The name ‘Coogee’ (pronounced as “could gee”) seems to have been derived from an Aboriginal word which means “bad smell”. This would be of course due to the decaying seaweed which is washed up onto the beach – even in these modern times.
The original track which brought people to the Coogee Beach area back in 1832 would have followed the basic route nowadays taken by Anzac Parade and Alison Road.
Coogee was connected to the City of Sydney by electric tram in 1902. The suburb’s popularity as a seaside resort was then guaranteed.
The line branched from the line to Clovelly at Darley Road in Randwick. It ran down King Street beside the Randwick Tram Workshops, then ran in its own reservation to Belmore Road.
It then ran down Perouse Road, St Pauls Street, Carr Street and Arden Street before terminating in a balloon loop in Dolphin Street at Coogee Beach. It ran through several small tram reservations on its way down from Randwick to the beach.
The line from Randwick to Coogee opened in 1883, and electric services were introduced in 1902. The line closed in 1960. It follows the current route of bus 373. In July 1838, the village of Coogee was gazetted with many of the streets in the district named after sea creatures. Today “Dolphin St., Neptune St., and Bream St.,” still remain whilst it is understood that Coogee Bay Road and Arcadia Streets were later renamed from their original “Whale St” and “Fish St”.
As surf bathing became more popular, so did the area gain fame and in 1907 the Coogee Surf Lifesaving Club was formed.
The Coogee Surf Life Saving Club was founded in 1907. Population growth began in earnest in the 1920s. An English-style seaside entertainment pier stood at the beach between 1928 and 1934, but it was demolished after serious damage by the surf.
Coogee was also famous for its large domed building at the northern end of the beach known as the “Coogee Beach Aquarium”. This building with its pleasure gardens, sea water baths and restaurants attracted great crowds until it too was demolished for safety reasons. However in its place a new building with a similar appearance to the original now stands – offering arcades of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues.
In 1924 construction started to build an ‘English seaside style’ amusement pier at Coogee Beach, on 24 July 1928, the pier was officially opened, reaching 180 meters out into the sea complete with a 1400 seat theatre, a 600 capacity ballroom, a 400 seat restaurant upstairs, small shops and a penny (machine) arcade.
Unfortunately Coogee’s rough surf damaged the pier and it was demolished in 1934. Life guards have recently discovered remains of the pier on the ocean floor about 50 meters out from shore.
Shark Arm Murder Case (1935)
The Shark Arm Case refers to an incident at the Coogee Aquarium Baths in 1935, when a captured tiger shark regurgitated a human arm. The arm belonged to a missing person, James Smith, and was identified by a tattoo. The arm had been cut off, which led to a murder investigation. Nobody was ever charged over the murder, although another local criminal, Reginald Holmes, was found shot in a car near the Sydney Harbour Bridge the day before the inquest into Smith’s death was due to start.
In the late 1980’s, the Randwick City Council embarked on a bold redevelopment of the Coogee seashore area. The resulting work along with the building of the ‘Holiday Inn’ nowadays the Crowne Plaza Coogee, and the refurbishment of the ‘Coogee Bay Hotel’, together with the newly built “Coogee Bay Boutique Hotel” extension , has given rebirth to the area as a major international holiday destination.
This tourist activity has also resulted in the appearance of a large number of ‘Backpacker’ style establishments, as well as a wide variety of cafes and restaurants – many with open air (pavement) seating.
The future will see further improvements to the foreshore area, with the completion of coastal walkways and the proposed changes to the seaside parklands and local shopping area streetscape are eagerly awaited by all.