Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Getting Back In The (Salt) Water

After a couple of days of swimming in a chlorinated pool, it was a relief to get back into the saltwater at Wylies Baths. My foot is healing, and the water is clean and clear again. I enjoyed it so much, that, not content with a morning swim, I went back for a second swim in the evening.

The pool was quite busy - it's school holidays, and today was the first sun after a couple of rainy days.

The beach across the bay at Coogee was very busy (though you can't tell on this photo).

One of my Christmas presents was a pair of neoprene, divers' rock boots. A timely present indeed, and one that I'll be wearing when I resume my coastal/ harbour swimming trek. A couple of times now I've come to grief on oyster shells or sharp rocks when swimming in unfamiliar rock pools.

Wylies Baths was established by Henry Wylie, who was famous as an underwater and long distance swimmer. He actually built the tidal pool itself by carving into the rock platform. His daughter was Mina Wylie, who, along with Fanny Durack, was one of the first two women to represent Australia at swimming in the Olympics. She won a silver medal in the 100 metres at the 1912 Stockholm games. Both Durack and Wylie were originally forbidden to swim in a race observed by men, and had to have a rule change before they could compete. Even then, they had to pay their own way and be accompanied by a chaperone.

There's a sculpture of Mina Wylie just inside the entrance gate to Wylies Baths.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Petersham Pool In The Rain

For the first time in many years, I didn’t swim on Christmas Day or Boxing Bay. I had badly cut my foot on oyster shells a few days earlier and it was still very painful. Then on Christmas Day it started to rain heavily. Even though my foot was healing, it wasn't a good idea to swim at the beaches or in the harbour because of possible stormwater pollution leading to infection.

So, off to one of the local Marrickville pools. This is Petersham Pool in Petersham Park.

When I arrived, in the pouring rain, there was only one other swimmer. Although it was raining, it was still very warm, and it felt great to be back in the water (chlorinated or not).

Petersham Pool is also (officially) known as the Fanny Durack Aquatic Centre after a champion swimmer from the early years of the 20th century who lived in the area. It's reported that she was the most accomplished (woman) swimmer in the world from 1910 to 1918, holding all the women's swimming records from 100 yards to the mile. She was also the first Australian woman to win an Olympic swimming gold medal.

Marrickville's other pool at Enmore Park is also named after a champion swimmer from the local area. It's the Annette Kellerman Aquatic Centre. In 1902 Annette held all the women's swimming records in the world. She went to Europe to give swimming demonstrations: swimming 42 kilometres down the Thames in 5 hours; racing 17 male swimmers down the Seine (finishing 3rd); and becoming the first woman to attempt to swim the English Channel. Annette pioneered synchronised swimming, and promoted women's rights to wear unrestrictive swimwear (being arrested for indecency in Boston for wearing a one piece swimsuit). She later had a successful career in Hollywood.

The pool is closed for rebuilding at the moment. Originally an indoor 33 metre pool, it will now (controversially) be extended to 50 metres. I remember that, on summer days, two sides of the enclosed pool could be opened, allowing the breeze to pass through. I hope that this facility will be retained in the new pool building.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Woolwich Baths Before The Storm

I went back to Woolwich Baths on a very hot, very humid afternoon. I really wanted to cool down in the water.

At this time of year, Sydney gets long humid days, often with a thunderstorm in the late afternoon. There was a big storm developing when I arrived at the baths.

I spent quite some time jumping off the wooden decking into the deep, salty, river water like a big kid.

Later I swam many breadths of the baths along the shark netting. Several times I even practised my very poor front crawl. After a while, I just floated along in the warm salty water.

As I left, the storm was building up to the north - west.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Little Bit Further Along The Swim

I thought that I'd cross another couple of tidal enclosures off my swimming list today. I knew I didn't have time to swim in many, but decided that I'd be happy if I could swim in the three pools remaining west of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The day started with a disappointment.

Tambourine Bay Tidal Pool

This sign greeted me as I walked across the reserve to the pool.

The baths, on the Lane Cove River, are still intact, but don't appear to have been used for quite a while. Time to press on to ....

Greenwich Baths

My photos (taken on a very cheap Tescos USB camera - as always) do not do justice to Greenwich Baths. The situation is pretty spectacular, with the city just across the water. There is a fair-sized sandy beach here too. It was a very hot day, and there were lots of kids cooling off in the shallows. There are lane ropes over near the shark netting, so off I went to try a few lengths of front crawl. Mostly, though, I just floated or duck-dived or enjoyed lazily swimming the Parramatta River.

The water was very warm (and very salty).

Balls Head "Tidal Pool"

This is the view from the steps as I was walking down to what each of my city road maps described as Balls Head Pool. These waters off Balls Head are over the deepest part of Sydney Harbour.

This is what I found - no swimming enclosure at all. Obviously, my maps are well out of date. The steps led down to the water's edge anyway, so I decide to go in for a swim. Carelessly, I cut my feet quite badly on the rock oysters. I swam around for a while in the clear water over sand and rock, until I started to think about blood in the water, sharks in the harbour and no nets. When I couldn't stop the sharky feelings, it was time to get out.

So, another disappointment. Next time, I must go east of the bridge to swim the tidal baths in Sydney Harbour, Middle Harbour and North Harbour. Then, it's on to the ocean rock pools of the north. This could take years.

Still to come:

Sydney Harbour
McCallum’s Pool
Clifton Gardens Baths

Middle Harbour
Balmoral Baths
Balmoral Beach Shark Proof Pool
Northbridge Baths
Garrigal National Park Enclosure
Seaforth Swimming Enclosure
Sangrado Pool
Clontarf Pool

North Harbour
Forty Baskets Beach Pool
Fairlight Beach Pool
Manly Cove Pool
Little Manly Cove Pool
Northern Beaches
Fairy Bower Rock Pool
Queenscliff Rock Pool
Freshwater Rock Pool
Curl Curl Rock Pool
North Curl Curl Rock Pool
Dee Why Rock Pool
Collaroy Rock Pool
Narrabeen Head Rock Pool
Mona Vale Rock Pool
Newport Rock Pool
Bilgola Rock Pool
Avalon Beach Rock Pool
Whale Beach Rock Pool
Palm Beach Rock Pool
Paradise Beach Baths
Clareville Beach Baths
Salt Pan Cove Baths
Bayview Wharf Baths
Hawkesbury River
Illawong Bay Swimming Enclosure
Brooklyn Baths

and possibly one I missed today - Lucretia Baths (I can't find it on the maps, but it's referred to in a Council document).

Monday, December 21, 2009

Continuing The Swim

In April, this year, I decided to swim in all the rock pools and tidal baths along the coastline of Sydney. My conceit was that I would adapt the ideas behind John Cheever's story, "The Swimmer" and Roger Deakin's book, "Waterlog". Essentially, I would swim along the Sydney coastline from South to North, using the ocean pools and saltwater public baths on the beaches, and in the bays and the rivers of Sydney. My only rule was that I must swim at least one length in the direction of completing the overall swim.

By the end of April I had swum the coast from Port Hacking at the southern limits of Sydney to the southern shores of Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) and The Parramatta River. On the way I had taken a dip in thirty-five pools, either ocean rock pools or bogey holes at the beaches or on the rock platforms, or tidal swimming enclosures in the bays or tidal rivers.

I finished my journey there, and decided to try to complete the North Shore section after the winter. Today I began the trek again. However, I only had time to swim two tidal baths, and will need to find quite a bit of free time to attempt the remaining coastal pools.

Henley Baths

Henley Baths is on the north shore of the Parrammatta River. It's a small swimming enclosure below a pocket park. It's in a small bay with a tiny beach. Most of the shoreline is stone walls built upon the sandstone rock. There are small boat houses and jetties along the shore.

Woolwich Baths

Woolwich Baths is on the Lane Cove River close to where it flows into the Parrammatta River/ Sydney Harbour. The water gets deep very quickly until it reaches about four metres in depth out under the enclosure and the jumping (strictly no diving) platforms. I had a great old time, flinging these old bones off the edge and into the warm depths.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Wylies In The Nineteen Eighties

An old photo of Wylies Baths, taken sometime after I first started swimming there in 1985. I was living in Coogee back then, and it was just a short walk down the hill to either the beach or the baths.

This was before Wylies was "saved". Though it has pretty much the same appearance today, some things are noticeable. The decking and stairs were in quite a bit of disrepair, and the men's and women's changing sheds and showers are reversed compared to these days. Actually, back then, you could only get a cold shower after your swim. This was fine most of the year, but could be a bit severe in late July and August. The solar heated showers of today are much appreciated by these old bones after winter swims.

The pool was only open to the public during the summer season (October to late April, I think). In the winter months you could become a private member and have your own key to let yourself in. You could, of course (and still can), become a yearly member, have a key, and let yourself in on hot summer nights, when the public had long since gone home.

Friday, December 4, 2009


Wattamolla is a sheltered cove in the Royal National Park south of Sydney. It has a large saltwater lagoon behind an ocean beach. Swimming here is absolutely wonderful. You can have a bodysurf in the cool ocean, then swim up the lagoon to the falls tumbling off the cliffs (avoiding the thrillseekers jumping off the cliffs). You can swim further up the north arm of the lagoon to Wattamolla Creek and follow the (comparatively) cold freshwater creek upstream to a series of waterfalls and an ephemeral swimming hole. I love sitting on the rocks under the cold force of the falls, then walking back down the creek to wallow in the warm lagoon.

Wattamolla Lagoon
Wikimedia Commons: Author: Klaus-Dieter Liss (Kdliss)

Looking from the cliffs where Coote Creek falls into the lagoon. Lots of people jump over the edge of the cliffs (despite the warning signs) to splash into the deepest area of the lagoon.

I have been coming down here to swim and to bushwalk for almost 25 years. I could never grow tired of it.

Wattamolla Lagoon
Originally uploaded by iansand

Originally uploaded by Margie & Ja

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Another Day At Bent's Basin

There's dangerous surf at all the beaches, so freshwater swimming holes are probably the place to be. There's also been a change in the weather, with temperatures dropping down to the low twenties and a cool southerly wind blowing. The water at Bent's Basin, however, is still very pleasant.

I love swimming right around the perimeter of the lake, or waterhole, alternating between breaststroke and sidestroke, or floating along on my back, looking up at the sandstone cliffs and the bush.

I came here after work today and spent an hour or more swimming (and taking photos).

After my usual circumnavigation, I swam across the waterhole, and climbed out to sit on the rocks. Usually it is very hot on the sandstone, but today the wind was keeping things cool.

Bent's Basin is about 60 kilometres south-west of the city. It's a deep hole in the Nepean River where it flows through one of many sandstone gorges. There's a camping ground here, and, I'm told, it's very popular with kayakers - though I've only ever seen swimmers when I've been here.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bent's Basin

I love the smell of cool freshwater on hot rock. Bent's Basin is a great freshwater swimming hole in the Nepean River in Sydney's west.

Bent's Basin

I enjoyed circumnavigating the water on the day I was here, lazily breaststroking, the only person swimming (though others were picnicking). The water was cool and the sun was warm. Afterwards, I lay on a rock, like a lizard, until I got too hot, and jumped back in for another ten minutes float.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Swimming In An Onsen

The last week or so, temperatures in Sydney have been incredibly hot, and it's been great to swim in the ocean and the harbour in cool saltwater. On Sunday it reached 41 degrees Celsius, and we complained again and again about the heat (except when we were splashing about in cool seawater).

I was remembering a holiday in Japan during their cold, snowy winter. We spent quite a lot of time (especially after skiing) soaking in onsens (volcanic thermal mineral springs). These baths, indoor and outdoor, are always over 40 degrees - precisely the air temperatures we're grumbling about here and now. Still, they felt rather special after the snow.

Most onsen, and outdoor rotemburo, were small, deep baths, with just enough room for a couple of people to sit comfortably. Sometime, they were large enough to do a bit of floating. But in Beppu, there was an onsen complex, Kitahama Termas Onsen, with an outdoor swimming pool sized hot spring. This was just great to swim around in, then we would vary this routine with the huge outdoor spa, the hot waterfall, the mist baths and the (very) cold "squall" shower and bath.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sydney's Heat Wave

It's been so hot in Sydney these past few days. I work out in the west (where it's always hotter than the city during the summer), and it's been in the high thirties (Celsius) for days. Friday, it reached 41 degrees in the west. The coast had temperatures in the high thirties, so I went to Coogee late on Friday night and swam in the ocean until I was shivering. I've spent a lot of time in the ocean at Mahon's Pool and in the harbour at Balmain Baths over the hot weekend (again trying to stay in the water until I can't stop shivering - but getting too hot again within minutes of leaving the water).

Today (Sunday) it was 41 + degrees Celsius across the metropolitan area. We went to swim at Yarra Bay on the north shore of Botany Bay. There's an old dock area there where you can walk along a wall and jump (or dive) into a very deep channel. There were queues along the wall today, as the kids lined up to jump off the wall.

These photos were taken at high tide. There's usually about a metre's difference at low tide - a more exciting prospect.

It's about 10 years since I've jumped off the wall. I'm not sure if these brittle, old bones would be up to it these days.

We left the channel to the kids and swam from the rocks near the beach. The water felt really cool. Sea temperatures are about 21 degrees at the moment, but that's twenty degrees difference to the air temperature.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Great Harwood Baths

The very place I learned to swim. Though I'd been to Wigan Baths before I came here (and to Accrington Baths long before that), I was a non-swimmer down in the shallow end clutching a kick-board. Great Harwood Baths opened in April 1967, and in July 1967 I spent much of the school holidays teaching myself to swim. My (swimming) friends were all down at the deep end, dunking and dive-bombing each other when the pool attendant's back was turned. Eleven year old me was left feeling sorry for himself in 3 feet of water. I had to swim. I managed to stay afloat and made slow forward progress using my own version of the dog-paddle. Struggling, spluttering and wheezing my way up to the 6 feet end, I was promptly sent back by the attendant. I had to modify this stroke to make it look more like front crawl. This was accomplished by flinging arms out of the water and making large splashes. Apparently, this was an acceptable stroke because I was allowed in the deep end with my friends.

Back at Wigan Baths, however, the school swimming class instructor was having none of my unconventional approaches to swimming, and I was put back into the non-swimmer group to learn breaststroke.

Great Harwood Baths

Photo © Copyright Mike and Kirsty Grundy and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Mahon's Pool

I went twice to Mahon's Pool today. First in the morning, at high tide, with surf crashing into the pool. I was swimming along the east wall, so I was getting rolled around a bit as the bigger waves hit the pool. I absolutely love it though.

The second time I swam there (it's been a hot, hot day) was at low tide. The pool was calm and I spent more time diving under the water than I did swimming lengths. I love all the rock pool life - the different seaweeds, the small fish, the anemones, the sea urchins and the starfish. While I was over by the wall at the deepest part of the pool, I realised that someone had built a small cairn underwater. It was only five flat rocks tall, but unmistakably a cairn. I couldn't resist diving down and finding a small, flat white stone to add to it. Some time later, when I was shivering and ready to leave the water, I found a small black stone at the bottom of the pool and placed that on the cairn as well.

Later I started thinking about Richard Long and his art made while walking across landscapes. It should be possible to do something similar underwater, in a cove or a bay perhaps, as you swam along or across it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Another Lazy Swim At Balmain Baths

What a way to spend the morning. Lazing in the early sunshine after swimming slow lengths in the cool seawater. I can't believe I didn't try Balmain (Dawn Fraser) baths before last year. It's one of my favourite swimming spots now.

I was lazing on the old wooden deck on a beach towel sipping a mug of tea. I could watch the water for hours.

The tide is ebbing and you can almost see the "beach" where the little kids play in the summer.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wigan Baths

About a year ago now, Wigan Baths closed down in preparation for the demolishing of the old pool and the building of a new swimming and leisure centre. I read about it about six months ago when I was searching for photos to post on this blog. We spent many a Saturday afternoon at the baths when we were kids, both before and after we could swim. School swimming lessons were also at the pool.

I didn't actually learn to swim at Wigan Baths (I taught myself at Great Harwood Baths - a splashing, struggling doggy-paddle, at first), but I spent a lot of time swimming here as an eleven and twelve year old. So I was a bit sad to hear they'd drained the pool and demolished the baths.

We used to throw a penny into the sixteen foot six end of the baths, then try to dive down to the bottom to get it. I can't remember any of us actually making it to the bottom. I do remember feeling the pressure as I swam down.

We all used to go up on the diving tower and steel ourselves to jump (never dive) from the second stage. The top stage was always roped off.

Wigan will be getting a new baths in a couple of years. Strange to think that these baths would've been new and modern when I first went to them.

Photos posted by Brian at

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Avoiding The Stingers At Coogee

The pool below the surf-lifesavers' clubhouse at Coogee Beach.

Last night, around nine, I was swimming here. Bright moonlight was shining on the bay. The light above the clubhouse was shining into the water of the pool. It was a warm night- great for swimming in cool, clear saltwater. Waves were breaking over the sides as I swam. I didn't want to leave. I kept swimming until I was shivering.

This morning, it was a different story. The onshore winds had brought stingers to the beaches. There was a bloke in the water fishing them out, but the waves kept washing more in. It' wasn't going to be fun swimming here.

The stingers were mostly bluebottles (Portugese Man-Of-War). The south and central areas of the beach were littered with them.

So I walked down to the south end of the beach, and along the headland, to swim at Giles Baths. The onshore winds were from the north-east, so this pool was in the lee of the point.

Free from stingers.

Clear, cool, wonderful water. A great swim.