Australian colonies – New South Wales
Tourism was important in the Illawarra district’s ports of Newcastle, Wollongong and Kiama as well as on Sydney’s surfcoast. In the Kiama, Wollongong and Waverley municipalities, all the public pools were ocean pools. By 1892, the emergence of men’s swimming clubs at ocean pools and other public pools had prompted the formation of the New South Wales Swimming Association, the earliest such body in any Australian colony. Swimming clubs did not, however, form at all of the ocean pools catering for men or at any of the colonial ocean pools allocated solely for the use of women and children.
Although Newcastle had the only surfside council in colonial NSW to develop English-style indoor public baths, Newcastle’s Council also:
- massively enlarged the Newcastle Bogey Hole and equipped it with dressing sheds boasting showers using water piped from a natural spring, and
- constructed a new ocean pool below Fort Scratchley. Known initially as the Newcastle Public Baths and later as the Soldiers Baths, this ring-of-rocks pool had bathing sheds for ladies and gentlemen.
Gender-segregated bathing hours ensured that Newcastle’s public pools remained primarily male domains. Although the Bogey Hole was very popular with men and boys, its openness to the gaze of men lying on the cliff above the pool led many women to prefer the indoor baths.
In the Illawarra region, the Men’s Baths were improved at Wollongong and Kiama, while the Progress association in the smaller port of Shellharbour coordinated development of an ocean pool to attract tourists. The swimming club based at the Kiama Men’s Baths outlasted the swimming clubs formed in Wollongong. Although Kiama’s women did not form a swimming club, they reportedly spent whole days at their unsupervised, free-to-use ocean pool, which had a pool for children separate from the main pool.
From the 1870s, Sydney’s Manly, Bondi, Bronte and Coogee surf beaches attracted many tourists, who regarded sea bathing as healthy and pleasurable, providing safety, respectability, convenience and affordability were adequately addressed. While Manly addressed the demand for seabathing by developing harbour baths rather than ocean pools, gender-segregated ocean pools at Bondi, Bronte and Coogee added to the pleasures of both holiday-makers and surfcoast residents.
From the 1870s, the Randwick Municipality’s men’s pool on Coogee Bay was being discussed not only as a bathing pool, but also as ‘swimming baths’. Unlike the Illawarra’s ocean pools, the Waverley’s municipality’s ocean pools at Bondi and Bronte were pay-to-use facilities intended to be financial successes and both hosted swimming clubs and school swimming carnivals. After the Head Centre of Lifesaving was established in New South Wales, honorary lifesavers worked with the established swimming clubs and with schools to provide lifesaving classes at the Bronte and Bondi Baths.