Sydney Pools – A Natural Wonder

The famous Sydney Opera House and harbour bridge are a city’s best-known attractions, but there is another aspect to this iconic Australian city that is lesser known. Sydney boasts more ocean pools than any other city in the world. Serene at low tide, choppy at high, they provide safe swimming options when surf beaches are too dangerous for bathers.

For many people, Sydney’s ocean pools are more than just places to swim. They embody values like equality, diversity, tolerance and mateship. They also have a mythical quality, as they are a part of the landscape of Australia’s culture and identity.

In the early 1900s, when the government was boosting tourism and promoting Australia as a place of “good life and leisure”, ocean pools were a way to promote this image. These man-made, public seawater pools were built along the coast, usually at a beach, to provide safe bathing and reduce the need for swimmers to brave the treacherous surf.

They were the first step in creating a beach culture where anyone could safely go for a swim, even in the roughest of conditions. The tidal pools also allowed for club swimming and water polo, which were popular novelty events at the time. While the demand for ocean pools decreased once New South Wales state governments endorsed mixed bathing at surf beaches and surf lifesaving clubs allowed women as full members, a few years later, when men’s enlistment to serve in World War I depleted the men’s ranks, it increased support for the more reliable safety measures of ocean pools.

While most of Sydney’s ocean pools were developed during the twentieth century, a few were built in the nineteenth, and a number are still in use today. The oldest of these are Wylie’s Baths in Coogee, which was built by champion long distance and underwater swimmer Henry Alexander Wylie in 1907. Other beautiful tidal pools include McIver’s Ladies Baths in Coogee and Palm Beach’s Ladies Pool, which has been the only dedicated women-only pool in Australia since it opened in the 1800s.

These pools are a city’s version of a natural wonder, but they have not been without their share of controversy. The redevelopment of the Bronte Rock Pools is one such example. The project, which had a budget of $86m, has faced delays due to the Covid pandemic, La Nina and the discovery of design issues. The cost of the project has blown out by an estimated $100m.

Councillor Tink Baker, a Greens MP who lives nearby, has called the project a “bloated, expensive vanity project” and says it will be a major burden on her local community. She has voted against the project 23 times and urged the Office of Local Government to take action, as well as complaining to the ombudsman. But the mayor of the Byron Shire, Chris Gibson, insists the pool is essential for the health and wellbeing of the area. He says the community is sick of politicians trying to “blame external factors” for their failure to deliver.