(Image taken on 8 November 2002. Author’s own collection.)
Large (35-metre by 45-metre) baths just south of McIvers Baths. Located on the rock platform below the Grant Reserve.Entry charges apply. Near the entry stands a statue of swimmer Mina Wylie, who won a silver medal in swimming at the 1912 Olympic Games. The huge timber deck at Wylies offers great views to the north and provides shade below. As noted in Eileen Slarke’s book A Century of Wylie’s Baths, these baths and their distinct buildings and deck and diverse set of patrons have attracted many photographers and artists.
Neptune Street, Coogee, NSW, 2034, Australia
(Latitude South 33 degrees 55 minutes 33 seconds, Longitude East 151 degrees 15 minutes 34 seconds)
There are suggestions that the Coogee’s Aboriginal inhabitants had traditionally allocated the northern end of Coogee beach for men’s activities and the southern end for women’s business.
Coogee was gazetted as a village and the Coogee beachfront and headlands allocated as public reserves.
There were fewer than 20 houses at Coogee.
Opening of the Coogee Aquarium which offered a range of amusements, including an indoor swimming pool in a building with a distinctive large striped dome.
Australia champion underwater swimmer, Henry Alexander Wylie, who had previously operated the Bronte Baths, obtained a special lease for the area below the high-water mark, with the area above high-water mark being under Crown reserve. 1902 A Crown reserve was created for Wylies Baths.
The ocean baths, leased and constructed by Henry Alexander Wylie, opened as Wylies Baths on 12 December 1907. These baths offered a 55-foot by 35-foot pool with a natural rock base surrounded by concrete walls. It appears Wylie and his two sons cut the pool out of the rock at the southern end of Coogee Bay.
Nine clubs and affiliated associations formed the Surf Bathing Association NSW, forerunner of Surf Life Saving Australia.
Wylies Baths offered ‘family bathing’ , making it one of Sydney’s first baths to offer mixed bathing. 1912 Wylie erected the characteristic high timber boardwalk that encloses two sides of the pool, creating a spectacular cliff-side complex and a well-known local landmark. That deck had horizontal railings. A diving tower was added. Entrance fees were collected and swimming costumes were issued at the caretaker’s cottage. In the men’s change room, an opening in the roof encouraged nude or ‘natural’ sunbathing.
Members of the Bondi and Coogee surf clubs become the first lifesavers to gain surf Bronze medallions
‘Wylie’s Continental Baths Coogee’s Premier Pool’ was open for mixed bathing daily between 6am and 10pm. People journeyed to the baths to enjoy the protected conditions and queued for hours for to get a game of a volleyball-style version of quoits, the only out-of-water sport at the baths. There was a diving board and a water slide.
A massive shark net attached to the famed Coogee pier offered safe swimming day or night. The shark net’s 600-foot by 470-foot swimming enclosure could accommodate some 10,000 bathers at a time. This pay-to-swim facility with an admission charge of one penny attracted crowds of 30,000 a night for night surfing under floodlights. Coogee Beach was promoted as the safest surf beach in Australia and other coastal councils considered creating similar enclosures. The Coogee shark net was not maintained during World War II .
The pool was closed to the public after high seas badly damaged the pool and its buildings. Its popularity declined.
Wylie ceased to operate the baths.
The special lease was transferred from Walter and Wylie to Desmond Selby. The baths were refurbished and given a new identity as the Sunstrip Pool with its distinctive chequerboard railing around the timber deck. Hot showers were added along with a kiosk and shop on the boardwalk. Unfortunately, the new structures were difficult to inspect and maintain without erecting scaffolding. Construction materials included tram windows and tram runner boards used as benches. The Sunstrip Pool became the home pool for the South Maroubra Dolphins, founded as an off-season activity for the South Maroubra surf club.
The closing of the off-beach Coogee Aquarium Baths, led the Randwick & Coogee ASC to use the Sunstrip pool as its new headquarters, for its Thursday-night events for seniors and for its Saturday events, but its annual championship carnival was held at the inland Heffron pool at Maroubra. The club attributed the drop in its membership from 180 to 118 to the tidal conditions at the Sunstrip Pool, which also hampered learn-to-swim classes. The club’s Christmas party at the Sunstrip Pool, involved Santa being towed around the pool on a rubber raft.
Randwick & Coogee Amateur Swimming Club versus surf club carnivals were held annually. Difficulties with the pool management led the Randwick & Coogee Amateur Swimming Club to transfer to the Ross Jones Pool at Coogee. The baths were closed due to sea damage in May 1974.
Closure of the baths due to sea damage led to forfeiture of the special lease and to Randwick Council taking control of the baths.
The Randwick & Coogee ASC asked Randwick Council to re-open Wylies Baths, which had remained closed after storm damage. Council was granted a permissive occupancy by the Crown over the area pending completion of a special lease arranged with Council as a Trustee. In October after $20,000 of repairs, the baths re-opened under the control of Randwick City Council and were formally renamed Wylies Baths.
Under section 530 of the Local Government Act, Randwick Council established the Wylies Baths committee of management comprising representatives from the South Maroubra Dolphins Winter Swimming Club, Randwick & Coogee Amateur Swimming Club, the Coogee-Randwick RSL Diggers Swimming Club and the Coogee surf club. An annual competition for Junior Randwick & Coogee Amateur Swimming Club (ASC) members against the Coogee Minnows began in the 1978 season along with inauguration of the Coogee Surf Club trophy for the most outstanding 12-year-old swimming club member eligible for surf club membership.
Amid fears that Wylies Baths would fall down, Council allocated $142,000 for pool reconstruction. Plans were prepared by an architect, but no further action was taken due to concerns regarding minor public objections and possible detrimental environmental impact. Coogee surf club was forced to go outside the Randwick municipality to train, but around 2,000 school children continued to used the pool in summer. Wylies Baths remained one of the municipality’s main attractions.
The Randwick & Coogee ASC held its annual mile swim and swimathon at Wylies Baths. About 50 people attended the Randwick & Coogee ASC events on Saturday mornings in summer, about 120 attended South Maroubra Dolphins events on Sunday mornings in winter and about 70 attended the Diggers Club (that club also had access to its own indoor pool) events at Wylies on summer mornings. The Coogee surf club used the pool for rescue and resuscitation training.
The pool’s committee of management claimed that 350 children from eight local schools visited the pool weekly over the previous summer. The well-known open water swimmer, Des Renford, lobbied for the improvements to Wylies Baths, where tens of thousands had learned to swim.
1982 & 1983
Randwick City Council was still considering upgrading Wylies Baths to the standard of the Mahon pool at Maroubra and removing the fence to give open access. In the 1982 season, Randwick Council stopped its annual donation to the Randwick & Coogee ASC, but allowed clubs represented on the Wylies Baths management committee to receive a share of the kiosk profits. In the 1982 season, Randwick & Coogee ASC membership increased to 107, and 54 children took part in its learn-to-swim classes.
The change-room, kiosk and decking at Wylies required extensive repair work at an estimated cost of $150,000. Due to objections from a local residents’ group and problems with the lease of the site from the NSW Lands Department, only essential repairs were carried out to keep the pool fit to open. Randwick Council’s Plan of Management for the South Coogee Beach Reserve anticipated continued operation of Wylies Baths. On some weeks, up to 11 schools and 6,000 school children used the pool.
1986 & 1987
Randwick & Coogee ASC membership rose to 175, with an average of 100 people attending each of the Saturday morning events, 42 learn-to-swim certificates were awarded, and a paid swim coach offered free stroke correction classes to the younger members. By 1987, Randwick Council had spent 20 years discussing repairs to Wylies Baths. English Channel swimmer Des Renford and former test cricketer Frank Missen were among those who swam at Wylies Baths all year round.
Randwick & Coogee ASC celebrated bicentenary of Australia’s First Fleet by sponsoring a carnival for swimming clubs based at tidal pools in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. During the carnival, the NSW Minister for Sport, Michael Cleary MP, unveiled a plaque commemorating Olympic swimmer Mina Wylie.
As the State member, Cleary had obtained a $70,000 grant from the Department of Sport and Recreation for long-overdue repairs to alleviate leaks and dangerous conditions at the pool. Randwick Council was still seeking a special lease on the pool and had condemned the pool’s wooden structures on the basis of structural engineering reports regarding the need for major maintenance and reconstruction of the timber desk. Alderman Des Renford and others argued for keeping the baths open during repairs.
When Wylies closed for the season, it was desperately in need of repairs and there were doubts that it would ever re-open. Gate takings for the season amounted to less than $25,000. Over the previous 12 months Randwick City Council had spent $42,000 stopping leaks at the pool and was reluctant to spent money on the baths without a long-term lease. Local businessmen had suggested a $2 million restoration to include a public restaurant. Locals suspected the Council had no intention of repairing the pool and expected that a big sea would knock it over.
Only two schools were using the pool.
Swimmers were getting splinters in their feet, tripping over boards, getting scratches from split seats and using primitive toilet facilities. A thousand people signed a petition about Randwick Council’s failure to carry out repairs at the Baths.
At a protest meeting at the Baths about Council’s failure to restore the Baths, a hundred Wylies supporters claimed the baths were a special part of Coogee’s life and heritage and that just about every local kid had learnt to swim there, seeding development of the surf club. They demanded public ownership and control of the baths.
Sydney people were said to travel from as far away as Mt Druitt to swim at Wylies, which has the ‘magic only age brings’. Wylies Baths was an issue in the Randwick Council elections.
Eileen Slarke created a sculpture called ‘Sea Wall, Wylies Baths Coogee’ for the Macquarie University Sculpture Park.
Council’s announcement of the pool’s likely closure had lost it that year’s NSW Department of Sport and Recreation learn-to-swim campaign. Even among the clubs, swimmer numbers were down by half. Only a few diehard swimmers continued to use the Baths. Following State member Ernie Page’s intervention with the NSW Lands Department, Randwick Council signed a 25-year lease for Wylies.
The NSW government offered a further $260,000 for Wylies, matching the Randwick Council contribution for stage one of the pool restoration and Randwick City Council allocated $600,000. Randwick’s new Mayor, Chris Bastic, was also chairman of the Wylies Baths Management Committee and had campaigned vigorously for renovation of the baths during his six years on Council. The pool renovation was part of a wider state government campaign to improve conditions at beaches and pools.
Randwick City Council called tenders for the repair of the wooden structure of the Baths. During the renovations, a 50-tonne crane fell 30 metres into the Baths, narrowly missing swimmers
Restored and re-opened on 29 April after a long public campaign, Wylies Baths won the 1995 Francis Greenway conservation medal from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects for the restoration team.
From 1996, Wylies Baths were administered by a Trust comprising the representatives of four local swimming clubs, three local residents appointed by Randwick City Council and a representative of Randwick Council. Wylies Baths again offered free swimming lessons on Saturday mornings and also hosted the Great Inflatable Film Festival.
The Wylie’s Baths Trust installed a replica of the Greenway medal on the rock face above the pool. Wylies Baths hosted a Historic Pools night to celebrate the National Trust classification of more than 60 of Sydney’s historic harbour and ocean baths. Wylies again hosted another Great Inflatable Film Festival.
Wylies Baths again hosted the Great Inflatable Film Festival on Australian Beach Culture, which attracted over 1,000 people.
Three of Peter Elliston’s portraits of Wylies swimmers were installed at the International terminal at Sydney Airport in time for the Sydney Olympics. Randwick City Council reported on water monitoring in the Wylies Baths as part of its State of the Environment report.
Eileen Slarke’s book A Century of Wylie’s Baths highlighted the painters, writers and artists (including Jeffrey Smart, Peter Kingston and photographers Mark Spencer, Peter Elliston and Ian Lever) whose work celebrated Wylies Baths and their environment and the significance of Wylies Baths for local poets, radio programs and as a location for TV and photo shoots.
The NSW Government recommended Wylie’s Baths, one of Sydney’s most popular ocean baths, for listing on the State Heritage register.
In September, a team of scuba divers using special underwater concrete patched up the almost century old walls of the pool at Wylies Baths to get the pool into good condition by the October long weekend. Before their repair work, the water level in the pool had been dropping about 18 inches at low tide. Other upgrading work at Wylies included improvements to the concrete pool surrounds and to the stumps supporting the decking.
The Wylies Baths Trust, which leased the pool from Randwick City Council, paid for the pool upgrading, which cost over $300,000 with funds raised from admission charges, function fees and kiosk earnings.
Three women, who often travelled from Sydney’s inner west to yoga classes at Wylies Baths, helped replant the shrubs vandals removed from the clifftop near the baths.
Wylies Baths were praised as one of Sydney’s top ‘plungeworthy’ pools in the Australian Traveller magazine. Swimming in the pool with its natural rock floor was likened to being in an aquarium at calm times and ‘like swimming in a washing machine on spin cycle’ when strong waves come over the pool walls.
Wylies Baths was praised as one of ‘Sydney’s most glamorous pools’ and a ‘national treasure’ in the Sydney Morning Herald‘s magazine. Besides the huge timber deck, it offers hot showers, a massage service and yoga classes. While most ocean baths were free-to-use and open at all hours, admission charges ($3.00 for adults) still applied at this pool which was open 365 days a year from 7am to 7pm in the summer daylight saving period and from 7am to 5pm the rest of the year.
Yoga and Pilates classes are held on the pool deck year round. Massages are also available on the pool deck.
Official Wylies Baths merchandise can be purchased online via the Wylies Baths website.