The Right to SwimSeptember 11, 2014

Not long ago, there was a ban on swimming in public beaches. It was silly, but such a law existed in Australia.

In 1838, it was declared that mixed bathing wasn't allowed in Australia's coastlines on broad daylight. So men and women go to the beach on night time. It seemed cruel, as Australians loved the sea. (Some find it liberating, but we're veering off.) Perhaps authorities were thinking of public safety, as they were unfamiliar with the surroundings. (There is some truth to it, as Australians celebrate Night Talk every month of September. It's about learning the nocturnal habits of endemic animals, with family or mates. A fun thing to do, but it's a different topic.) But historians would point out the Victorian custom. It seemed logical.

Then one chap dared to break the law. He couldn't resist the call of the sea.

Unlikely hero

William Gocher, a native of Ipswich, Suffolk, found a career in bimetallism in Down Under. He ran for public office, but failed. Some pointed to his public relations image. (Gocher was a supporter of Federalism, believing the system would save Australia from the press, capitalists, and Jews.) But he found fame in Manly Beach.

Located in Sydney's Northern Beaches, Manly stood out for a number of reasons. When Arthur Phillip, the first Governor of New South Wales, saw this seaside, he found indigenous people living there. He was impressed by the men's behaviour, which was he called it Manly Beach. An honour to the tribe's manly features, but the senior officer of the Royal Navy might have noticed the beach's rustic beauty. Go up the hill on one end and see the captivating vista. When the sun was up, it was hard not to take the plunge. This was what made this beach the most popular in this part of Sydney. This was what drove Gocher to the sea.

Gocher thought that the ban on mixed bathing was absurd. No one even tried to get their feet wet. But the fellow threw caution to the wind. He was arrested and jailed, but he campaigned on abolishing the law. It only took months. It was September 1902 when the ban was lifted. Public swimming was no longer a criminal offence.

What are you staring at?

Much have been written about the bush, and how it represent the Australian character. There's a symmetry to it, as the parched-up interior is where this flora flourishes. Let's not forget the sea, though.

Australia is surrounded by three oceans. Most tourists only remember the Pacific, thanks to the Great Barrier Reef, but Perthites will remind them about the Indian Ocean. Whichever side of Oz you're located, the sea invigorates anyone. It also brings out the child out of everyone, an indescribable feeling when the air is humid and the water is cool. It's part of the outdoors. We love it, we can't get enough of it.

So whenever you pass by the coastline, don't just look at it.

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