(Image taken November 2001. Author’s own collection.)
Set at the foot of Newcastle’s Shepherds Hill and King Edward Park, this is the oldest of the New South Wales ocean pools. The pool has been much enlarged since the 1820s and has long been a popular subject for photographers and other artists.
Shortland Esplanade, Newcastle, NSW, 2300, Australia
(Latitude South 32 degrees 56 minutes 8 seconds, Longitude East 151 degrees 46 minutes 55 seconds)
A convict settlement was established to serve as a place of secondary punishment for convicts who re-offended in the colony of New South Wales and to create a harbour to ship the district’s abundant supplies of coal.
A natural pool on this site was enlarged by convict labour (according to popular tradition) or soldiers on instructions from Major James Thomas Morisset, Commandant of the Newcastle settlement from 1819 to 1822. There is no exact date for the start of construction or use of the 15 feet long, seven feet wide and six feet deep. ocean pool reserved for military use. As it apparently served for a time as Morisset’s private bathing place, it was for many years known as the Commandant’s Bath.
The convict settlement moved further north to Port Macquarie, a site considered more appropriately remote, after completion of Newcastle’s breakwater eliminated the need for convict labour and soldiers and Newcastle was becoming readily accessible from Sydney by land as well as by sea.
The Commandant’s Bath or ‘Accommodence Hole’ [probably a mispronunciation of ‘Commandant’s Hole’] was in use at least by male residents and visitors. The name later adopted for these baths was ‘Bogey Hole’ , a term also used for several of the ring-of-rocks bathing places along the NSW coast.
Railways connected mines to the port and simplified travel between Newcastle and the Hunter Valley settlements. The Great Northern Railway carried around 30,00 passengers in 1857.
Control of the baths passed to the Newcastle Borough Council for public use as a pool. Men and women were not allowed to use the baths at the same time. As the baths did not adequately address all of Newcastle’s needs for seabathing, citizens continued to agitate and plan for public sea baths.
In a dense fog, the SS City of Newcastle (an iron paddlewheel steamer engaged in the Sydney-Newcastle-Morpeth cargo and passenger trade) ran aground on rock just south of the Bogey Hole. Passengers and crew stepped ashore on a plank without even getting their feet wet. After remaining on the Bogey Hole Rocks for many years, the rusted remains of this ship were eventually reclaimed by the ocean. The steamer’s crank shafts are now on display in the Newcastle Maritime Museum.
On a day of heavy seas, a wave swept a powerfully built man standing on a rock ledge at the Bogey Hole some 30 feet over jagged rocks into ‘the well-known dressing cave’. Having sustained several nasty cuts and bruises, he wondered how he and his companion had avoided being killed outright. Mr Mundy’s experience was considered a caution to over-daring swimmers on like occasions.
Railways were drawing trade away from the steamship companies especially after completion of the Hawkesbury Railway Bridge project finally united the Great Northern Railroad to Sydney and the rest of New South Wales. Steam trams began operating in Newcastle, the second largest city in the colony of New South Wales
Council contracted out enlarging the Baths to their present size, which is about seven times the Bogey Hole’s original capacity. Locals urged construction of places for dressing and undressing, so that the improved baths would not become a white elephant. The improvements produced ‘one of the finest swimming baths in NSW or Australia’. It was ‘over 50 feet long and nearly as broad’ with a depth varying from five feet six inches to three feet six inches and a bottom ‘almost as smooth as a billiard table’ filled with pure sparkling sea water, so clear that one ‘could distinguish a button or a pin at the bottom of the deepest part’. Best of all, these baths had no problems with ‘sharks, stingarees or jelly fish’ and boasted an iron safety rail, access track and bridges, as well as stairs and ledges cut into the rock face.
After the Bogey Hole became ‘the aquatic hunting ground of the Newcastle larrikin and the most loathsome place of rendezvous in Newcastle’, police were urged to reclaim the area from the lurchers. Bylaws defined for Council’s indoor Corporation Baths also applied at the Bogey Hole. The baths catered mainly to male swimmers, with women only admitted only at set times.
Tenders closed for the caretaker role at the Bogey Hole. Perhaps influenced by British indoor public baths which were often combined with public wash-houses and used washing machines to launder their towels, Newcastle’s mayor undertook to make enquiries about providing a washing machine for towels at the Bogey Hole.
Newcastle Council had authorised its engineer to spend up to 30 pounds on repairing Bogey Hole ‘as is necessary for the comfort of bathers’. The Corporation of the City of Newcastle earned income from charges it imposed at the Bogey Hole, the indoor Corporation Baths, and the Ladies Baths (a bathing area at Newcastle beach).
Newcastle with a population of 50,000 was ‘the great emporium of the coal trade in the southern hemisphere and the port of shipment for nearly all the wool grown in the northern and north-western districts’ of the colony of New South Wales.
Council put the popular Bogey Hole in order and installed dressing-sheds and showers to use water piped 150 yards from a natural spring.
The Bogey Hole was considered thoroughly safe for bathers ‘except in the roughest weather and during high tides’, but was ‘largely patronised’ even in considerable seas. Its iron stanchions and chains were considered ‘efficient protection against the backwash’. The caretaker paid by Newcastle Council provided bathers with towels at a moderate charge. The Bogey Hole had become known as ‘the place where many generations of Newcastle boys have taken their first essays in natation … and breasting the billow’. The well-recognised dangers of surf bathing accounted for the people lining the paths to the Bogey Hole from early morn to dewy eve to ‘lave their limbs in the fresh and cooling wave’. During school vacations, the Bogey Hole was a ‘favourite place of resort with the youthful as well as the adult portion of the sterner sex’.
Newcastle’s retiring mayor organised improvements to the Bogey Hole to prevent bathers being violently dashed into the caves.
As Newcastle’s Soldiers Baths and its Bogey Hole were primarily for men’s use, closure of the indoor Corporation baths meant Newcastle’s women and girls had very limited access to good venues for learning to swim.
Waves were not the only source of danger at the Bogey, half a ton of rock fell down at the Bogey Hole in a single rock fall.
The Bogey Hole was ‘practically the only place in Newcastle where swimming can be taught, making it desirable that women and girls have access to it’. More than 100 ladies petitioned the council seeking to have more hours at the Bogey Hole reserved for use by women and children on weekdays and on Saturdays. Despite concerns that it might have to provide a female attendant at the Bogey Hole on those days, the Newcastle Council approved ladies use of the Bogey Hole on two afternoons a week. The males-only Merewether Amateur Swimming Club held its carnival at the Bogey Hole.
The males-only Merewether Amateur Swimming Club again held its carnival at the Bogey Hole.
The Bogey Hole was open from 6.30am to 5.30pm daily with ladies hours from 3pm to 5pm on Monday, Wednesdays and Friday and 10am to 12 noon on Saturdays. On Sundays, the baths were reserved for men’s use. 1928 The Bogey Hole Swimming Club staged a 60-yard handicap race at the Bogey Hole for a trophy donated by the Mayor of Newcastle. The club decided to race at the baths every Tuesday night.
Sixty to seventy swimmers in the pool, women using the dressing shed and boys sunbaking on top of the shed all escaped injury when a large boulder crashed from the cliff top though the women’s dressing sheds. The crashing boulder made a noise like a shell exploding. The build-up of sand in the baths was more gradual, but eight men were needed to shovel 20 tons of sand out of the Bogey Hole Baths.
Tenders closed for the lease of the Bogey Hole.
Baths were used by both sexes every day, but were in an unsatisfactory condition. The lessee, Mr C. Sage, applied to be released from his responsibilities on account of illness. Council’s advertisement for a subsidised attendant for the Bogey Hole Baths attracted no applicants.
Convinced that onsite accommodation could make the caretaker role appealing, Newcastle Council sought a Department of War Organisation permit to make improvements to Bogey Hole Baths and provide accommodation for its caretaker.
A rockfall ended the useful life of the newly created caretaker’s cottage at the Bogey Hole and injured its caretaker. A large boulder smashing into the caretaker’s cottage injured the Bogey Hole’s 60-year old caretaker Alexander Stevens and sent his wife into shock. Stevens was taken to hospital with a fractured skull and concussion, as well as abrasions to his head, hands and shoulder.
Newcastle Council did not use the 600 pounds set aside for a new shed at the Bogey Hole. The official handbook and programme for Newcastle’s 150th Anniversary (the anniversary of John Shortland’s finding the Hunter River) described the Bogey Hole ‘a swimming pool hollowed out of rock by convicts early in the 19th century for use by garrison officers’.
The caretaker’s cottage at the Bogey Hole was in a shocking state and being vandalised.
Council planned a new caretaker’s cottage in a new location to replace the older cottage abandoned after a boulder fell on it. 1952 Council’s engineer prepared estimates for new sheds at the Bogey Hole to replace the existing dilapidated and unhygienic shed. The 1,471 pounds for a new brick dressing-shed came from funds that Council had set aside to meet a basic wage adjustment that proved less expensive than expected.
Faced with revised estimates of some 2,100 pounds to provide the Bogey Hole with a new brick dressing-shed with sewer connection, Council questioned the logic of spending so much on a place so little used and asserted that swimmers at the Bogey Hole could go to Newcastle Beach to dress.
Late 1950s to early 1960s
Newcastle’s Greek Orthodox community began celebrating Epiphany services at the Bogey Hole that including the blessing of the seas traditional in the many Greek communities that rely on the sea for much of their livelihood and by tossing a cross into the Bogey Hole for the unmarried men of their community to dive in and retrieve. Finding the cross was thought to confer good luck on the finder. Motor sport enthusiasts became acquainted with the Bogey Hole bend featured in the MGF Mattara Hillclimb, a sort of ‘Bathurst 1000 by the sea’ motor sport event.
The public lavatory near the Bogey Hole remained a popular meeting place for gay men.
Newcastle Council accepted an offer of $300,000 for stabilisation of the Shortland Esplanade cliff. 1997 The Newcastle Bogey Hole gained a cyberspace presence. A Newcastle arts and media collective known as the Pod gained support from the Bicentenary Events Committee (BEC) to create a virtual Newcastle website (http://evolver.loud.org.au/vn) that allowed viewers to explore the city, walk along Newcastle Beach and take a virtual dip in the Bogey Hole.
Coastcare organised a sunrise guided coast walk from Nobby’s Pavilion to the Bogey Hole and back as a way of enhancing the historical and environmental understanding of the Newcastle coast.
A community safety audit recommended improved street lighting in the area near the Bogey Hole.
Only about 70 people and eleven swimmers attended the annual Greek Orthodox Epiphany celebration at the Bogey Hole.
A few hundred people attended the annual Epiphany celebration at the Bogey Hole. The Newcastle Knights rugby league team used the Bogey Hole for recovery sessions. The Bogey Hole was Newcastle’s only ocean pool without changing facilities and the toilet block near the Bogey Hole had gained such a bad reputation that it was demolished. Residents again pressed for improved street lighting in the area, as recommended in the 1998 community safety audit.
Council approved spending over $230,000 on landscaping, cliff stabilisation and a 500-metre long section of walkway through King Edward Park to the Bogey Hole as part of the Bathers Way walk from Nobbys through to the Glenrock recreation area.
Around 150 people attended the annual Epiphany celebration at the Bogey Hole. The Bogey Hole featured on 2001 corporate Christmas card from the Newcastle City Council, the Newcastle Tourism 2001 Calendar and in Daniel Arvidson’s Newcastle Song, the unofficial theme of the Newcastle Knights team that won the Rugby League premiership.
There were also a few less happy occurrences. A woman’s body was found floating off the Bogey Hole, but the circumstances were not considered suspicious. Another death was avoided thanks to pool patrons and the rescue services. After drinking for six hours, a man in his early twenties jumped from the Bogey Hole into open water. Bystanders threw him a boogie board to stop him being smashed against the rocks and he managed to paddle and drift around to Susan Gilmour Beach before being rescued by the Westpac rescue helicopter. In the third case, waves lifted a small disabled fishing boat and smashed it on the cliff face near the Bogey Hole. Another fishing boat rescued a fisherman who had facial injuries and a broken leg.
While the Bogey Hole bend had been a feature in the MGF Mattara Hillclimb for over 40 years, the cliff road running into the Bogey Hole was temporarily closed after boulders weighing 10 and 20 tonnes crashed from a severely eroded cliff face at Newcastle South Beach. This unexpected and disastrous rockfall meant Newcastle Council needed more funds to undertake comprehensive and essential work to stabilise the cliff.
The Bogey Hole was recommended for listing on the State Heritage register by the NSW Government on 14 February and listed in June. That month, a whale frolicked off Dixon Park Beach in clear view from the Bogey Hole.
The Bogey Hole area again demonstrated its dangers. Despite his friends’ attempt to save him, a 41-year-old man exploring rock pools at the base of a cliff at King Edward Park drowned near the Bogey Hole, after being swept from rocks when a big wave knocked him unconscious. A surfer discovered his body at Shark Alley on the northern end of Newcastle Beach the next day.
In a far more avoidable incident, a 25-year-old Cessnock man dived into the Bogey Hole, hit his head on a rock in shallow water and sustained severe spinal injuries. Other swimmers pulled him from the water and he was winched to safety by emergency services, just before a huge wave pounded the rock where he had been lying. The injured man had to be flown to a Sydney hospital for treatment.
Another rockfall near the Bogey Hole forced the Newcastle City Council to close the Bogey Hole on September 19. Work to remove a substantial amount of loose and highly fractured cliff sandstone, stabilise an oceanside cliff and complete the latest section of nearby Bathers Way walk was needed before the Bogey Hole could reopen. A huge boulder was discovered at the bottom of the Bogey Hole swimming pool
At the annual Greek Orthodox Epiphany celebrations, nine young men dived into the ocean waters at Newcastle’s Bogey Hole in search of a cross. In March, Newcastle Council completed the pathway extension through King Edward Park from Shepherds Hill to the Bogey Hole. The NSW Government had provided $490,000 towards the Shortland Esplanade cliff stabilisation project and $5,000 towards the Newcastle emergency management action plan to deal with high seas and high storm activities on the coast.