‘Hey hey, we’re the Monkeys, and people say we monkey around’
– Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart
A few weeks ago I visited Sofala, an old mining town near Bathurst, NSW. Russell Drysdale depicted the main street in his 1947 painting Sofala, and it hasn’t changed much in the 60 years since. It’s a dry, desolate, dusty place – and quite beautiful. I love it.
Whilst walking along this same street I noticed something that I haven’t seen for a number of years – monkey bars. There they were, in a childrens’ playground neatly slotted between a pub and a toilet block (perhaps not the best location, but it was relatively well protected from the sun). It was a very unusual sight.
If you’re not quite sure what monkey bars are, picture a smooth-runged steel ladder placed on its side. The whole thing is supported on poles, keeping it 7′ or 8′ off the ground. A chinning bar on steroids, if you will.
A few decades ago – when I would have first played around on monkey bars – they seemed to be everywhere. In their original, simple form or as part of more elaborate constructions such as rockets and aeroplanes. To a young boy with a big imagination, they were magical.
Fast forward 20 years or so, to the mid ’90s. Due to their popularity – they were being used almost 8 times as much as other playground equipment  – there were an alarming number of accidents. Many of these were minor (as anyone who’s ever fallen awkwardly from a chinning bar will attest), but politicians the world over began to grow worried that something more sinister was possible. Fearful of lawsuits, many of the monkey bars were removed.
The result? A major source of entertaining upper-back work was largely taken away from an entire generation. Sure, there are still any number of ways children can perform chin-ups. But none is so much fun as a climb across the monkey bars.
1. Injury and frequency of use of playground equipment in
public schools and parks in Brisbane, Australia
J W Nixon, C H C Acton, B Wallis, M F Ballesteros, D Battistutta
Injury Prevention, 2003