Saturday, 28 December 2013

CWA Shark-proof swimming enclosure

The photo below comes to us courtesy of brothers Tony and Michael Christensen and shows the shark-proof swimming enclosure that was erected on The Strand in Townsville in the 1930s, through the efforts of the Country Women’s Association (CWA).  The photo was taken in the 1950s, so the enclosure is looking a bit worn out, but the story behind why and how it came to be built is an interesting one.
CWA shark-proof swimming enclosure, 1956.
Photo courtesy: Tony Christensen and Michael Christensen.
The first of a number of holiday huts owned by the CWA on The Strand was built in 1924 at a cost of £350, which had been donated by Mr Daking Smith, of Charters Towers.  In honour of the donation, the hut was named ‘Daking Smith Hut’ and was officially opened in September 1924 by the Governor General Lord Forster.  The new hut enabled CWA members in the north and west to holiday at the ‘seaside’, something many families had not previously been able to enjoy.  The first family to occupy the new hut was to be a family of ten, and all of the children had never before seen the sea.  That same year the CWA constructed a small rock pool for children to swim in but it was constantly silting up with sand, so wasn’t very practical.

Opening of CWA Hut at Kissing Point, Townsville.
Photo courtesy: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
On the 4th January 1933, a shocking fatality occurred opposite the CWA huts.  A 38 year-old shearer’s cook named Stanley Victor Locksley, who was holidaying from Hughenden, was attacked by a shark while swimming at Kissing Point.  The large shark (thought to have been a grey nurse shark) inflicted massive stomach wounds and Locksley died from his injuries.  Ironically, at the annual meeting of the CWA the previous year, a resolution was submitted by the Prairie branch ‘that steps be taken to collect money for a safe bathing enclosure’. The resolution had been carried unanimously.
The attack on Locksley ‘clearly demonstrated’ to the executive of the CWA that ‘bathing in the sea without protection, was utterly out of the question’.  Moves were then made to begin canvassing support for the erection of a shark-proof swimming enclosure.  Because the enclosure would benefit northern and western visitors to Townsville’s CWA huts, branches of the CWA right throughout north Queensland donated funds towards the swimming enclosure. The following donations were noted in the Queenslander on 6th April 1933:  Home Hill, £5; Richmond, £10; Stone River, £2; Kairi, £1/1/- ; Bowen, half a guinea; Hughenden, £10.  Other branches that indicated they intended to donate, included Prairie and Finch Hatton. 
Somewhat surprisingly, the CWA initially encountered opposition from the City Council, who opposed the construction of a swimming enclosure opposite the huts.  The council was against ‘further obstructions breaking the continuity of the beach’.  To placate the CWA, the council offered to provide all occupants of CWA huts with free admission to the city baths (located further along The Strand).  But this did not dampen the CWA’s resolve to provide their members with a safe swimming enclosure.  Plans and specifications were drawn up by honourable architect C.D. Lynch, and after much opposition the authority of the Governor-in-Council was obtained on 9th June 1933.  By this time the City Council, Harbour Board and Marine Department had finally agreed to the project. 

The enclosure was erected by volunteer labour and with the help of assistance from local businesses who provided trucks to carry timber piles as well as help from the Council and Harbour Board (who provided a pile driver).  Mr St. John Robinson conducted three refreshment booths and catered for a private luncheon for 60 people at his rodeo, and donated the proceeds to the project.  The enclosure itself measured 70 yards by 40 yards and was made of large ti-tree piles, spaced 10ft apart, with specially-made, heavy duty 4 ½ inch-thick chain mesh.   

The swimming enclosure was officially opened on the 9th September 1933 by Mr T.M. Barry in front of a large crowd.  It was named the ‘Ethel Crowther Bathing Enclosure’ after Mrs Ethel Crowther who was President of the CWA at the time. 

Tragically, in October 1951, a 43 year-old waterside worker named Albert Kenealey was killed by a shark while swimming in the enclosure. The man was reportedly swinging on the wire fencing when he was attacked by the shark, which tore off his right leg.  The man disappeared from sight, but his body was later found on the beach about 20 yards from the enclosure. 
CWA Huts, Kissing Point, Townsville, 1932.
Photo courtesy: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
Townsville Daily Bulletin, 22 September 1924, p. 4; 6 September 1933, pp. 3 & 12; 11 September 1933, p. 5.
The Queenslander, 6 April 1933, p. 35; 21 September 1933, p. 37.
Brisbane Courier, 18 February 1933, p. 17.
Cairns Post, 5 January 1933, p. 6; 23 October 1951, p. 3.