' Saturday 4 April 1936 Sydney Morning Herald.
Listen to Alan Davies, Curator of the exhibition 'Bondi Jitterbug: George Caddy and his Camera' held at the State Library of NSW in 2009, talk about George Caddy and the the lost art of beachobatics.
Photograph caption: George and champion dancer Mavis Lang jitterbug, Trocadero, 16 March 1941. George Caddy and Mavis Lang entertained more sedate dancers at the famous Trocadero with this jitterbug display. By 1941, it was estimated that there were 5000 jitterbug dancers in Sydney and contests were held every Saturday night at the Trocadero in George Street. Jitterbugging was performed close to the Trocadero's stage, where Dick Freeman's orchestra would 'hot up' the music for the jitterbug crowd. Mavis taught tap-dancing and was an Australian jitterbug champion. 1941. (Digital ID: a2391058)Download MP3 Listen to Alan Davies, Curator of the exhibition 'Bondi Jitterbug: George Caddy and his Camera' held at the State Library of NSW in 2009, talk about George Caddy and the the lost art of beachobatics.
With his wind-up gramophone on the windowsill behind him, George was willing to dance with anyone. This impromptu display took place outside the Lido dance hall on the northern end of the promenade. According to Australian Music Maker and Dance Band News (15 January 1940) ... ...Bondi used to draw a thousand dancers on a Saturday night, when ex-Trocadero band leader Frank Coughlan played at Roy Stanfield's Bondi Esplanade Cabaret. Known as the 'Father of Australian Jazz', trombonist Coughlan had played in 1924 with the Californians, the first jazz band to visit Australia. 25 August 1940. (Digital ID: a2391050)1940-08-25-n878-bondipeople.jpg George dancing outside dance hall, North Bondi, 25 August 1940. (Digital ID: a2391050)