A pair of gold-painted fiberglass mermaids were installed on Big Rock, North Bondi, in 1960. They were under attack from the beginning—not just from rain, sun, big surf, but vandals and angry editorialists—and not surprisingly fell apart, until the remnants of the one remaining mermaid were pried from the rock in 1976 and hauled away. A resurrection of sorts would come later, but let's start at the beginning and tell the story as it happened.

* * *

Excerpt from "COLUMN 8," by Granny, Sydney Morning Herald, Nov 18, 1958
Waverley Council has declined the offer of Mr Lyall Randolph, sculptor, to execute a couple of mermaids for Ben Buckler [the north headland] as a Bondi tourist attraction. In cement, they would have cost 500 guineas; in bronze, 1,000. Commenting on the council's decision, the local paper says: "Mr Randolph added that he was qualified to sculpt the mermaids, as he had recently completed busts of Dame Mary Gilmore, and the Prime Minister, Mr Menzies."

"COUNCIL DEBATES 'MERMAIDS' OF BEN BUCKLER," Sydney Morning Herald, April 13, 1960
Waverley Council last night debated the right of two bronze mermaids to remain on a rock off Ben Buckler. The council decided to defer its decision until further information on legal rights and obligations could be obtained. The mermaids were placed on the rock last Sunday by sculptor Lyall Randolph, who described them as his Easter gift to Australia.

At last night's council meeting it was stated Mr Randolph had applied to the Maritime Services Board for permission to place the statues on the rock. He had been referred to the Lands Department. The department told Mr Randolph they would consider his application, subject to the approval of Waverley Council. However, Mr Randolph erected the statues before the council had approved his application. Aldermen at the meeting made it clear they did not consider the mermaids to be obscene, but they objected to Mr Randolph flouting their authority.

bondi beach mermaids
bondi beach mermaids

Letters to the Editor, Sydney Morning Herald, April 19, 1960
The statue of the two mermaids on the large sea-washed rock at Ben Buckler are, to my mind as an artist, worthy of the warmest admiration. The pose is a triumph of elegance and hesitant venturesomeness. As for the critics who protest disquiet at the sight of traditional mermaids—one trusts they do not venture a stroll on our bikinied beaches. Sylvia Wilkins, Bellevue Hill

Sydney University students early yesterday morning removed one of two mermaid statues bolted to a rock at Ben Buckler, Bondi. The mermaids were bolted and cemented to the rock a fortnight ago by Lyall Randolph, a sculptor of Woollahra. University pranksters quietly removed the gold-painted fiberglass statue of a mermaid peering out to sea. It reappeared at the Engineering School at Sydney University, where students adorned it with clothing. Bondi police were called. They put the statue into a police van and took it to Bondi police station. As of last night, no one had claimed the statue.

The Mayor of Waverley, Alderman J. Cole, said last night: "This prank is quite typical of university students, vandals in the community. I regret the theft and damage done to the statue. If Mr Randolph does decide to take action, I will definitely support him.”

bondi mermaids

The Waverley town clerk, Mr T. Thompson, said: “If the students were able to remove the statue so easily, it shows what a storm could have done—probably washed them out to sea. Probably a good thing, too.” Sergeant N. Townsend, of Bondi, said inquiries were being made into the removal of the mermaid.

Mr Randolph said he did not think the stolen mermaid was in good enough condition to replace on the rock. "The students who managed to get it off worked an engineering feat," he said. "I'm very disappointed that Australian students should do this to Australian sculptures on an Australian beach.”

"MERMAID BEREAVED BY COLLEGE PRANK," Waterloo Region Record, May 10, 1960
Once there were two mermaids on the flat rock of a headland defining Bondi Beach. Now there is only one, though she is brazen as ever. For four weeks, the mermaids sat together as if bolted to the rock (which in fact they were), braving high tides, stares of the curious and, a public debate over their nudity. “With too much of this sort of thing,” a Roman Catholic Church spokesman said, "we can hardly complain if young men, their passions inflamed, commit sex offenses.” A beach inspector complained that people might fall over the cliff trying to get a closer view of the mermaids.

Sculptor Lyall Randolph had made and installed them in his spare time as a contribution to Sydney’s art and culture. He valued them at $4,700. His models were Mrs. Peter Carmody, a former Miss Australia Surf, and Lynette Whillier, a 1956 Olympic swimmer. Both said they saw nothing vulgar about the figures. The Carmody figure vanished on university commemoration day, when students have fun and dream up practical jokes. It was found scratched and with the tail and an arm broken off in Sydney University’s engineering school.

Randolph, declaring the damage beyond repair, was quite upset. "I feel like crying,” he said. "It is not as if I had been paid for my work. I merely donated it to society because I thought people might appreciate it.”

bondi mermaids
Jan and Peter Carmody, 1959
bondi mermaids
Lyall Randolph and Lynette Whillier

"NOT AMUSED," Sydney Morning Herald, May 8, 1960
Removal of and damage to one of the Bondi mermaid statues by Sydney University students on Commemoration Day was inexcusable. A joke is a joke, though student notions of humor are often crude and boisterous to the point of offensiveness. But the partial destruction of a work of art goes beyond a mere prank; it is an act of irresponsible hoodlumism.

Sculptor Lyall Randolph went to great trouble and expense to fashion the mermaid statues and fasten them to a rock at Ben Buckler. Not everybody agreed with his action or thought the mermaids—unclad, as one would expect such mythical creatures to be—an embellishment of the seascape.

But after some prudish rumbles of disapproval, the statues were accepted and were becoming an appreciated feature of the Bondi scene. A permanent feature, no doubt, if Mr Randolph in bolting and cementing them had had to reckon only with the wash of the sea. What he couldn’t provide against was a raid by a demolition party of "varsity vandals" whose studies in engineering evidently need to be supplemented by lessons in seemly behavior and respect for public property.

"NO COUNCIL AID FOR MERMAID," Sydney Morning Herald, June 29, 1960
Waverley Council will not finance the replacement of a mermaid at Ben Buckler. The council last night decided not to support an appeal by the sculptor, Mr L. Randolph, to raise £600 to replace the figure. Mr Randolph placed two fiberglass mermaids on a rock at Ben Buckler last April; one of the figures was removed by university students during Commemoration Day celebrations last month.l Alderman A. Elboz said the two mermaids had attracted many visitors to Bondi. "They have obtained much publicity for Bondi overseas,” he said. "We must admit that Mr Randolph's action in placing the figures on the rock without council permission was wrong, but the good publicity which has resulted outweighs his action.”

Alderman C. Jeppeson said that £600 would be needed to replace the mermaid. "I believe Bondi will get better publicity from that amount than from the £500 it will spend in preparing a float for this year’s Waratah Festival.”

Alderman J. Enfield said: “I am not In favor of giving permission to replace one mermaid. I favor pulling the other one out.”

Encyclopedia of Surfing

Excerpt from "COLUMN 8," by Granny, Sydney Morning Herald, Sept 1, 1960
Art has its uses. The smaller fry at Bondi have found a use for the sculptured mermaid at Ben Buckler. Yesterday morning, two youngsters were taking shots at her with an air gun. "You can't hurt her" said one. “She's made of hard stuff."

[NOTE: at some point in 1961 or 1962, the damaged mermaid was repaired and restored to her place on the rock. A Bondi-wide fundraiser was held to cover the costs.]

Excerpt from "BAN ON NEW FLATS PRAISED," Sydney Morning Herald, Dec 2, 1964
More than 200 local residents have signed a petition requesting the State Government and the Waverley Council to preserve the land and prevent residential development there. A spokesman for the Ben Buckler Progress Association said, “This area is used by residents and visitors, including a large number of children, for sunbathing, fishing, skin diving, marine life collecting and just strolling. Since the building of the [beachfront] rock swimming pool, the Ben Buckler car park and the model mermaids, this area has become increasingly popular."

"SEA CLAIMS SECOND BONDI MERMAID," Sydney Morning Herald, Sept 13, 1976
The statue of a mermaid, which has been a tourist attraction at North Bondi for many years, was swept off its rock at Ben Buckler in heavy seas over the weekend. Another statue on the rock was lost in June 1974. Both were created by the sculptor, Mr Lyall Randolph. Both fiberglass figures were probably dislodged from their bolted positions and dashed by waves on to nearby rocks. Police at Bondi last night said no reports had been received on the disappearance of the latest statue. Meanwhile, beachgoers saw no sign yesterday that the mermaid had been washed up onto the sand. The statues were erected without permission on land not under the council’s control, Alderman Singer said. Mr Randolph used two Sydney girls as models to sculpt the mermaids.

"DISAPPEARING MERMAID: NOTHING FISHY," Sydney Morning Herald, Sept 14, 1976
The North Bondi mermaid, believed washed off her rock by the sea on Saturday, has been found in a Waverley Council storage yard. The fiberglass statue was taken from the rocks at Ben Buckler to the Blenheim Street depot by council workmen on Thursday. The mermaid is one of two created by the sculptor Mr Lyall Randolph and erected in 1960. Two Sydney girls modelled for the sculptures, which have suffered from heavy seas and strong winds for 16 years. One was torn from the rocks by the sea in June 1974.

Encyclopedia of Surfing

On Thursday, the council engineer decided the elements had taken too much of a toll on the remaining mermaid. Now all that remains of the once bronze and lithe mermaids is a pale, barely recognizable shell of weathered fiberglass and crumbling concrete.

Mr K. Jarrett, of Bayview, rang the Herald yesterday after he had read the statue was missing. He had seen workmen loosening the bolts and removing it. "Four or five men took it away on a type of stretcher to a truck,” Mr Jarrett said. A Waverley Council spokesman said yesterday that the mermaids would be lost if the council was not given money to have them recast. “We are trying to get the State or Federal Governments to give us the money from a tourist point of view. We are also trying to get commercial or international aid to have them restored," he said. “We need $20,000—it's beyond our financial resources."

Excerpt from "TRIBUTE TO THE MAKER OF THE BONDI MERMAIDS," Olaf Ruhen, Sydney Morning Herald, Feb 22, 1975
I know what happened elsewhere, but at my house he just opened the door and walked in, with such assurance that in the first moment he was right in the middle of the conversation. In the next, he was leading it.

Not anymore, though, because last week they found him dead in his caravan up at Woy Woy.

That was Randolph Williams or, as he called himself at different times, Lyall Randolph, or just plain Randolf, with an "F." Though he died a lonely death, as his friends could have foretold, he loved living and from one point of view—his own—he didn’t waste a moment of his life.

Sydney knew him as the sculptor who put the mermaids on the rocks at Bondi; those who knew him slightly better mostly avoided him, and only a very few maintained an affectionate and amused respect for his ever-jetting fount of weird ideas.

He had two incontrovertible talents; he was a resourceful and talented electrician, and a portrait sculptor who combined surety with accuracy. But he was the King of Kitsch, or a powerful pretender to the throne, and his statues, heads and busts were redeemed from his appalling taste only by his faithful adherence to the plans of nature.

It was as an inventor that he most appealed to the imagination. Some of the simple little oddities that his mind tossed off, like the self-spreading toothbrush, didn't seem to promise much future, but this was a minor flight of fancy. At one stage, he drew up plans for a flying saucer with a routing rim, which would gain structural strength from its centrifugal force. He sent the plans to Prince Philip, and always treasured the appreciative, though noncommittal, reply he received.

The arts fascinated him, almost as much as girls did—or in other words, more than reasonably. In his younger days, he had been a worshiper of Pat Gregory, the ice skater, and had not only become ardent in the skill himself, but wrote a book about it.

Epilogue: "CLASH OF THE BONDI MERMAIDS," by Danielle Gusmaroli, Daily Telegraph, Oct 20, 2016
A Sydney icon known for more than 20 years as the Bondi Mermaid is threatening legal action over a rival mermaid. Lizmania is flippin’ furious that swimming instructor Eve White has also adopted the name the Bondi Mermaid for her Mermaid-Fit aquatic fitness classes.

Lizmania has consulted lawyers, saying she has answered to the name the Bondi Mermaid for so long she owns the unregistered trademark. “There is only room for one Bondi Mermaid on this beach,” said Lizmania, who spends her days dressed as a mermaid at the beach or selling merchandise, including tea sets, under the name the Bondi Mermaid. She said she earned the affectionate moniker amid her long-running and ongoing campaign to reinstate two bronze mermaid statues on the beach’s northern headland.

“She can be a Bondi mermaid but not the Bondi Mermaid — I’m the original,” Lizmania said. “I won’t slap my fishtail in her face, as mermaids are all about love, but I am taking legal advice.”

The two mermaids came face-to-face when Ms White was at the beach handing out pamphlets for her classes at the Speedo Fitness Club. Ms White, a mother of three, unwittingly clashed with her rival when she introduced herself as the Bondi Mermaid and urged her to come to the classes. “She was claiming to be the original, and I told her ‘There’s only one original Bondi Mermaid and there will always only ever be one’,” Lizmania said. “She looked stunned and stared out at the ocean and said, ‘We’re all mermaids.'"

Encyclopedia of Surfing
Lismania, North Bondi
Encyclopedia of Surfing
Eve White