Farey: Beach scenes

Farey: Beach scenes
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A beach scene from the 1930s is captured on this home movie clip taken by Leslie Francis Farey. People are shown lying on the beach and a group of people swim between the flags while surfers catch waves using longboards. Summary by Elizabeth Taggart-Speers.

A purely observational piece, all the people on screen are unaware of the presence of a camera. This gives the viewer a sense of being there. We could almost consider this as actuality footage but the use of edits implies Leslie Farey’s personal perspective. It also gives us a glimpse into the way beach life became part of the Australian way of life and national identity.

Natural lighting is used and the sky is overexposed. The camera is hand-held but Leslie Farey pans with control.

Farey home movies synopsis

This home movie includes a diverse range of footage taken by Leslie Francis Farey and features a trip taken by his family who travelled from Melbourne, Victoria to witness the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It includes the official parade as well as brief footage of Old Parliament House and the Lodge, taken en route as they passed through Canberra.

Farey home movies curator's notes

Home movie making became possible with the invention of 16mm film in 1923. Since cameras were very expensive, home movie footage generally depicted a narrow spectrum of Australian society. However, it has provided amateur records of significant national events, experienced on the personal level, as seen in this home movie.

Lesley Francis Farey, the cinematographer of this film, was a resident of Victoria, Australia. He has captured part of the official opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the excitement which surrounded it.

Featuring a trip from his home in Victoria to the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it gives us a sense of the national significance of this event and what it was like to be in the crowd during the official parade.

Family scenes of children playing in a backyard and a picnic by a riverbank are all shot with natural lighting. The subjects sometimes play to the camera, but at other times remain quite unaware of its presence.

This home movie is black-and-white and silent.

Notes by Elizabeth Taggart-Speers

Education Notes

This clip shows an Australian beach in 1932. The camera pans across the beach to show individuals and family groups on the sand, a cluster of people in the water swimming between the flags on the beach and a building that may be a lifesaving clubhouse. It then cuts to shots of surfers on longboards. The black-and-white silent footage was shot by Melbournian Leslie Francis Farey as part of a home movie.

Educational value points

  • By the 1930s, beach culture was becoming entrenched as part of the Australian way of life. It was in this period that the iconic figure of the bronzed Australian surfer, inspired by images of surf lifesaving, emerged as a symbol of nationhood. The beach, as a public space that offered the pleasures of sun, sea and surf equally to all, came to be regarded as a symbol of the egalitarianism that was widely seen as characteristic of Australian life.
  • The clip shows a beach scene in Sydney and may have been filmed when the Farey family travelled to Sydney to see the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in March 1932. In the 1920s and 1930s, Sydney was Australia’s beach capital and Sydneysiders increasingly spent their leisure hours at the beach. The city had a huge volunteer surf-lifesaving movement and hosted the country’s major surf carnivals.
  • By the 1930s swimming at the beach or 'surf bathing’ had become a popular form of recreation. Until 1903, swimming was banned at Sydney beaches during daylight hours because it was considered immodest. In the 1920s and 1930s, however, the beach and exercise such as swimming were promoted as healthy, with the eugenic and physical culture movements linking physical fitness with mental health and to the strengthening of the nation.
  • As 'surf bathing’ became more popular, the dangers of the surf became apparent and led to the formation of surf-lifesaving clubs made up of volunteers who were experienced surfers. By 1930 there were 81 clubs under the auspices of the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia (now Surf Life Saving Australia) at beaches around Australia. In this clip the bathers are swimming between safety flags, which were placed on the beach by lifesavers.
  • The clip depicts surfboard riding in the 1930s. Hawaiian Olympic swimmer Duke Paoa Kahanamoku introduced surfboard riding to Australia in 1915. The early boards were made of solid 'balsa’ wood, had no fins and proved difficult to manoeuvre. They were about 2.3 m long, 60 cm wide and 8 cm thick. In the 1930s a much lighter, hollow board with fins was introduced. This was easier to ride and encouraged more people to surf. In spite of this advance, the national craze for bodysurfing eclipsed surfboard riding until the 1950s, when board technology was vastly improved.
  • Swimming costumes worn in the 1930s are portrayed in the clip. The costumes, which were of a similar style for men, women and children, were made of a dark knitted woollen material that was heavy when wet. State and council laws dating back to 1907 required costumes to extend from neck to knee. By the late 1920s, beachgoers started wearing less modest outfits. Men often rolled their costumes down to their waists, even though topless swimming costumes for men were illegal on beaches until the 1930s.
  • Leslie Farey shot this home movie footage using 16-mm film. Amateur filmmaking such as this took off after the 16-mm camera was introduced in 1923 as an inexpensive alternative to the conventional 35-mm film format. However, at the time cameras were still priced beyond the reach of most people and therefore the home movie footage we are able to see dating from the period generally comes from fairly privileged sources. These sources, however, offer a record of the lifestyles, cultures and traditions of Australians, and significant events in the nation’s history.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia