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Men's Coffs Jetty Surf Life Saving Club swimsuit

Date: c 1931
Overall: 725 x 360 mm, 0.31 kg
Display Dimensions: 680 x 360 x 200 mm, 310 kg
Medium: Wool
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from McCartney Family
Object Name: Swimsuit
Object No: 00034275
Place Manufactured:Sydney

User Terms

    Marketed as Golden ray surf suits for David Jones, this one piece racer-back black wool swimsuit would have been bought off the rack. The Coffs Jetty Surf Life Saving Club cloth badge would have then been attached later by club members.

    In the 1930s both lifesavers and competitive swimmers wore one piece costumes such as this, often with cut-away tops and modesty skirts. While briefer than ever, the woollen material was, however, heavy and uncomfortable when wet.

    SignificanceThis swimsuit is a rare example of a 1930s lifesaver's club uniform, and was worn by Gerald McCartney of the Coffs Jetty and Coffs Harbour Surf Life Saving Clubs.
    HistoryThe Coffs Jetty Surf Life Saving Club was formed after a swimmer was rescued at Coffs Harbour in 1906. The club operated initially on Jetty Beach and then moved north of the harbour.

    After a lull during WWI, the club was revived in 1920. Tensions between the Coffs Harbour communities of Jetty Beach and Top Town resulted in a second club being formed in 1923. This became the Coffs Harbour Surf Life Saving Club, and some members of the original Jetty club joined the new club. Both clubs participated in competitive surf carnivals.

    The earliest surf carnivals, originally called gymkhanas, were held at Manly, Bondi and North Steyne in New South Wales in 1908 as fund raisers for the Royal Life Saving Society. Surf Life Saving clubs, such as Cronulla, formed around Australia from 1907 onwards, with carnivals held in the summer months as a way to test the skills of members and maintain their fitness for patrol and rescue work.

    Carnivals usually opened with the ceremonial march-past parade of competing teams wearing swimsuits in club colours marching with military precision while carrying club pennants and surf reels. Carnival events included surf races, alarm reel (belt race), surf relay (surf teams), rescue and resuscitation, as well as novelty events such as tug-of-war, pillow fights, catching the greasy pig, chariot and sack races.

    By using the vintage march-past design well into the second half of the twentieth century, the Surf Life Saving movement perpetuated the classic 1930s image of the lifesaver as the bronzed hero of the Australian beach. The march-past swimsuit also came to represent the pageantry and tradition of the life saving movement.

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