In Neptune’s Daughter, an “eight-reel spectacular pictorial triumph” made by Hollywood's Universal Studio, Australian celebrity Annette Kellerman plays a mermaid who swears vengeance on the fisherman who trapped and killed her little sister in their nets. Transforming into a human, she seeks the King with the intention of killing him as his laws were responsible for the death. After being discovered, Annette makes her escape and is thrown back into the sea where she realises that she is in love with the King.
Kellerman was internationally famous for long-distance swimming and became a life-long advocate for women’s fitness. It was claimed she had the exact physical measurements of the Venus de Milo statue. Neptune’s Daughter showcases Kellerman’s aquatic skills as well as her “perfect” figure, which was shown, “in the nude—beautifully, chastely in the nude”, as Australian Theatre Magazine commented. She also pioneered changes to female swimwear, even though her close-fitting athletic bathing suit provoked a 1907 arrest for indecency in Boston, USA.
Distraction from the war – a day at the beach
This brief clip from around 1914 is one of few surviving film records of Australian beach scenes from this period. Beachgoers of both sexes are seen strolling along the sand of an unidentified beach in their Sunday best. A small group playing in the shallows is all male since ‘open bathing’ (swimming outdoors) was still considered somewhat improper at this time. A glimpse of a lone skiff indicates that Australians were quick to embrace all aquatic sports, not just swimming.
Distraction from the war - Coogee Beach
Scenes of surf, sun and swimming at Coogee Beach, Sydney, played upon the sea as a place of recreation in stark contrast to the suffering at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. This film clip from 1915 shows the local surf lifesaving club practising with a surf reel. The foreshore is teeming with swimmers and sunbathers, as well as a good number of beach visitors dressed to the nines and content to promenade.