Sydney’s pool culture is widely celebrated, and most residents and visitors know of its many iconic swimming spots. Yet what may be lesser-known is the city’s unique feature: having more ocean pools than any other city. Gary Nunn explores this phenomenon that adds another treasured component to Sydney’s outdoor swimming experience.
Sydney’s ocean pools should first and foremost be seen as venues for “wild swimming,” according to Kate Rew, founder of Britain’s Outdoor Swimming Society. They can be found along Sydney’s surf coast from Palm Beach in the north to Cronulla in the south and provide access to nature while connecting swimmers with aquatic activity both recreationally and competitively, learn-to-swim programs, wave play programs, as well as valuable wave playing experiences.
Building ocean pools originated during the late 1800s as a means to provide safe swimming places free from strong waves and potential shark attacks. Marie-Louise McDermott, an academic and author who has written on this subject, states: “Sydney had long been focused on recreation around its harbour up until late 19th century; these little areas allowed people to do recreational swimming in surf without being overexposed.
Australia is blessed with many swimming pools that have long been part of our culture and history, often built by local communities to support coastal life and recreational swimming. Recently they have also been the subject of photographs and artworks at galleries. Recent exhibitions have drawn attention back to the mutually respectful relationships that swimmers can form with marine life and their own aquatic environments; encounters such as bluebottles, slippery rocks, sea urchins or even sharks may occur while in such environments.
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