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Ocean Pools of New South Wales

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by ElizaDoLots (subscribe)
"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity" - Dorothy Parker
Published September 6th 2022
Drops in the Ocean

I am, it has to be said, a passable swimmer - people pass me in the pool all the time. I'm better at cryptic crosswords. Turn eco, loop back, with an al fresco dip? Ocean pool. My first encounter with one was in December 1998, when my Sydneysider brother, Jon, introduced his overheating English visitor to the cooling properties of his local swimming spot - Clovelly's Geoff James Pool.

Ocean Pools of New South Wales
The Blue Pool of Bermagui

As well as providing respite from the summer heat, early ocean pools were created for colonial bathers seeking protection from some of the sea's perils, such as rip currents, unpredictable surf and shark attacks. Later, ocean baths began to be constructed with formal swimming activity in mind, as interest in competitive swimming grew and the need for people to acquire life-saving swimming skills came to be appreciated.

New South Wales has the sealion's share of Australia's ocean pools blasted into its rocky coastline. A recent family road trip presented us with the opportunity to sample a handful of the state's one hundred saline dips, as we headed home, following the coastal highway south.

Yamba Ocean Pool

Ocean Pools of New South Wales
Yamba Ocean Pool, Main Beach

The most northerly of NSW's ocean pools, Yamba Pool is located at the southern end of its Main Beach. Further up the beach sits Yamba Surf Life-Saving Club, founded in 1908 and one of the oldest SLS clubs in the world. A practical rectangle and 33 metres in length, Yamba Ocean Pool is perfect for swimming laps when Main Beach is unpatrolled and the sea too choppy. The Pool, alas, is evidently not as rugged as the rocks into which it is built, closing for repairs on a regular basis since its launch in 1969. When we visited, Yamba Pool was full of water but closed for swimming, possibly due to a section of concrete - formerly part of the pool's perimeter - sitting in the water like a broken springboard. Aye, they don't build 'em like they used to.

Ocean Pools of New South Wales
Into The Wide Blue Yonder

Newcastle Ocean Baths

Ocean Pools of New South Wales
Newcastle Ocean Baths: Work In Progress

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the official opening of the Newcastle Ocean Baths, intended to be the grandest in the State when construction on them started in 1910. By the time the baths were opened to the public, facilities included showers, changing rooms, private dressing boxes and lockers, a kiosk/shop, and refreshment rooms serving lunches and afternoon teas. The building of the Baths' pavilion commenced in 1922 and its 1927 Art Deco facade is now heritage-listed. A circular paddling pool to the south of the Baths complex, now known as the Canoe Pool, was constructed during the late 1930s/early 1940s and once contained a raised, concrete map of the world on its floor. The Ocean Baths are currently closed for refurbishment, with planned alterations including the concreting of its natural rock floor, to the dismay of some members of the community, who have fought for the entire complex to be granted State Heritage protection.

Ocean Pools of New South Wales
Art Deco Picnic Shelters, centre; the 1930s Canoe Pool, right

Merewether Ocean Baths

Ocean Pools of New South Wales
Mere Weather Doesn't Deter Serious Swimmers

Newcastle's shores were once awash with ocean baths, rock pools and designated bathing places; a reflection, perhaps, of Novocastrians' urge to purge themselves of the toxins generated by the city's primary industry until coal mining ceased in 1963. Incredibly, prior to its Deco-era Ocean Baths being built, raw sewage was discharged into the sea at Merewether, routinely contaminating the earlier ocean baths. Purportedly the largest ocean baths in the Southern Hemisphere, the 100 metre by 90 metre Merewether Ocean Baths were built as part of the Great Depression Unemployment Relief Scheme, opening in 1935. When we visited in July, Merewether was the only ocean pool we witnessed being used: it clearly has a loyal following of seasoned swimmers unfazed by testing temperatures.

Bogey Hole

Ocean Pools of New South Wales
High Tide at Bogey Hole

The word "Bogey" is thought to mean "to bathe or swim", deriving from Dharuk, the Aboriginal language of the Sydney region. Believed to be the oldest of man-made ocean pools in Australia, the Hole was hewn by hand, either by convicts or soldiers, at the site of a natural rock pool and completed during Major James Morisset's term of command (1819-23). Originally fifteen feet long, seven feet wide and six feet deep, the Commandant's Bath was made seven times larger in 1884 to accommodate public swimming. Considered a safe site for swimming at low tide and in good weather, there are, nonetheless, numerous accounts of devastation, injury and death caused by sporadic rockfalls and other unfortunate incidents throughout the pool's history.

Ocean Pools of New South Wales
Sea Foam and Stay Clear

Blowhole Point Ocean Pool

Ocean Pools of New South Wales
Wet Wet Wet at Blowhole Point Baths

After watching Kiama's Blowhole huff and puff for some minutes in horizontal rain, I threw my useless umbrella back in the car before sloshing my way down the road-cum-river on foot to take a look at nearby Blowhole Point Pool. I would have been drier in the Pool. Like Bogey Hole, Blowhole Point Ocean Pool originated as a small bathing place for men, carved out of a natural, rock platform. Nude bathing, being the norm until the twentieth century, decorum demanded that men's and women's public bathing be conducted at separate facilities. Blowhole Point Ocean Pool was enlarged in the 1880s, remaining a male preserve for the next 40 years; the Pheasant Point Baths on the other side of Kiama's harbour opened in 1870 to cater for ladies' bathing. Both pools are still in use, the large, deep Pheasant Point Baths, or the Continental Pool, as it is known today, being ideal for lap-swimming and Blowhole Point Baths remaining popular for their spectacular location on Kiama's rocky peninsula.

Ocean Pools of New South Wales
Wet Wet Wetter at The Continental Pool

The Blue Pool

Ocean Pools of New South Wales
The Blue Pool

Bermagui's Blue Pool is another example of a naturally-formed rock pool in a picture-perfect location whose size was increased to facilitate swimming activities such as fitness training and competitive swimming. What had been known as The Blue Hole became The Blue Pool after doubling in size in the late 1930s, a project which owed its inception - and a sizeable chunk of its funding - to a beneficent newcomer to the town, Bill Dickinson. A jewel of the Sapphire Coast, the fifty-metre-long Blue Pool is prized for the clarity and colour of its water, its brilliant setting and vibrant, resident marine life.

There are many more ocean pools to explore along the length of New South Wales' glorious coastline: climate change threatens their viability, as rising sea levels and more frequent storm surges reshape our shores. It's a salient sign to us all to take the plunge whilst rocks last, because nothing is foreshore forever.
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Why? Swimming and snorkeling fun for the family.
When: Year-round; bathing may be restricted by weather/tides
Where: NSW coastline, between Yamba and Eden
Cost: Free
Your Comment
A great article. We have an ocean pool near where I live. It was blasted out of the rocks years ago by miners when coals mines were still worked in the area.
by Gayle Beveridge-Marien (score: 4|10580) 273 days ago
What a list!! We are definitely living in a beautiful country
by Mindo Koerber (score: 2|777) 263 days ago
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