(Image taken in April 2003. Author’s own collection.)
Probably the most famous ocean pool in Australia, this complex is home to the Bondi Icebergs, Australia’s best-known winter swimming club. There’s an eight-lane main pool plus a children’s pool and an office/licensed club/restaurant complex developed by the Bondi Icebergs. Admission charges apply at this pool, which serves several swimming clubs, many regular swimmers and welcomes many tourists. The Bondi Baths have featured on postcards for decades before the Bondi Iceberg Club existed and this pool complex still attracts photographers and other artists and features in tourism campaigns.
1 Notts Avenue, Bondi Beach, NSW, 2026, Australia
(Latitude South 33 degrees 53 minutes 42 seconds, Longitude East 151 degrees 16 minutes 29 seconds)
Bondi is the home, fishing and swimming place for the Cadigal people. Aboriginal rock carvings at the Bondi Golf Course, Ben Buckler Reserve and the coastal walk at Mackenzie’s Point are now protected by State legislation
The southern end of Bondi Beach had a natural rock pool, which had become a popular swimming hole.
Waverley Council requested the building of public baths despite the Department of Public Works advising against building baths on the existing site, probably because Francis O’Brien of the Bondi Estate owned the frontage to the beach and so had the legal right to prevent access to the beach. Council asked the Department to reconsider its advice and implied that Council would be responsible for the baths after their construction.
The NSW government acquired 25 acres fronting Bondi Beach for public recreation.
Free public access to Bondi Beach was provided via the newly created Bondi Park. Bondi then became the most accessible, crowded and popular of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs ocean beaches
Bondi ratepayers petitioned Council for baths on the rock pool site and Waverley Council set aside 150 pounds for construction of baths at Bondi.
At Council’s request, the NSW government gave permission for Mr A. Williams, an engineer with the Harbour and Rivers Branch of the Department of Public Works, to design and supervise the construction of public baths at both the Bronte and Bondi Baths.
The NSW Department of Lands gave permission for the baths. Council obtained the lease at a cost of 25 pounds a year and set aside a further 297 pounds for the project. Council adopted regulations for the conduct of the Bondi and Bronte Baths. Torrential floods in April 1887 may have increased the construction difficulties.
In January, Council formally recorded its grateful appreciation for the satisfactory manner in which Mr Williams had supervised the work and for the NSW government for making his services available. In July, Council resolved to expend a further 160 pounds at the baths so they would be complete for the coming swimming season. In September, Council voted a further 158 pounds for dressing-rooms, fencing and completion of the baths. In November, the lease to manage the baths went to Mr C. Kindred, who offered five pounds per annum.
Waverley Council paid for dressing-sheds at the baths and called tenders for the lease of the baths. By-law number 145 of the borough of Waverley declared ‘Any person who, except in a public bath and proper bathing dress, shall bathe near to or within view of any inhabited house, reserve or place of public resort between the hours of 8 o’clock in the morning and 8 o’clock in the evening shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding five pounds nor less than five shillings’.
Bondi was still a sandy waste.
The Bondi Amateur Swimming Club began operating at the Bondi Baths. Said to be the second oldest swimming club in Australia and one of the oldest amateur bodies in NSW.
Philip Farmer leased the baths from Council for five years at 150 pounds per year. 1898/99 Membership of the swimming club grew rapidly and Council decided to extend the baths via a tender of 448 pounds awarded to Thomas Donahue. Work was completed by April.
Bathing in the sea between the hours of 9am and 8pm was prohibited by Section 77 of the Police Offences Act.
Lifebuoys and surf rescue line placed at Bondi Beach disappeared and there were complaints about half-naked bathers in the surf.
A Bondi Ladies Amateur Swimming Club formed.
Nine clubs and affiliated association formed the Surf Bathing Association NSW, forerunner of Surf Life Saving Australia.
Photographs show the baths and surrounding rocks were popular and that a plank spanned the single pool.
The Bondi Baths Life Saving Club was represented at the first meeting of the Surf Bathing Association of New South Wales (forerunner of Surf Life Saving Australia).
Members of the Bondi and Coogee surf clubs become the first lifesavers to gain Surf Bronze Medallions.
At a cost of around 1,300 pounds, the baths were remodelled and lengthened to 50 yards and had more change rooms added by E. E. Chambers.
Bondi Ladies Amateur Swimming Club ceased to be active.
The Bondi Baths Life-saving Club required room for 50 members, as Council had withdrawn permission for the club to occupy a room at the baths, even though club members paid baths admission fees to access this room. Waverley Council considered that as there was no surf bathing at the southern end of the beach, there was no need to maintain a surf club there. The Surf Bathing Committee appointed by the NSW government thought it was desirable to maintain a surf club in a good position to rescue bathers swept southward from the centre of the beach and even suggested constructing a small diving stage on the edge of the rock near the baths to assist rescue work.
The baths were lengthened to 50 yards.
The Bondi Ladies Amateur Swimming Club reformed. With more than 200 members, it was one of the largest women’s clubs in Australia. Bondi hosted the Eastern Suburbs district PSAAA (Public Schools Amateur Athletics Association) swimming carnival, one of five district carnivals.
The Hotel Bondi opened in 1920, the start of a boom decade for Bondi.
Though the water quality at the baths had deteriorated and the baths were in a bad state of repair and often overcrowded, further refurbishment was considered a waste of council money. Although Council officers recommended pulling the whole structure down and erecting a modern one, lack of funds meant no action was taken.
Demolition work at the baths. Council estimated 20,000 pounds was needed to construct new 330-foot by 60-foot baths but rejected an offer from Dorman Long and Co. (the firm that later built the Sydney Harbour Bridge) to construct baths on a 10% cost plus basis. 1926 Waverley Council asked architects Robertson and Marks to submit plans for baths estimated to cost 80,000 pounds that Council would borrow from the T. & G. Mutual Life Assurance Co. for 25 years. Council staff would operate the baths.
Council asked architects Robertson and Marks to submit plans for baths estimated to cost 60,000 pounds, covering buildings and pool and an extension of the promenade.
The Bondi Icebergs Club, Australia’s best-known winter swimming club was founded as a means for local surf lifesavers to keep fit during the winter months. Originally, the group of former lifesavers called themselves the Rock Spiders and swam at the Bogey Hole near the Bondi Baths and socialised on the nearby rocks with bottles of beer and pickled onions. Bondi Icebergs Club held races every Sunday morning at Bondi Baths and were regarded as cranks, for swimming during the winter months. Then as now, the Bondi Icebergs Club membership rules required swimmers to compete in the open-air ocean pool on three winter Sundays out of four, for a period of five years.
Schools held swimming classes and races at the baths.
Due to the Depression, Waverley Council decided to defer new baths and reconstruct the existing baths. The new baths would have resulted in a loss of 3,236 pounds after interest and repayments, given the estimated income of 3,900 pounds and expenditure of 2,528 pounds.
As Bondi was a rent-paying working class suburb, its residents suffered hardships during the depression. Unemployed people from near and far flocked to Bondi Beach in search of physical and mental health and affordable amusement and Bondi Beach became a national icon.
Work to reconstruct the baths started in April and finished in November. Improvements included two centrifugal pumps to increase the water changes and a two-storey concrete clubhouse with a caretakers apartment. The Mayor’s official re-opening of the baths and a carnival of the Bondi Ladies Amateur Swimming Club and the Bondi Amateur Swimming Club were held on 28 November.
The baths were remodelled.
During the 1933 school holidays, several people got into difficulties in the surf not far from the Baths. Dudley Williams of the Bondi Surf Lifesaving Club donned the belt and swam out. Surf champion, Ivo Wyatt from the North Bondi Surf Club, saw what was happening, dived off the Bondi Baths, swam out to Williams and helped him bring them in.
The Bondi Icebergs Club had 100 members, including many ex-footballers, cricketers, swimmers, golfers and tennis players.
A total of 91,987 people attended the baths, which were routinely emptied and cleaned twice a week. The Bondi Ladies Amateur Swimming Club had 300 members, making it the largest women’s swimming club in New South Wales and perhaps in Australia. The Club focused on teaching swimming and improving the standard of swimming.
The Bondi Icebergs Club formed cricket and golf clubs to compete with other district clubs.
The Bondi Icebergs Club had 150 members and record entries for its swimming races. Its arranged monthly dances for members and friends during the winter months.
1938 saw the Black Sunday mass rescue at Bondi Beach, where hundreds of people were rescued from the surf and five people died.
World War II was underway and after Japanese forces occupied Singapore, Australia feared it too would be invaded. Bondi Beach had its concrete piers razed and barbed wire installed along the length of the beach. Bondi residents practised air-raid drills and dimmed their lights at night. Some chose to move inland from Bondi.
In June 1942, two weeks after Japanese mini-submarines had attacked shipping in Sydney Harbour, Bondi was shelled from a Japanese submarine three or four miles out to sea and even more people moved inland. As the value of coastal real estate plummeted, rent controls were introduced freezing rents at 1942 values.
Attendance at the baths produced revenue of 1,383 pounds in 1944.
World War II ended in 1945.
A record attendance of 221,924 people including 127,312 children produced baths revenue of 3,225 pounds.
Attendance slumped with revenue of only 1,412 pounds generated in the season ending on 24 March.
Council’s tender booklet stated that Council had a lease of the baths site for 28 years from January 1 1953, while the site of the dressing accommodation was controlled by Council. The baths complex included a residence occupied by the Baths Manager in the ‘second concrete dressing bay at top level with access to Notts Avenue’, two brick cement-rendered pavilions towards the eastern end, comprising three concrete decks with locker rooms, shower and toilets for men, the women’s wooden pavilion at the western end with lockers, cabins for clothes, showers and toilets, leases granted to various swimming clubs (Bondi Amateur Swimming Club and Bondi Ladies Amateur Swimming Club) headquartered at the baths, - a main pool 55 yards long and 25 yards wide, - a children’s bathing pool 22 yards by 18 yards at the western end of the baths, and - two centrifugal pumps capable of pumping around 125,000 gallons of water per hour.
The average attendance was around 200,000 annually, with more children than adults paying to visit the baths. Some 1,000 children a week from schools in the Waverley municipality were allowed free admission to the baths on Mondays and Fridays during the summer season. Adults paid 9 pence for day sessions and a shilling at night, while charges for children were 3 pence and 6 pence. The baths hired out bathing costumes and towels as well as lockers and cabins.
The Baths children’s pool and its main pool were both popular. The Bondi Icebergs Club got a new clubhouse.
The Bondi Icebergs Club had a club room located in Bondi Baths. The Bondi Ladies Amateur Swimming Club had 370 members.
The Bondi Icebergs Club got a liquor licence.
A women’s water-polo team known as the Bluebottles formed .
The Bondi Amateur Swimming Club and the Bondi Ladies Amateur Swimming Club combined and continued to promote swimming, diving, water polo, learn-to-swim programs, synchronised swimming and the Royal Life Saving awards. Before amalgamation the Bondi Ladies Amateur Swimming Club had 230 members. The amalgamated club had 576 members.
A junior winter swimming club, the ‘minibergs’ formed.
All Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs swimming clubs were invited to the 80th anniversary carnival for Bondi Amateur Swimming Club.
When the prize for winning the 17th heat of the Bondi Icebergs Club winter swimming competition was unlimited alcohol for seven days, the winner managed to drink 297 schooners of beer and survive.
The pool was repoured using the existing structure as formwork. At this stage, the Icebergs maintained the lease and Waverley Council maintained the complex.
The Minibergs disbanded.
The Icebergs ranged in age from about 21 to 85 and modestly believed they were ‘setting the example for thousands of winter swimmers in about 30 other clubs around the country.’ Apart from swimming, the Icebergs had their own cricket, tennis, handball, golf, football, jogging and table tennis clubs.
The ‘Bluebottles’ women’s water polo team ceased to compete.
Surf pollution at Bondi was found to be 1,000 times above the acceptable level in 1981 and ‘blind mullet’ or ‘brown mullet’ were all too often encountered in the surf.
A junior winter swimming club, the Bondi Icecubes, was formed to cater for sons of Icebergs and junior lifesavers from the Bondi and Tamarama surf clubs. Both clubs contribute to charities such as the life-saving movement, the children’s hospital and bushfire appeals.
After extension of the Bondi Ocean outfalls system reduced surf pollution at Bondi in 1991, real estate prices soared.
Because the Bondi Icebergs Club wouldn’t let women swim with them, the Bondi Mermaids formed to give women the chance to join a club that swam in the winter. The club’s name (which recalls the sculptures that graced Mermaid Rock at Ben Buckler on the northern side of Bondi Bay in the 1960s and 1970s) didn’t stop men from applying to join the Bondi Mermaids.
Waverley Council commissioned a report from the University of NSW, which concluded that 60% of the building had concrete cancer. Council wanted it completely refurbished or pulled down and replaced by a new $2 million building which would no longer be licensed premises. Shocked by the suggestion of demolition, the Bondi Icebergs Club claimed they could raise $300,000 for renovations. Having received legal advice ‘to get out’, Council then passed the responsibility for the building and the baths to the Bondi Icebergs Club. The Bondi Baths Trust was formed to manage land and facilities, despite concerns about the effective privatisation of the Bondi public reserve.
By a notice issued to the Minister for Land & Water Conservation on 20 December 1995, Waverley Council resigned the Office of Manager of the Bondi Baths Reserve (R100245) Trust. An officer of the Department of Land & Water Conservation was appointed to manage the affairs of the Trust. The Bondi Icebergs Club Co-op Limited managed the site of the Baths.
Under pressure from Waverley Council and the impending anti-discrimination law, the first women were admitted as members of the Bondi Icebergs Club. The club saw the admission of female members as one of the keys to gaining community support for its redevelopment plans.
The Bondi Baths Reserve was Crown Land (Crown Reserve No 100245) within which the Bondi Baths and facilities were sited and tenanted by the Bondi Icebergs Club Co-op Limited with various other amateur swimming clubs as subtenants. Officers of Waverley Council met with the Administrator and a departmental official to receive notice of a development application to be made by the Club and lodged with the Department and Council for consideration under Part 5 of the EPA Act 1979. Radio station owner and advertising man, John Singleton, and property owner Andrew Griffith came up with a $10 million plan to rebuild most of the club, while maintaining many of its features. Their plan included a large (180-seat) restaurant, a change room and gymnasium for the Icebergs and space for six retail shops.
The Bondi Icebergs Club celebrated their 70th birthday still with a rule that required full members to participate in swimming races for three out of every four Sundays every month between May and September for five years to become an active reserve member who can then swim often as he or she chooses.
The Bondi Icebergs Club had about 500 swimming members who unanimously supported the Singleton scheme to redevelop the baths.
Their proposed redevelopment led the Department of Conservation and Land Management to prepare a plan of management for the Bondi Baths Reserve, which included the pools and the Icebergs. That plan detailed the activities permitted in the reserve, what needed to be done to the baths and what access needed to be provided for the public and was adopted by the Minister for Land and Water Conservation. There were council and community fears that redevelopment of the baths complex might facilitate the privatisation of Crown Land reserved for recreation.
As the complex fell within an ‘urban conservation area’ under the provision of the Waverley Local Environmental Plan (LEP), Waverley Council’s consent was required for the redevelopment. The Bondi Baths Reserve Trust asked Waverley Council for a contribution towards the cost of construction and installation of purpose-built stairs at the north-western end of Bondi Baths for safe and efficient lifesaver access. Council granted $2,000 towards the project and noted that while the stairs were used from time to time by lifesavers at the baths to rescue swimmers in trouble, most lifesavers accessed the water from the pool (deliberately or otherwise). Three years previously, Council lifeguards had rescued swimmers in trouble in this area by taking them across the rock shelf adjacent to the pool to get to the stairs.
When the pool was closed for redevelopment of the site, the Bondi Icebergs Club had 700 members, making it the world’s largest winter swimming club.
The Olympic Games were staged in Sydney and Bondi beach hosted the beach volleyball competition. Bondi figured in the Games’ closing ceremonies.
Skeet Booth and Damian Brinley exhibited a collection of photographs documenting the well-loved old Icebergs building at the Sydney’s Global Gallery.
The new Bondi Icebergs pool complex opened in March 2002 was large streamlined complex, housing a restaurant, the national headquarters of Surf Life Saving Australia and a clubhouse with fabulous views, a 50 metre, 8-lane main pool and a shallower 20 metre pool for children.
The Bondi Icebergs Club had 650 winter swimmers, but were only one of four swimming clubs based at the pool.
For only the second time in its history, massive swells forced the Bondi Icebergs to cancel one of the club’s weekend meetings.
The Bondi Mermaids had around 50 members ranging in age from 10 to 75, including 15 men. As well as swimming together, they also enter a team in the annual City to Surf run.
Eleven clubs from Bondi to Cronulla took part in the Southern Metropolitan winter swimming carnival at the Bondi Icebergs pool, where for the first time, women competed in similar age-group winter swimming finals to the men.
Newspaper photographs s showed rugby league players training at the Bondi Baths.
The Icebergs Pool featured in a QANTAS advertisement.
The Bondi Icecubes had become the largest junior winter swimming club in Australia with a membership of 95 boys and girls aged from 5 to 17 years and celebrated their club’s 21st birthday and raised funds for the Oncology Department at St Vincents Hospital.
The Bondi Icebergs Pool was praised as one of Sydney’s top ‘plungeworthy’ pools in the Australian Traveller magazine.
While Bondi Beach remained one of Sydney’s top three tourist attractions and has acquired the status of a sacred site, there were concerns that Bondi was losing its character and charm in the process ‘gentrification’ or ‘yuppification’ or ‘stylisation’ and dealing with eight million visitors a year. Despite problems with parking, traffic and crowds and alcohol-fuelled antisocial behaviour, Bondi continues to attract European backpackers, New Zealanders, migrants from Eastern Europe and South Africa. If English is Bondi’s first language, Russian is its second language. While renters long outnumbered homeowners, there are now roughly equal numbers of renters and homeowners.
The Bondi Icebergs Pool was praised as one of ‘Sydney’s most glamorous pools’ and a ‘glorious rectangle of seawater’ in the Sydney Morning Herald’s magazine. This pool offered more extensive facilities (sauna, cafe, change rooms) than most ocean pools as well as ‘the best view in Bondi’. While most ocean baths are free-to-use and open at all hours, admission charges ($4.50 for adults) still applied at this pool, which closed on Thursdays.
The Bondi Mermaids Winter Swimming Club hosted Sydney’s South Metropolitan 2013 Winter Swimming Age Championships at the Bondi Icebergs pool.
The Bondi Icebergs pool is only open until 6.30pm on weekdays and weekends.