50 years since Australia’s last ocean pool was built, coastal communities are calling for more
Newcastle’s Bogey Hole ocean pool was hewn out of rock by convicts. (ABC News: Kerrin Thomas)
It has been a long time since an ocean pool was built in Australia — about half a century — but that could be about to change.
Campaigns are underway in two towns on the New South Wales north coast to build an ocean pool.
But why did we start building them, and why did we stop?
Marie-Louise McDermott, who has done a PhD on ocean pools and is Chair of the not-for-profit organisation All Into Ocean Pools, said they were built by a society did not have strong swimming skills.
“The people who wanted to be in the water in hot summers needed a way to be in the water and be safe from the rip currents, safe from the bigger waves and safe from the sharks,” she said.
“That accounts for why there was suddenly this construction of pools in the 19th century from about the 1820s onwards
“The oldest constructed pool I know about is the Newcastle bogey hole which is back in the convict era.”
The Bogey Hole
Originally known as the Commandant’s Baths, it was hewn out of the rock face by convicts for Major James Morisset.
Ms McDermott said after the 1800s, there was a peak in the 1920s and 1930s funded through public works programs and again around the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 but soon after indoor swimming complexes became more affordable to build and there was a cessation in ocean pool building.
“Another reason is the regulation around the creation of ocean pools and the desire to protect the coastal environment starts imposing a lot of extra regulation and burdens on proposals to develop or even renovate ocean pools,” she said.
Ms McDermott is excited about the prospect of new ocean pools.
“Ocean pools — because they have to fit around their site — each place is much more distinctive,” she said.
“One indoor pool starts to look a bit like every other indoor pool — they’ve become much more standard.
“And I think what we’re seeing now is that pushback against the standardised facilities in favour of something that is much more unique, more specific to a place.”
The two proposals
Groups in Ballina and Port Macquarie, in northern NSW, have been pushing for new ocean pools for many years.
In Ballina, the group pushing for the pool includes Councillor Jeff Johnson.
“We’re hoping to get all this submitted and quantified before the state and federal elections in order to apply for some grant funding,” he said.
The proposal, for an ocean pool on a rock shelf between Shelly and Lighthouse beaches, has been several years in the planning.
“An ocean pool hasn’t been built for a long time so the planning framework has changed since the original pools along the NSW coast were constructed,” he said.
An ocean pool is also a step closer to reality in Port Macquarie, with the granting of $50,000 in State Government money to investigate the feasibility.
Fred O’Toole is on the Tidal Pool Committee and said the community is well and truly behind the campaign.
“18,500 people signed a petition for it,” he said.
“Clearly people want it.
“We do have an ageing population and they don’t like the surf.”
The feasibility study will explore three locations — Town Beach, Flynns Beach and Lighthouse Beach.
Marie-Louise McDermott said the proposed ocean pool needs to work with nature.
“If you don’t, if it’s not well-sited and well maintained it can just be washed away,” she said.
“You have to work with the environment … it will need less maintenance than one that isn’t, if it’s not well-sited it’s likely to get sand build up that will need to be cleaned out regularly.”
Professor Boyd created a geotrail at Port Macquarie, highlighting significant rock formations up to four million years old. (ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)
Earlier this year Professor Ron Boyd, from the University of Newcastle, developed a geotrail along Port Macquarie’s coast and wants to ensure a tidal pool does not affect the rock formations.
“The Geotrail has identified important geology at every headland between Shelly Beach and Town Beach so obviously you wouldn’t want to lose those important geological heritage items,” he said.
“All coastal rock platforms have really abundant wildlife and ecology.”
Why ocean pools?
Ocean pools are popular for a number of reasons.
Councillor Johnson from Ballina said it is a completely different experience to a regular swimming pool.
“Nothing really compares to jumping into an ocean pool down there with the beach view and just really being a part of that environment,” he said.
Beryl Britton lives near one of the proposed locations in Port Macquarie.
“I’ll be able to swim — I can’t swim in the surf,” she said.
“I’m too afraid of the waves, they’re too strong for me and I don’t like my face in the water so I’ll be very happy if I can swim in a tidal pool and have control over the water.”
“They’re this wonderful ambiguous in-between space, they’re somewhere between the safety of an in-ground or an outdoor pool and the full wild force of the ocean,” Ms McDermott said.