Sunday, May 24, 2015

Once More Unto the Beach Paul's Pictures Does Go: About Tidal Pools (AKA Rock Baths)

Being Seen in the Tidal Pool (Sydney May 2015)

Tidal pools, rock baths, ocean pools and bogey holes. These are just some of the names used to describe the outdoor swimming pools built on or into the coastline in Australia. Not common in other states, most of these pools are to be found in the eastern state of New South Wales, and especially in Sydney. Oh, and some people just call them swimming pools, or simply The pool. And bogey hole? Well that's easy: it refers to the less formal, less "built" holes in the rocks in which people like to swim. 

And people do indeed like to swim in these rock baths (that's what Sydneysiders call them, and as I am at least for now a local, I'm allowed to use the name) in great numbers and all year round as well. 

Kate Rew who founded the Outdoor Swimming Society in 2006 in the UK and went on to write a bestselling book called Wild Swim: River, Lake, Lido and Sea: The Best Places to Swim Outdoors in Britain (Guardian Books, London. ISBN 978-0-85265-093-6) defines wild swimming as:
swimming in any environment less subject to human control than an indoor public pool
She would approve of the multitude of places in Sydney where one can indulge in wild swimming in relative safety. The rock baths are open to the sea in all its moods (and they do front directly onto the huge expanse of the Pacific Ocean which can throw up its share of big waves and winds); swimmers are exposed to the sun, the sky and are right near or even on, the beach. The saltwater which washes into the pools (and has been known to wash swimmers out of the pools) is stimulating and healthy. 

And they are not only recreational: many of the pools host amateur swimming clubs which hold how to swim classes, social events and swimming carnivals. Water Polo was for a long time played in many of these pools, and diving competitions were held, though diving boards have been removed in more recent times as fear of law suits and insurance claims have scared local authorities into submission.

The pools are credited with being the cradle of the surf lifesaving movement in Australia. The skills acquired in the early days (rock baths began operating in the mid to late 19th Century) from activities such as diving, endurance swimming and in water sports like Water Polo, were seen as essential to the development of techniques used to save lives in rough waters

As surprising as it might sound to many, until relatively recently mixed open air bathing on beaches in Australia was forbidden. There were designated hours for men and for women and this rule was usually strictly enforced. In the late 19th and early 20th century a few entrepreneurs began to open pools which, though still segregated, were open all the time.

The pool in the image above is called Wylie's Baths at Coogee and it started life as a men only (the women had a pool at the other end of the beach which is more of a natural formation and is still there as well) pay as you go pool in 1907. Over time as beach bathing became more popular, there was a corresponding growing acceptance of mixed bathing (mainly due to safety concerns), Then, at a date I have been unable to determine, Wylie's became the fist ocean pool to offer mixed and family bathing. 

Ocean pools, rock baths, and even some of the bogey holes, are seen as relatively safe, family friendly venues for recreational swimming, as places to meet friends and even learn to swim. They have not only been a part of Australia beach culture for many decades, but have been pivotal in the very development of that culture. We also owe a great deal to these pools for their role in the development of the wonderful system of surf lifesaving clubs: According to the Surf Life Saving site, 615,000 people have been saved from drowning since this almost entirely volunteer movement started up in 1907 (that breaks down to about 17 lives saved every single day for 107 and a bit years Think about that.) 

Today, even as the temperature hovered only in the high teens (centigrade) Wylie's was still attracting swimmers, though I have to say, most people I saw could better be defined as poolside chatters (most fully equipped with coffee cups), with only a few actually jumping in.

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