Our annual ocean pool round up is back! Dive into some of the most stunning ocean pools around NSW and find out their unique history.
By Charlotte Anlezark, National Trust Conservation Officer.
The rite of swimming each summer is an important part of Australian culture and identity. Whether it’s in the sea, a pool, lagoon or river, Australians will inevitably find themselves a watering hole to cool off in when the weather heats up. One of our all-time favourite aquatic recreational spaces is, of course, the ocean pool.
Nowhere else in the world boasts ocean pools like New South Wales, which features a coastline littered with over 60 different sea baths that stretch all the way from Ballina right down to Bermagui.
These pools are places of great heritage significance. For some, it’s because they were naturally formed places that have been used by Aboriginal people for thousands of years. For others, it’s because they show the work of convict labour and early swimming culture in post-colonial Australia.
For many, it’s because they were originally commissioned as depression stimulus developments in the 1930s; a way of bringing work to the regions and providing further public facilities and recreational spaces during darks times.
But for all, it’s because these sites have a huge amount of social significance as the places that local Australian communities learn, play, meet and gather, in some cases for almost two centuries.
Right now, many ocean pools are facing new obstacles – from climate events through to busier demographics – and need to be upgraded so they can be used safely and accessibly. The challenge is to do this in a sensitive manner, protecting the heritage that each pool’s community holds dearly.
Pearl Beach Pool
The coastal suburb of Pearl Beach was part of a series of estates established by the Staples family during the 1920s. While the gemstone-named streets were slow to develop into the 1930s, the pool was completed circa 1929 and it has a prominent place in the history, development, and community of the suburb.
The pool has two sides cut into the rock ledge, facing north and protected from cool southerly weather. Natural rock formations provide sitting and sunbaking areas and a walkway past the pool to Green Point and the beach. At 30 metres in length, the pool is great for either lap swimming or a simple frolic.
Newcastle Ocean Baths
The Newcastle Ocean Baths (NOB) are currently in the midst of a renovation – with stage one almost complete and the pool set to be reopened this summer. Stage two will be underway shortly. The changes proposed for this renovation have been extensive, and while some have been welcomed – such as the retention of the historic blue bleachers and boardwalk – others have raised concerns about the heritage significance versus commercialisation of the site. This community passion for the NOB has led to discussions as to whether significance of the baths has been undervalued, and it has since been nominated to the State Heritage Register.
The Newcastle Ocean Baths, Map/Wading Pool and Canoe Pool were listed on the National Trust Register in 1997. Construction of the site began in 1910, however the baths were not officially opened until after World War One. The baths were, and remain to this day, magnetically popular. Featuring an impressive Art Deco pavilion, lap pool, canoe pool (and a now long-lost ‘map of the world’ wading pool) – it’s understandable why the site was labelled as the ‘world’s biggest backyard pool’ by the Newcastle Post in 1981. This summer, pay the newly upgraded NOB a visit for a picturesque afternoon swim.
Follow this up with a visit to the nearest National Trust listed pub: The Great Northern Hotel
Giles Baths, Coogee
Of the eight pools located in Randwick Council, it is arguable that Giles Baths (formerly known as the ‘Bogey Hole’) is the funkiest of them all. A natural rock pool, the site was used by the local Aboriginal community for many years before colonisation. Its constructed form came to be in the late 19th century, known as Lloyd’s Baths. Named after its first proprietor, F.W. Lloyd, the baths were originally a men’s only pool, operating in conjunction with the McIver’s Women’s Baths located at the opposite end of the beach.
As health and wellness industries boomed in the 1920-30s, the site was redeveloped by Oscar Giles who promptly turned it into a fitness retreat. The site featured massage, electricity treatments, hydrotherapy, and sweat and hot sea baths. The building was demolished in the 2000s after falling into disrepair and what remains now is largely the natural landscape around the pool.
These days, the pool is open to everyone. Entry begins under the final built remains, a small portico labelled ‘baths’, before descending a steep staircase down to the water. Here, you will find a glistening pool assembled from excavated rock, hewn sandstone blocks and small sections of concrete walls. In the spirit of Mr Giles’ wellness ventures, this pool is great for an early or evening morning dip. Make sure to check the tides first!
Follow this up with a visit to the nearest National Trust listed pub: The Coogee Bay Hotel
North Wollongong Rock Pool (formerly Gentlemen’s Baths), Wollongong
Also once subject to gender segregation laws, the North Wollongong Rock Pool is bathed in history. One of the earliest ocean pools in the state, it was originally designed in 1871 as the ‘Gentleman’s Baths’ or ‘Clarke’s Pool’ to complement the nearby women’s only Nun’s Pool (1830) and Ladies Baths (1850). All three natural swimming sites would later be succeeded by the mixed gender Continental Pool in the 1920s.
The rules of Gentleman’s Baths were temporarily suspended during the First World War, with the absence of men due to fighting allowing women and children to visit the baths between restricted times.
The collection of these four ocean baths reflects almost two centuries of recreational swimming throughout Australia: The Nun’s Pool was developed using convict labour; the Ladies and Gentlemen’s baths each reflect the gender segregation laws and social rules of the late 18th and early 19th centuries; and the Continental Pool was a depression-era stimulus package designed for the modern swimmer.
Pay the North Wollongong Rock Pool a visit a couple of hours after high tide for the best possible experience.
Follow this up with a visit to the nearest heritage-listed pub: The Illawarra Hotel
Boat Harbour Pool, Gerringong
The furthest south of our featured sites, the Boat Harbour Pool dates back from the turn of the century (and was another originally gender segregated site). It was actually the second attempt at a rock pool in the area, after an earlier site adjacent to the boat ramp was demolished by the seas. The current one was commissioned in 1897 and completed in 1898. Various grants in the early 20th century helped make the site accessible.
Located just outside of the township of Gerringong, the pool sits nestled between the cliffs and around the corner from the boat ramp. It is a natural rock pool with a sandy beach at the shallow end, and is great for picnicking and a splash in the sun.
There are no historic pubs nearby, but on your way out, check out the Gerringong Cemetery located next door.
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