I was five years old in 1989, but too young to understand the talk about Sydney's dirty beaches at the time. Older readers might remember the weekly beach reports telling you if it was clean to swim or not. I have a number of clippings that talk about the issue.
During 1989, beach pollution had become a major issue with swimmers complaining of various infections that resulted from swimming in the water.
Source: Mealey, E & Craig, O. 1989. "Beachside doctors tell of surf victims". The Sun Herald, March 12, 6-7.
Surfers were also prepared to boycott events at Sydney beaches and even lifesavers were unwilling to rescue swimmers.
Source: Feneley, R. 1989. "Surfies boycott Sydney's oceans of filth". The Daily Telegraph, January 7, page unknown.
At the time the deep water ocean outfalls were under construction at the Sewage treatment plants at North Head, Bondi & Malabar. Instead of sewage being directly discharged into the sea from the cliff tops, the sewage would be pumped through pipes that extended to four kilometres off the coast. The sewage would be diluted and dispersed further out to sea.
These works had been comissioned by the Water Board in 1984 in response to the rising occurance of pollution at Sydney beaches. The clifftop pipes meant that the effluent easily washed onto city beaches, making it unsafe for swimming. Currents sent it drifting up and down the coast resulting in pollution at other beaches.
Below is an advertisement educating the public on the ocean outfalls.
Source.: Water Board. 1989. "We are committed to ending pollution of Sydney's beaches (Advertisement)". The Daily Telegraph, January 16, 12.
A Waterboard Study during that year, found that only one beach was safe for swimming. It was Elouera at Cronulla. South Curl Curl Beach was the most polluted.
Source: Olsen, S. 1989. "Pollution report lists just one clean beach". The Daily Telegraph, November 24, 3.
The outfalls at Malabar was completed in September 1990, North Head in December 1990 and Bondi in September 1991.
Since then, water quality at Sydney beaches has improved dramatically as the sewage is less likely to be swept onto the beaches.
It was interesting this past week to have a look at the Beachwatch reports online and noting that the coastal beaches were generally safe for swimming with the exception of Boat Harbour due to the possibility of contamination.
However though when it rains, you are generally advised to avoid swimming for a day at coastal beaches (two days elsewhere) due to storm water run-off.
I have other clippings, and hopefully in the future can comment further and add to what is here.