(Image taken in May 2003. Author’s own collection.)
An updated version of the 1920s continental pool. This pool embodies the changing face of swimming as a skill, a sport and a recreation. This is the most recent of the set of adult-size ocean baths between North Wollongong and South Wollongong surf beaches and the only one not created for gender-segregated bathing. Several versions of this pool have appeared on postcards. Now featured on the Wollongong Harbour Heritage Trail.
Cliff Road, Wollongong, NSW, 2500, Australia
(Latitude South 34 degrees 25 minutes 07 seconds, Long East 150 degrees 24 minutes 12 seconds)
A military garrison and stockade relocated from Red Point in Port Kembla to the boat harbour at Wollongong.
Around 300 convicts began excavation works and construction of a breakwater to improve Wollongong’s harbour.
Wollongong’s population was 831, comprising 330 free males, 286 free females, 47 soldiers and dependents (39 males and 8 females) and 168 male convicts in the stockade of Flagstaff Hill. Most of the population was less than 45 years old and most had arrived as free settlers.
Wollongong was one of the earliest municipalities in NSW.
Wollongong’s men and women could bathe together at the surf beach but were required to used separate rock baths. There was growing demand for a swimming pool that offered mixed or ‘continental’ bathing. A public meeting decided to construct continental baths as an amenity for Wollongong’s men, women and children and as a visitor attraction.
Volunteer work began to construct the new Wollongong Central Baths. The Illawarra Mercury printed the names of the all-male volunteer workers and thanked the two women who served afternoon tea to the volunteers. Total cost of the new baths was estimated as no more than 1,000 pounds with cost of the retaining wall estimated as 450 pounds.
Council was contributing half the cost and using stone from the excavation to improve local roads. The community was raising the other half of the funding required. The local public school contributed 67 pounds.
At the opening of the Continental Baths in March, Wollongong’s Mayor, N. M. Smith, read a message from Father Neptune urging the people of Wollongong to ‘assist their Council in keeping the baths clean and a thing of beauty’. The Mayor refuted rumours about the baths’ cleanliness and congratulated the Wollongong Swimming Club on its re-appearance. The program for the opening of the Continental Baths organised by the Wollongong Swimming Club included a 50-yard ladies race, novelty competitions such as the 50-yard Scout Handicap and musical buoys. A member of the Spit Baths Swimming club set a record in the 50-yard freestyle and backstroke events. The Wollongong town band played.
Council had taken over the project and completed the baths at a total cost to Council of 3,000 pounds for the pool (excluding the pavilion). The Illawarra Mercury considered the baths ‘likely to be one of Wollongong’s main assets’ and ‘amongst the best in the State’, once the dressing-sheds were completed. Funds for the baths came from a large sum borrowed by Council for town improvements.
Mr T. C. Goodsir, who had selected the site for the Continental Baths, was appointed as the engineer for Wollongong Council.
A carnival in aid of the Town Band Instrument Appeal was held at the Continental Baths for the opening of the pavilion designed by the town engineer. The program included races, diving displays and a ‘catch the ducks’ event with live ducks. The town band played. The mayor considered the new pool was one of the most progressive moves in the town. He urged the 4,000 people at the opening to protect the baths from vandalism.
Minor work such as improvements to the stairs and painting of signs on the walls was carried out after the opening. By then, the dressing-sheds at the baths had cost 4,500 pounds
Complaints of petty theft in the ladies sheds at the Continental Baths led to calls for the appointment of lady inspectors. Council decided to allow the caretaker at the baths to sleep on the premises in two rooms in the north end of the first floor of the pavilion and to take over the kiosk.
The Horne brothers, who leased the kiosk at the Continental Baths, improved the approaches to the dressing-shed by adding a retaining wall and a ramp.
A woman from the Sydney suburb of Ryde visiting the Continental Baths fell down its slimy steps, broke her arm and was taken by ambulance to a doctor and then to a private hospital.
The Wollongong Amateur Swimming Club opened the 1928 summer swimming season with a carnival at the Continental Baths. attracting a fair attendance and participation from Sydney’s Mosman Club. The club followed up with further sets of races at the Continental Baths.
By late 1928, over a hundred boys from Wollongong High were attending the baths regularly, including beginners being instructed in the ‘art of swimming’.
The girls annual swimming carnival was a marked success. Several girls had obtained the bronze lifesaving medallions and two girls gained silver Royal Life Saving Society medallions.
The NSW Education Department’s Christmas vacation swimming classes held at the Continental Baths in January attracted 180 girls and boys aged 9 years or more from both public and private schools. Wollongong was the only NSW seaside town to have the swimming schools, which were usually confined to inland towns with swimming facilities.
On hot nights, large numbers of people lounged on the cliff above the pool seeking relief from the heat. The Continental Baths were ‘a mass of bobbing heads and splashing arm and legs’, so crowded that it was almost impossible to walk round the side or on the space in front of the dressing shed.
The Illawarra Mercury suggested that Wollongong Council should clear the bottom of the pool and make it more even.
A large crown watched the Wollongong Amateur Swimming Club’s afternoon carnival at the Continental Baths in February. Local swimmers competed with swimmers from Bulli and Mosman. The Mosman Swimming club’s display of water polo was a novelty for most Wollongong residents. A night carnival staged by the Wollongong Amateur Swimming Club aimed to attract swimmers from all parts of the coast.
The Wollongong High School and Junior Technical School held their annual swimming carnivals at the baths. Swimming was encouraged at the Technical school, and its students gained 131 life saving awards and over 150 of its boys learned to swim between 1927 and 1929. Boys at all schools in the district competed in interschool swimming at the Continental Baths. The annual girls swimming carnival of the Wollongong High School included a beginners race and a six-oar race.
The North Wollongong Surf club assisted the Christian Brothers College to stage its first annual swimming carnival at the Baths.
Balgownie Public School asked to use the baths one afternoon a week and proposed its girls share their swimming session with one other school.
Wollongong Council decided to warn people whose dogs were found at the baths against further offences.
The NSW Education Department’s vacation swimming school again catered for boys and girls from public and private schools. The whole program of ten one-hour classes cost a total of two shillings per child. Olympic swimmer Harold Hardwick, then Superintendent of Swimming Schools for the NSW Education Department, said the Wollongong public school had 345 children older than nine who could not swim.
The carnival of the Wollongong Domestic Science School was praised for offering swimming, diving and novelty events including a balloon race, a six-oar race, a peanut scramble and a rescue race, as well as a display of swimming strokes by the school’s swimming instructor. The 1930 annual district swimming carnival for Girl Guides from Austinmer, Wollongong and Port Kembla included freestyle swimming, breast-stroke races, springboard diving, standing dives, diving for objects, a peanut scramble, a 25-yards swim-in-clothes, a mug-and-whistle race and a dry towel event.
Council allocated 15 pounds for labour to limewash the baths and two pounds and eight shillings for materials.
Wollongong’s Domestic Science School and Wollongong Junior Technical School held swimming carnivals at the Baths.
A carnival at the Continental Baths, arranged at short notice to the local swimming club, involved swimmers from Victoria, Western Australia, and Queensland as well as NSW swimmers and was considered a great stimulus to the swimmers of the district. A representative from the Speedo Costume Co attended this carnival. Olympian Ron Masters cut his finger on the rough bottom of the pool on his first dive and then criticised the pool’s poor facilities for diving.
Wollongong Amateur Swimming Club’s carnival at the baths included champion swimmers courtesy of the NSW ASA, competitors from Woonona, Mittagong and Goulburn clubs, as well as a display by US Olympian Jack Medica, a springboard diving display and an exhibition of ‘surf-o-plane football’. The Wollongong Amateur Swimming Club won the teams relay from the Sydney Visitors and the Wollongong Surf club.
Pressure for improvements to the Wollongong Continental Baths grew after the opening of the Port Kembla Olympic baths. Council officers and members of Council’s Parks and Gardens Committee inspected Sydney swimming baths. They concluded that apart from the North Sydney Olympic Pool, Sydney had few baths as fine as the Wollongong Continental Baths. The Sydney pools had entry charges as high as threepence per adult and a penny for children, but strangely ‘no ratepayers objected to these charges’. The Sydney pools were also better maintained. The Bondi Baths were emptied and cleaned twice a week, while this process happened no more than once a year in Wollongong.
The sea wall at the Continental Baths needed attention but ‘due to the urgency of extensive repairs to the present buildings’, Wollongong City Council was ‘not in a position at present’ to extend the building at the Continental Baths to provide a club room for the Wollongong Amateur Swimming Club. By December 1938, Council was considering the creation of a club room (for which the Wollongong Amateur Swimming Club would pay a small rental), along with the other extensive repairs and upgrades required at the Baths /
To hold its members together in winter, the Wollongong Swimming Club formed a Ping Pong Club. The Swimming Club opened its 1938 swimming season with an impromptu water-polo match and planned interclub and intraclub races, novelty events and a challenge water-polo event. A club member had donated a cup for the water polo match. By November, the Club was asking permission to place water polo goals at the Continental Baths at specified times. The Port Kembla Amateur Swimming Club and a Sydney swimming club from The Spit competed at the Wollongong Continental Baths.
Wollongong High School continued to use the Continental Baths for its carnival and its swimming classes for boys and girls. The boys were not interested in training for Royal Lifesaving Awards, perhaps because they were more focused on surf lifesaving qualifications. Girls had to content themselves with Royal Lifesaving awards, since they were not allowed to sit for surf lifesaving qualifications.
The Wollongong Amateur Swimming Club defeated the Port Kembla Amateur Swimming Club in their first water-polo match. Water-polo was acquiring enthusiastic participants and a large number of spectators. Head injuries to divers raised concerns that the Wollongong Continental Baths were too shallow and should be deepened from 7 feet 6 inches to 11 feet as ‘to place a springboard over such shallow water was to woo serious injury’. An 11-year old school boy was taken by ambulance to seek hospital treatment for a lacerated scalp.
By February 11, a lack of water in the Baths due to interference with the valve and the generally poor state of the Baths meant Wollongong had to postpone its swimming club championships, disappointing the crowd eager to see the water-polo match. The Wollongong Amateur Swimming Club’s annual carnival included teams from the Nowra, Port Kembla, The Spit, Woonona and Austinmer clubs and offered schoolboys events, a ladies event and an exhibition of breast-stroke.
As the only amateur club in the municipality, Wollongong Amateur Swimming Club was still seeking to have a clubroom created at the Continental Baths.
The roof of the flat at the Continental Baths was replaced, but it continued to leak.
Complaints about the cleanliness of the dressing-shed indicated a need for more frequent inspections.
Some 300 boys took part in the Christian Brothers College swimming carnival at the Continental Baths.
Though still operating without a club room, the Wollongong Amateur Swimming Club considered itself ‘the premier club of the South Coast’, based mainly on its success in competition with the Port Kembla Club at the Port Kembla pool.
At the twice-postponed Christian Brothers College carnival, more than 300 boys took part in a program including a ‘carry your chum’ event, underwater swimming, wading races, a treasure hunt, a ball chase, a rescue race, a cork race and a balloon race as well as freestyle, breast-stroke and backstroke races.
When a visitor from Annandale wrote asking Wollongong Council’s intention regarding compensation for injuries sustained by her daughter who walked through hot ashes along the side of the old Mt Pleasant tramway on her way to the Continental Baths, Council regretted the incident, but accepted no responsibility for it as the fire was neither lit by Council’s employees, nor sited on Council-controlled land.
A Boy Scouts district swimming carnival with diving events, relays and age races drew a large crowd. After Australia declared it was at war with Japan, fears of an imminent Japanese invasion of Australia constrained many activities in NSW coastal communities, including school swimming. The Christian Brothers College annual swimming carnival at Wollongong’s Continental Baths was delayed as the school had been disrupted by evacuation. The Wollongong High School carnival was held in December, due to a prohibition earlier in the year on outdoor gatherings.
Invasion fears had subsided allowing other concerns to come to the fore. At a Wollongong meeting on National Fitness, Miss Craigie, the headmistress of the Wollongong Home Science School, complained about the lack of facilities at the Wollongong Baths. Her girls had to use the Baths for one half of Friday afternoon, while boys from the Junior Technical School used them for the other half.
A November P.S.A.A. (Public Schools Athletics Association) district swimming carnival was planned.
Despite advice that ‘there could be no good club with the baths available at present’, the Wollongong Amateur Swimming Club which had been dormant for some time, reformed. Only nine local swimmers were still affiliated with the NSW Amateur Swimming Association (ASA).
The Wollongong Amateur Swimming Club championship at the Baths included a surf teams relay, where competition by the Bronte, North Steyne, Manly and Queenscliff surf clubs as well as local surf clubs provided the ‘best swimming that Wollongong has ever seen’.
Wollongong High had its annual swimming carnival.
A government grant funded the NSW Amateur Swimming Association campaign which provided instruction at the baths and aimed to teach as many people as possible in the State to swim.
The Wollongong Amateur Swimming Club was running boys and girls events at the baths. Its club championship carnival included underwater swimming and diving. Members were now training over long distances. A club carnival in February included music by the Wollongong Town Band, a breast-stroke race for visiting British servicemen, a demonstration swim by Australian swimming stars and participation by the North Steyne Surf club.
Fourteen schools competed in the primary schools swimming championships at the Baths. The Wollongong Junior Technical School held its swimming carnival.
While Wollongong was one of the oldest municipalities in NSW, parts of the present-day City of Wollongong once belonged to other local government areas. Central Illawarra Shire, North Illawarra and Bulli Shire were amalgamated with the Municipality of Wollongong to form the City of Greater Wollongong.
The Wollongong Swimming Club was complaining that the tidal Continental Baths were unsuitable for club championships, on account of the rough water, oyster shells, barnacles and the non-standard length (50 yards rather than 55 yards).
A storm washed a ship onto the rocks near the Continental Baths.
The Wollongong Whales winter swimming club began after two former members of the South Maroubra Dolphins winter swimming club canvassed local surf clubs to start a winter swimming organisation in the region. The Continental Baths now opened during the winter season.
The Continental Baths remained popular in summer only because ‘there just isn’t anywhere else to go for still-water swimming’. After years of complaints that the pool was drab and antiquated, and fears that the 1964 country swimming championships might have to be transferred to Nowra, which had a standard pool, the baths got a 20,000 pound facelift.
The upgraded Baths complex had a full-length Olympic pool of eight lanes, a smaller pool for beginners and a splashing pool for toddlers. The Mayor Alderman Squires claimed the new pool was both ‘a potential life-saver for hundreds of learner swimmers and a breeding ground of Australian champions’.
A group of women who enjoyed winter swimming met each Monday morning at the Baths.
Wollongong City Council was advised that the buildings at the Continental baths were deteriorating rapidly. Immediately a push began for construction of a new pavilion.
The City Health and Building surveyor said the pavilion’s structural defects posed a danger to patrons of the Continental Baths.
The pavilion at the Continental Baths was declared a danger to the public. There was a relay race at the Baths between the newly formed Illawarra Steelers football team and the Wollongong Whales winter swimming club.
There was a strong public opposition to Council’s proposed demolition of the pavilion at the Continental Baths.
After public outcry had forced Council to promise to rebuild the pavilion, the old pavilion was demolished and began construction of a new one begun. A group known as the Shark Baiters began swimming from a rocky outcrop behind the Continental Baths to North Wollongong each morning.
Council opened the new $510,000 pavilion comprising an amenities building and club rooms designed by Council’s Health and Building Department. Wollongong’s Lord Mayor Arkell, the President of the Wollongong Amateur Swimming Club, a member of the Wollongong Whales and the pool manager attended the opening. The Wollongong Whales Winter Swimming Club had donated $25,000 and the Wollongong Amateur Swimming Club $10,000 toward the cost of the pavilion. As the original cost estimates had been $330,000, there was controversy when aldermen realised how much the pavilion was going to cost.
Video coverage of the Uncle Toby’s ironman competition showcased the Continental Baths and the Wollongong coast. 1998 Illawarra champion ironmen and ironwomen from both the Kellogg’s and Uncle Toby’s competitions breakfasted at the Baths with a junior swim squad after a seven-kilometre workout.
Hundreds of people celebrated the Wollongong Whales 40th anniversary with a swim at the Baths and then 14 kegs of beer and 40 kilos of sausages at the North Wollongong Surf Club. A fter a big Saturday night, two younger member of the Wollongong Whales bunked down outside the Baths in sleeping bags at 2am to make sure they wouldn’t miss the Club’s registration day.
During the Open Up festival, ABC Illawarra broadcast Mitten Hill, a radio play by Illawarra playwright, Paul Rybak, that featured the Continental Baths.
The NSW Department of Sport and Recreation and the Pines Surfriders School conducted a Surf Awareness day at the Baths. Graffiti announcing a protest meeting about a proposed 12-storey hotel on Cliff Road appeared in huge letters on walls at the Baths. The Citizens for Coastal Protection group said they could not be responsible for the actions of every person who supported their cause.
Following community demands for improvements at the Baths to benefit both locals and tourists, the Baths gained new inlet pipes, amenities for people with disabilities and upgrades to both the men’s and women’s change-rooms. Natural hazards still remained part of the pool experience, as staff cleaning the big pool discovered a blue-ringed octopus nestled quietly in a dark hole in a corner of the pool.
The Wollongong Whales won the annual relay race at the Baths against the St George Illawarra football team and raised $6,000 for the Wollongong Hospital’s children’s ward.
The Shark Baiters continued swimming to North Wollongong each morning from a rocky outcrop behind the Continental Baths.
The biggest winter swimming club in the Illawarra was the 140-member Wollongong Whales club, which continued to raise money for the Wollongong Hospital Children’s ward. The Club’s annual relay race between the St George Illawarra footballers and the Wollongong Whales was declared a dead heat ‘due to dubious tactics from all involved’.
A fabulous pool party ‘Diving for Girls’ attended by more than 300 people celebrated International Women’s Day. The party featured competitive synchronised swimming, belly dancing, Floaties races, a dress-up relay, a fancy dress contest, a women’s circus, music, films and prizes for the best decorated flipper. It was a no-budget event run entirely on volunteer and donor power. The Illawarra Hawks had a recovery swim at the Baths.