History of Coogee From The 1900s To 2000s

history of Coogee
Coogee Beach in 1900 (Photo credit: PDM/Powerhouse Museum/Wikimedia Commons)

Did you know that Coogee was officially designated a village in 1838? However, it was only during the beginning of the 1900s that many new developments occurred. Here’s a look back at the history of Coogee from the 20th to the 21st century.

Read: From the 1840s to 1890s: The Years That Shaped Coogee

Electric Tram Services

Although the line from the city to Randwick Racecourse opened in 1880, it was only during 1902 that electric tram services were introduced in Coogee. The electric tram connects Coogee to the City of Sydney, with the line branching from Anzac Parade at Alison Road, and runs on its own tram reservation beside Centennial Park as far as Darley Road.

Coogee's History
An example of electric tram in Sydney, circa 1900 (Photo credit: PD/The Powerhouse Museum/Wikimedia Commons)

However, it ceased operations in October 1960. It follows the current route of State Transit route 373. The closure of tram lines brought anger to many locals since they were ridden on by every part of society, including professionals such as doctors and lawyers.

Wylies’ Baths

In 1907, champion swimmer Henry Wylie built Wylies’ Baths, after securing a special lease for the baths. Its construction coincided with the increasing popularity of seaside pools in Sydney. When it opened, it became one of the first mixed gender bathing pools in Australia. 

Coogee's History
Wylie family swimming with their colleagues and friends (Photo credit: Mitchell Library/ State Library of New South Wales)

Henry’s daughter Wilhelmina and her friend Fanny Durack became the first two female representatives of Australia for swimming in the Olympics.

Wylie’s Baths underwent major renovation in the early ‘90s under the Council’s management, with help from architects  Keith Cottier and Allen Jack. It’s a heritage-listed site, being the first recreation facility for the public in Coogee and the site of the first Australian Swimming Championships.

Coogee Surf Life Saving Club

A group of concerned locals believe surf bathers needed protection from the dangers of surfing. That’s when the Coogee Surf Life Saving Club was established. From its humble beginnings in 1907 operating out of a wooden shack, the club finally had their first clubhouse in 1910.

Coogee Surf Life Saving Club has remained active up to this day, and is known as one of the largest surf clubs in Australia, with over 1,000 nippers and 600 surf lifesavers who patrol Coogee Beach.

Heritage Houses

The 1900s also saw the construction of many heritage-listed houses, including Ocean View, a Federation-style mansion built in 1916 by Philip Wirth, founder of the famous Wirth’s Circus. The mansion, spanning 1693 sqm, occupies one of the largest land parcels in the area. The sprawling home was sold in April 2010 for $5 million.

Ocean View mansion (Photo credit: BY-SA 3.0/Ruwoltj/Wikimedia Commons)

In 1921, the Cliffbrook House was constructed, based on the design of prominent architect John Kirkpatrick. Located at 45-51 Beach Street, Coogee, Cliffbrook is heritage-listed former residence, school and government building and now university research, administration building and university press.

Breakout of World War II

During the Second World War, especially after the Japanese midget submarine invasion of Sydney Harbour, the locals of Coogee became fearful of the attacks. It was during this time that the popular shark nets were removed for security purposes. Shark nets were introduced in 1929, attracting hundreds of thousands of spectators. It was only after the war that Coogee went back into a coastal playground.

history of Coogee
Huge crowd at Coogee, 1930s (Photo credit: Mitchell Library/State Library of New South Wales)

Coogee Ocean Pier

Coogee Pier was a short-lived facility, but it’s believed to have helped promote the suburb as a major resort destination. The pier took several months to be completed due to the disputes between Randwick Council and its developers, not to mention that there’s also construction delay problems. 

history of Coogee
View of Coogee Pier (Photo credit: National Library of Australia)

A portion of the pier partially opened in November 1928. A newspaper writeup noted that around 11,000 people visited the pier when it was first launched.

The pier, which stretched 180 metres out across the middle of Coogee Beach, was able to accommodate up to 21,000 people. However, many of its planned facilities, such as the theatre, restaurants, retail spaces, and a dance hall were never built because of issues with funding.

Anzac Day 1935

The Anzac Day 1935 was an unforgettable one for many residents of Coogee, especially those who witnessed how a shark which was held captive at the Coogee Aquarium disgorged the tattooed arm of a man, who was identified as former boxer James Smith. 

history of Coogee
Photo credit: National Library of Australia

Coogee’s reputation as a pleasurable seaside resort became tainted with the mystery and intrigue of a scandalous underworld crime, which was also known as “The Shark Arm Murder.”

The Island Challenge

In 2000, Coogee Surf Life Saving Club started the Island Challenge, which involves a 2.4 km swim out and around Wedding Cake Island. Since it began, the race has been attracting hundreds of competitors and remains as a fixture on the Sydney ocean swimming scene. 

Photo credit: Coogee Island Challenge/Facebook

Read: For More Than a Century, Wylie’s Baths Remains Significant to Coogee and Sydney Locals

At the turn of the century, Coogee continued to cement its status as one of the best suburbs in Sydney for surfing, swimming, and relaxing on white sands. Like how it’s known in the early 1900s, Coogee remains as a seaside resort town that’s ideal for water lovers and those looking to live with a relaxed atmosphere.