One of the tourist icons of Melbourne, the bathing boxes on Brighton’s beaches are known to have existed as long ago as 1862. Completion of the tram line from St Kilda to Brighton led to an increase in their numbers in the early 1900s; final numbers are uncertain, but it has been estimated that there were as many as 200 prior to the Great Depression. In 2007, when these photographs were taken, just 82 remained.
Largely uniform in size and build, the boxes at Brighton are the only surviving such structures close to the Melbourne CBD. A heritage order on the boxes by the local City Council restricts alterations, and all retain their Victorian era architecture: timber frames, weatherboard sidings, and corrugated iron roofs, without electricity or running water. They remain as they did over one hundred years ago, as licensed bathing boxes. Licensees individualise their boxes with colourful, and sometimes creative, painted finishes. When viewed together they turn the beachscape into a collective work of art that changes by the hour, according to season, light and weather.
As of 2008 bathing box licences were selling for prices in the AU$200,000 range, with annual Council rates of around AU$500, despite their lack of amenities. In 2009 plans were announced to build at least six new boxes, the first for more than seventy years, in an effort by the Council to raise funds to counter the global financial crisis.