Despite his many other achievements, Eric Spooner is now remembered mainly as the man who invented the bathing costume known as the Spooner costume. As the NSW Minister for Local Government in the 1930s, Spooner consulted with surf clubs, councils and swimwear manufacturers to design a ‘respectable’ male bathing costume to safeguard public decency. The Spooner costume covered men’s chests, but not their necks or arms. One objector to the costume dubbed its creator “Wear More Wool Spooner’. Men who wanted to wear trunks rolled down the tops of their Spooner costumes. As it was rather daring for men to be seen ‘topless’ on the beaches or at the baths in the 1930s, ‘rolling down’ was banned for lifesavers going on patrol.
Spooner was a fan of ocean baths. Living in the Sydney suburb of Turramurra, he often took his children to swim at the Mona Vale pool on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
As NSW Minister for Local Government and Works during the 1930s depression, he approved the construction of many new ocean baths along the coast from Bermagui to Forster. The ‘Spooner scheme’ assisted in relieving unemployment by providing full-time jobs at award rates and enabling resource-constrained councils to undertake public works. Commenced in December 1935, this scheme had 273 participating councils by 1938.
Spooner’s other achievements as Minister for Local Government included persuading councils to employ qualified engineers, reducing the pollution of ocean beaches and ocean baths by banning the disposal of garbage at sea and trying to improve waste management by encouraging the use of incineration over other methods. Spooner believed Port Kembla would grow into a great city with Wollongong as a suburb and strongly supported the building of the Port Kembla Olympic baths. At the opening of 1930s saltwater Olympic pools at Port Kembla and Thirroul, Spooner was entertained by clowns performing in ‘Spooner costume’.