(Image taken in September 2001. Author’s own collection.)
The 50-metre ocean pool at Dee Why now known as the Isa Wye Rockpool is easily reached by the promenade walk. The pool complex consists of an older main pool and a newer wading pool. This pool complex formed by mass concrete walls and incorporating an outcrop of sandstone on one side is a popular subject for photographers.
Oaks Avenue, Dee Why, NSW, 2099, Australia
(Latitude South 33 degrees 45 minutes 19 seconds, Longitude East 151 degrees 17 minutes 57 seconds)
A settler family left 200 acres of land adjoining the Dee Why Beach to the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army placed a wire-netting barrier all the way along the beach and threatened trespassers with prosecution.
Warringah Shire was formed.
1912 to 1915
After the beach was opened to the public in 1912, the Salvation Army closed its struggling industrial farm and began to sell off land for housing. The town of Dee Why then grew up.
Members of the Dee Why surf club founded in 1912 carved a pool about 20-foot square by hand out of the rock shelf at the southern end of Dee Why Beach.
On 14 February, a Swimming Bath committee was formed and decided to ask Warringah Council to provide the funds and engineering to enlarge the original rock pool. The surf club also undertook fund-raising.
The enlarged baths were officially opened on 27 December. The pool was taken over by the Council and further enlarged between 1919 and 1930.
Dee Why Public School opened.
Dee Why Ladies Amateur Swimming and Life Saving Club formed and affiliated with both the NSW Ladies Amateur Swimming Association and the Royal Lifesaving Society of NSW. The club quickly became a part of the local community and large crowds gathered each week to watch the club’s races. The club admitted men as associates or honorary members, who could not compete in races. The club also charged men a shilling (twice as much as women) to attend its fund-raising dances. The club agreed with Warringah Shire that parking fees for cars at the reserve would be expended on the baths.
In October, a Ladies Amateur Swimming clubhouse built of timber and located near the present IRB boatshed about 200 metres from the rock pool was opened. Members had raised money, Warringah Council had donated the land, local businesses had donated much of the material and volunteers had done most of the building work. Trustees were given the task of maintaining the rock pool. The club’s weekly races continued to draw huge crowds. Weekly bazaars were held at the pool with entertainment provided by the band of the nearby Salvation Army Boys Home. The principal of the Dee Why Public School asked that the school’s two best female swimmers be admitted to the Ladies Amateur Swimming Club free of charge.
Dee Why Ladies Amateur Swimming Club asked Warringah Shire for planks from the old Narrabeen Bridge to reinforce the bank under the clubhouse and counter subsidence.
The Trustees requested Council to undertake further work on the rock pool. There was a proposal to construct a concrete wall ‘to assist the intake of fresh water in the bath’. Mr Bailey’s scheme for improving the rock pool was adopted and work authorised. Part of the funding was raised from swimming carnivals and surf carnivals held by the local clubs.
Work to enlarge the baths was underway. Dee Why Ladies Amateur Swimming Club donated 2 pounds to Warringah Shire toward the cost of erecting a turning board at the baths, so swimmers no longer had to rely on a rock to turn. 1928 Dee Why Ladies Amateur Swimming Club succeeded in squashing a plan to convert its club house into a surf boat shed and discussed improvements to the pool with Warringah Shire.
A springboard was erected at what is now the pool’s 25-metre mark. The Northern Suburbs Ladies Interclub competition was staged. The Dee Why Ladies Amateur Swimming Club appointed delegates to the Dee Why Improvement League and the Progress Associations.
The main pool was 50 feet long and 25 feet wide and a pump had probably been installed.
Around 1930, large seas destroyed the northern and eastern walls of the Dee Why Bogey Hole which served as a children’s learn-to-swim pool. Although the Dee Why Ladies Swimming Club membership declined during the Depression, the club ran a diving competition and separate diving and swimming races on Thursday evenings. Storms often washed the diving board away and after one storm, the board was not replaced. The state body prohibited Dee Why Ladies Swimming Club from staging races in conjunction with the Dee Why surf club.
Due to financial distress, Dee Why Ladies Amateur Swimming Club deferred presentation of trophies and the club hired its clubhouse to the Scouts on Saturdays and over winter and staged a membership drive at the Dee Why Public School, the Brookvale Public School and at St Kevin’s Catholic School.
The Mona Vale Ladies Amateur Swimming Club and the Dee Why Ladies Amateur Swimming Club competed for the Warringah Shire Cup.
A proposal to remove the rock dividing wall between the main pool and the secondary pool as well as rock at the western end to create one large pool was not implemented. Council did approve the use of unemployment relief labour to cut steps and a pathway to the children’s pool in the rock at Dee Why Beach.
Council approved lowering the floor of the pool and the intake by a further two feet.
1937 to 1938
No diving championships were held as the springboard had been removed when the club couldn’t afford repairs to the matting. In 1938, Council donated surf club ropes to the Dee Why Ladies Swimming Club, which could use the ropes to provide lanes at the baths. The original clubhouse for the Dee Why Ladies Swimming Club clubhouse had been built over a water course. After it began to subside, it was demolished. Members worked to raise money for a new clubhouse, but needed more assistance from Warringah Shire. A 9-foot wide path was provided from Oaks Avenue to the rock pool.
1939 and 1940
After a few earlier attempts had failed, the Dee Why Men’s Amateur Swimming Club was formally established and had a solid clubhouse built next to the rock pool. Up till then, male swimmers had changed at the surf club. After the Dee Why Ladies Club’s new brick clubhouse, incorporating public dressing-sheds and toilets, was finished and officially opened, club membership grew.
A patriotic gala at Dee Why involving the Narrabeen, Collaroy and Dee Why clubs featured exhibition swims by Olympians Fanny Durack and Clare Dennis. This gala attracted a crowd of 600 and raised over 21 pounds for the Warringah Shire War Comforts fund. Dances raised funds for the National Emergency Service First Aid Posts in the district.
The club staged learn-to-swim campaigns targeting children at Dee Why Public School and at Stewart House at Curl Curl. It also offered gymnasium classes and formed a tennis club for its members. Dee Why hosted one of the six primary schools district swimming carnivals for boys and girls. The placegetters at those carnivals then competed in the PSAAA (Public Schools Amateur Athletic Association) Championships at the Drummoyne Baths on Sydney Harbour.
The Dee Why Ladies Club hosted its first state championship carnival.
Amid fears of that a Japanese invasion of Australia was imminent, Dee Why Beach, the reserve and the Ladies clubhouse were surrounded by barbed-wire and anti-tank traps were placed on the beach. To hinder the movement of enemy tanks, 30 timber piles were driven into the bed at the south-eastern end of the Dee Why lagoon and across the dry land to the Strand. Blinds were installed at the Clubhouse to ensure compliance with the light restrictions. To avoid identifying the area to an invasion force, the name of the swimming club was blacked out on the Clubhouse. Dee Why Ladies Club resolved that ‘in the event of the evacuation of children from the district, all junior point scores begin for the remaining juniors for the rest of the season’.
The Dee Why Ladies Club had more than 150 members and offered its members badminton tournaments, a drama club, gymnasium classes, dancing classes and netball games. The Ladies Club was involved in learn-to-swim campaigns at Richmond, Liverpool, Queanbeyan, Canberra, Wollongong, Kiama, Bourke and Warren. Club members also combined with the men’s club to teach hundreds of people to swim at the Dee Why baths. When a working bee from the Dee Why men’s club cleaned the pool, the Dee Why Ladies club provided morning tea. A Northern Suburbs Women’s ASA formed involving ladies clubs at Collaroy, Dee Why, Freshwater and Narrabeen ocean pools. Late 1940s The Dee Why Ladies Club staged water ballet and callisthenic displays at the baths. Dee Why Ladies Club combined with the men’s club to teach hundreds more people to swim at Dee Why Baths. Ladies Club members were involved in learn-to-swim campaigns at Nyngan, Warren and Narromine. The Ladies Club also offered callisthenic classes, fielded five netball teams and staged a fundraising ‘queen’ contest.
Thousands of people learned to swim at Dee Why Baths. The Principal of the Dee Why Public School asked the Dee Why Ladies Amateur Swimming Club to assist in teaching swimming at the baths. The baths hosted the Warringah carnival, a variety night and exhibition swimming displays by swimming stars, Lorraine Crapp and John Devitt, and water ballet performers from the Cabarita Ladies Amateur Swimming Club. A third clubhouse was constructed at the site, principally for the use of the men’s Amateur Swimming Club. But even after the building of men’s club house, the men’s club continued to meet in the Ladies club room The Ladies Amateur Swimming Club designed a blazer for its members, sought permission to hold races on Saturday so girls could attend Sunday school on Sundays and billeted children left homeless by the Maitland floods.
Ladies Amateur Swimming Club donated funds to help the NSW Amateur Swimming Association purchase an aluminium diving board for the Australian diving team to use in their training for the Olympic Games. The Ladies Amateur Swimming Club helped organise school carnivals. With over 250 members, the Dee Why Ladies Club was the largest women’s swimming club in the Sydney metropolitan area and entitled to send four delegates to the NSW Women’s Amateur Swimming Association. The Club staged its first ‘Father and Daughter Race’ and had 31 of its members (including one girl aged nine) competed in a half-mile swim. Dee Why Ladies Club staged a fashion parade and combined with the men’s club to teach 435 people to swim at Dee Why Baths.
The Ladies Amateur Swimming Club assisted with carnivals for the North Curl Curl Primary School and the Church of England Boys Society and raised funds for a new Ladies Amateur Swimming Club clubhouse. The final Northern Suburbs Ladies Amateur Swimming Association championship was staged. The Warringah Amateur Swimming Association Inc. formed and the Warringah District Swimming carnival was held at the Dee Why pool. The Association had 16 affiliated club were Avalon Bilgola, Collaroy, Collaroy Women’s, Curl Curl Ladies, Curl Curl Men’s, Freshwater Ladies, Dee Why Ladies, Dee Why Men’s, Freshwater Men’s, Manly Ladies, Manly Men’s, Narrabeen Ladies, Narrabeen Men’s, Newport, Queenscliff Ladies and the Queenscliff Men’s club.
Warringah Council decided to build a second storey onto the men’s clubhouse near the pool to accommodate the Ladies Club. Shire President, Cr Col Huntingdon, officially opened this Ladies clubhouse on 8 November 1970. Working bees developed a club house that was the envy of other sports clubs The introduction of daylight saving in 1972, the 50th anniversary year for Dee Why Ladies Club, meant Wednesday night club races were swum without floodlights. A new 25 metre by 10 metre wading pool was provided in 1973 inside the secondary pool, which had been much damaged over the years. Dee Why Ladies Amateur Swimming Club membership remained stable, despite ‘the popularity of indoor pools and clubs’.
The Dee Why men’s and women’s swimming clubs continued to stage Saturday afternoon races at the pool, though club membership dropped once the Warringah Aquatic Centre opened. The Dee Why RSL swimming club hosted its annual Black Swan carnival at the Dee Why pool followed by a lunch and presentation at the Dee Why RSL. As Dee Why’s beach and rock pool remained cleaner than some other Sydney beaches, the Dee Why Ladies Amateur Swimming Club membership started to increase. Recognising that blazers had gone out of style, the Dee Why Ladies Amateur Swimming Club produced club T-shirts, sloppy joes and track suits for its members.
The Ladies Amateur Swimming Club membership eventually dropped due to the accessibility of indoor pools with professional coaches and continuing public concerns about ocean pollution, despite the promised deep-ocean outfalls for Sydney’s sewers.
The Dee Why Ladies Amateur Swimming Club was one of the oldest ladies swimming clubs in NSW. Warringah Shire Council painted the exterior of the clubhouse and accepted the financial assistance from the Department of Land and Water Conservation to a maximum of $175,000 under the NSW government’s Coastal Management program for 50% of Council’s actual expenditure on upgrading the Dee Why pool. The pool was used by the men’s and ladies swimming clubs, the Dee Why RSL swimming club, the Master Builders Association swimming club and the Dee Why Ice Picks winter swimming club. The NSW Education Department had an arrangement for the Dee Why School and certain other schools to use the pools during weekdays. Warringah Council began monitoring water quality in this pool and its other five rock pools.
The pool was heritage listed by the National Trust. Dee Why rock pool was closed for two months in the winter and the $330,000 pool upgrade funded jointly by Warringah Council and the NSW Department of Land and Water Conservation was completed on time for the start of the swimming season. Warringah Council added special ramps to improve access, new outdoor showers, lights and handrails and installed an emergency button (a radio-based emergency response system) at the pool. As the upgrade did not include a change-room, parents and carers continued to change young children on the toilet floor unless a cubicle was free. On November 14, the amount of glass left around the pool by people drinking in the area on the weekend raised suspicions there might be more in the pool itself. Warringah Council workers emptied the pool to check if it contained broken glass. Swimming and surf club officials were notified of the pool’s closure and signs were posted around the pool to warn bathers that it was closed.
After taps on the pool’s newly installed showers were vandalised and repaired, their design was amended to make them more difficult to damage. A new emergency button was installed at the pool.
Warringah Council consulted the Dee Why Ladies and Dee Why Men’s Clubs, the Dee Why RSL Swim Club, the Dee Why Ice Picks and the Manly Warringah Builders Swimming Club about improvements to pool facilities. There had been complaints that club members and people with keys had better access to the pool than the general public. The Dee Why Ladies Amateur Swimming Club had become one of the oldest affiliated women’s swimming club in NSW and in Australia. A community safety audit of Dee Why Headland identified the Dee Why rock pool as a place where large groups congregated, consumed alcohol and indulged in anti-social behaviour and it therefore recommended that the pool be designated an Alcohol Free Zone (AFZ) on Friday and Saturday nights and that police foot patrols in the area be increased. The AFZ was established on 27 August 2002 to apply seven days a week.
As use of its club room adjacent to the rock pool was severely hampered by the current AFZ restrictions, the Dee Why RSL Swimming Club asked for the AFZ hours to be changed to take account of their club’s regular socials on Sundays between 11am and 1pm. Despite some concerns that the swimming club’s consumption of alcohol set a poor example to youth and the rest of the community and that swimming club members constituted a pedestrian and traffic hazard in the car park after their social events, Council agreed to limit the hours of the zone to 9am to 8am seven days a week until 30 June 2005, in line with the hours for Warringah’s other AFZs.
Regular swimmers urged Warringah Council to install showers and change-rooms. Council responded by investigating options for constructing public change facilities that could incorporate a viewing deck at some future date after the swimming groups raised the necessary funds. Council had already allocated $140,000 for providing these facilities and consulted the swimming clubs using the Dee Why pool.
Work to build a change-room on the end of the existing building was scheduled after April, as Council did not want to shut down such a high-profile site during peak season. Some pool patrons could boast 40 years of experience of regular early morning swims at Dee Why Pool during the warmer months of the year.
A plaque honouring former Dee Why Ladies Amateur Swimming Club president Isa Wye was installed at the pool.
Sydney’s Northern Beaches Council decided on 7 March 2019 that the ocean pool at Dee Why will now be known as the Isa Wye Rockpool.