Sydney Then and Now: Photo shows cabana beach whinge may be without merit

A photograph taken at one of Australia’s most popular beaches more than 100 years ago has shown just how much things have – or haven’t – changed.

Alan Pages posted a photograph on the Facebook group Sydney Then and Now, showing Coogee in the 1880s versus 2024.

“From bathing boxes to beach shelters,” he captioned the photograph.

Bathing boxes were very popular in the mid-1800s, allowing women to change into swimwear in private.

The boxes had wheels that allowed them to be drawn by horses into the water where bathers could swim without being seen by bystanders.

“They were sun smart back in the 1880s,” one person commented.

Another person wrote: “Love the privacy and change room tents. A very different era and time.”

Meanwhile, cabanas have exploded in popularity on Australian beaches in recent years.

Many people have shared images on social media showing a sea of cabanas blocking views of the ocean – and children swimming – drawing complaints that they are “annoying” and should be banned or at least their use limited to the back of the beach.

Of course, the bathing boxes would haven taken up just as much – if not more – space than cabanas, meaning our beloved sandy beaches have always had to contend with some overcrowding issues.

So perhaps some people are just whinging too much about cabanas.

In 2014, Myrtle Beach in the US state of South Carolina banned cabanas all year round.

Some Australian councils have been considering doing the same, but most have just recommended beach users remain respectful of others and set up in less-crowded areas where possible.

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce revealed this week that he was not a fan of cabanas on beaches.

“I just think wear a shirt, wear a hat and once you’ve had enough sun, get off the beach,” he told the Sunrise television program.

But Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek simply urged people to be considerate of others.

“I think it’s fantastic people are being sun sensible, Australia’s still got some of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world,” she said.

“You have to be considerate, obviously, you have to leave enough room for the people around you to also use the beach. You have to make sure the lifesavers can see the water to keep us safe.”

Cancer Council national skin cancer committee chair Anne Cust told NCA NewsWire that the group supported people using cabanas for sun safety.

“Products like cabanas that are specially designed to protect individuals from the sun and have a high UPF rating are useful to create shade but should be used in combination with other sun protection measures,” she said.

“Cancer Council encourages all Australians to use all five forms of sun protection whenever the ultraviolet levels are three or above – slip on protective clothing; slop on SPF30 or higher broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen; slap on a broadbrimmed hat; seek shade and slide on sunglasses.

“Shade structures should also never be used to extend your time in the sun. While not always possible, minimising exposure to UV radiation from the sun is the most effective strategy to prevent skin cancer. “

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