Surf lifesavers are what made Bondi famous, so naturally a bronze sculpture of one is given pride of place outside the Bondi Pavilion. The surf lifesaving movement began in 1906 with the founding of the Bondi Surf Life Bathers’ Lifesaving Club in response to the drownings that accompanied the increasing popularity of swimming. From the beginning of the colony, swimming was harshly discouraged as an unsuitable bare-fleshed activity. However, by the 1890s, swimming in the ocean had become the latest fad, and a Pacific Islander introduced the concept of catching waves – or bodysurfing – that was to become an enduring national craze. Although “wowsers” (teetotal puritanical types) attempted to put a stop to it, by 1903 all-day swimming was every Sydneysider’s right.
The bronzed and muscled surf lifesavers in their distinctive red-and-yellow caps are a highly photographed, world-famous Australian image. Surf lifesavers (members of what are now called Surf Life Saving Clubs, abbreviated to SLSC) are volunteers who work the beach at weekends, so come then to watch their exploits – or look out for a surf carnival. Lifeguards, on the other hand, are employed by the council and work all week during swimming season (year-round at Bondi).