Monday, 12 January 2009

Blue Pool, Bermagui

While we were staying down the coast at Rosedale (see here - lots of beach swimming!) we took a trip down to Bermagui for me to have a swim in the Blue Pool. It was wonderful. Fortunately the sea water temperature has been quite good off the south coast this year. It was refreshing, but not overly cold.

Information from NSW Ocean baths website.

Trustees were appointed to the Bermagui camping area named to commemorate the visit by international novelist and angler Zane Grey, but their control extended only to the high-water mark and did not include the fairly sheltered spot for swimming between the rocks known as Blue Hole. That swimming place was less than half the size of the current Blue Pool.

Bermagui philanthropist Bill Dickinson initiated a project to develop the Blue Hole into a good-sized, saltwater pool. Unlike the seawater pool at Bermagui's Horseshoe Bay that was designed primarily for bathing, the Blue Pool would be suitable for training and competition swimming.

Following a visit to Bermagui, Eric Spooner, the NSW Minister for Works and Local Government, offered an additional grant of 50 pounds for Bermagui's headland drive and a grant of 200 pounds towards the cost of making improvements to the rock baths at Bermagui South, provided local residents raised a further 100 pounds.

By the time the agreement for the Blue Pool grant arrived in July, residents had already spent about 100 pounds on work at the pool. Local labour enlarged the original pool by blasting the rock away with dynamite, then shovelling the rubble into wheelbarrows and tipping it over the edge into the sea.

Spooner said he was aware that 118 pounds had been contributed locally to the Blue Pool project, but had suggested raising a further 100 pounds locally to match the government grant of 200 pounds. The local parties who explained the pool initiative had after all advised Spooner that local people could easily raise this amount and both he and local MLA Bate had each contributed a pound to the effort. Local fundraising would demonstrate 'acceptance of the principle that the government must not be expected to fund the full cost of local works'.

By then the Bermagui District Surf Life Saving Club believed that while they could not raise a hundred pounds, they could do work to that value. They later managed to raise 76 pounds, expected to have the balance by October 1937 and hoped that the pool would be available for the coming swimming season.

The Bermagui lifesavers sent Council a cheque for 88 pounds to cover their contribution to the Blue Pool project, and the council engineer submitted plans and specifications for erecting concrete walls and excavating rock to the Local Government Department. By November 1937, the Bermagui District surf club had spent an additional 12 pounds on excavation at the Blue Pool since Minister Spooner promised the grant. The Club believed they had received agreement from Spooner via their local MLA that this work, plus their 88 pound contribution fulfilled the requirement for local funding.

There were sufficient funds left from the headland drive project to erect the protective fences near the Blue Pool requested by the trustees of the Zane Grey Camping reserve.

The Mumbulla Shire Council contracted out the work at the pool. By February, the contractors at the Blue Pool had practically finished work under the original contract, but after discussions with the local member and the surf club, an additional 100 pounds was allocated to cover a flight of concrete steps, extending the rear concrete wall to cut off a wading pool for children and further rock excavation.

In May, Minister Spooner offered a further grant of 300 pounds for construction of a dressing-shed at the Blue Pool. Council had contractors construct the shed.

By January 1939, work on the dressing-sheds and subsidiary works at the Blue Pool was complete. Bermagui resident Bill Dickinson personally paid for concrete steps to replace the steep dirt track leading down to the pool, concreting the floor of the wading pool and the back wall of the pool and for two water tanks for use by picnickers at the Blue Pool. His total contribution to the pool project was at least 300 pounds. Council wrote thanking Mr Dickinson for his generosity.

The Local Government Department argued that Council should strengthen the pool's dressing-sheds, which were not strong enough to withstand heavy seas. The Local Government Department insisted the Council take full responsibility for any damage to the dressing-sheds by high seas. The changing sheds have since been washed away by high seas.

Fears of a Japanese invasion prompted the setup of a coast watch above the Blue Pool.
The Bermagui South Progress Association advised Council that the approach to the Blue Pool scoured very badly after rain, but Council was unable to take any action to gravel the approach.

The beautiful Blue Pool was considered good for swimming and snorkelling.

Though both the Blue Pools are flushed at high tides, a pump had been installed to maintain its water levels for the benefits of locals and tourists. A modern amenities block stood at the top of the cliff.

More widespread concerns about safety meant the Blue Pool, along with other NSW ocean baths and surf beaches, needed more warning signs and ongoing water quality monitoring programs.

A “See our Seas' coastal explorers workshop organised by the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre at Eden listed the species of plants and animal found at Bermagui's Blue Pool.

Funds were allocated to replace the public toilet and steps at the Bermagui Blue Pool.
Water quality monitoring demonstrated the cleanliness of water at both the Big Blue Pool and the Little Blue Pool.

Water quality monitoring gave a five-star rating to both the Big Blue Pool and the Little Blue Pool, which had 100% compliance with national water-quality guidelines.

'Bermagui's famous Blue Pool' is located well south of the Newcastle-Sydney-Illawarra strip that hosts most of the NSW ocean baths, but forms part of the fifth wave of ocean baths (Public works for public pleasure amid depression, war and rationing: 1939-1949) developed on the NSW coast. In its incorporation of a wading pool, the Blue Pool was representative of pools of the fifth wave of ocean baths. It is also representative of a range of ocean baths constructed with voluntary labour from surf club members and other residents.

The Blue Pool occupies a dramatic site on a rocky shore and has affinities with the nineteenth-century ocean baths sited well away from the beach sands such as the Newcastle Bogey Hole, and the women's baths created on the south headland of Sydney's Coogee Bay. Both of the Blue Pool's rather distant neighbouring formalised ocean baths at Ulladulla to the north and Eden to the south relate more closely to the beach sands.

Though not the first formalised ocean baths to be created in Bermagui, the Blue Pool was far larger and proved far longer-lasting than Bermagui's earlier ocean baths near the safe surf beach at Horseshoe Bay. Development of the Blue Pool demonstrated a desire to supplant a purely bathing pool, used mainly by women and children, by providing a pool complex with a far larger rectangular pool suitable for fitness training and competitive sport and a wading pool. It is also a far more formalised swimming environment than the Zane Grey pool to the south. Heavy community investment in the construction of this pool to provide safe shark-free swimming environment and a social centre has proved a wise investment.

Development of the Blue Pool also demonstrated the growing importance of motor camping and game-fishing for tourism. While Bermagui's earlier pool was located at a surf beach near the steamer wharf and village's best hotel, the Blue Pool was developed near a recently created camping ground named after Zane Grey, the American author and game-fisherman, who helped promote Bermagui as a centre for game-fishing.

Bermagui's Blue Pool is rare example of surf lifesavers spearheading the development of ocean baths, that, unlike most of the ocean baths created in the 1920 and 1930s, lacked ready access from a surf beach. Its closest counterpart among the twentieth century NSW ocean baths is the far less elegantly formal North Curl Curl pool on Sydney's Northern Beaches, located a considerable walk from the North Curl Curl surf club. That pool was never as significant a tourist attraction as Bermagui's Blue Pool.

The Blue Pool was not only one of the few Depression-era ocean baths projects to both attract a substantial donation from a local philanthropist (namely Bill Dickinson) but one of the few free-to-all NSW ocean baths of any era to be heavily subsidised by the philanthropy of a single private individual.

This pool has remained more significant for recreation and tourism, than for any form of competitive swimming and is well south of the Illawarra's Werri Beach pool, the southernmost of the NSW ocean baths linked to any winter swimming club. The Blue Pool has strong appeal for snorkellers.

A recent survey of plant and animal life at the pool demonstrated that the Blue Pool remains significant as a place where people can become acquainted with the plant and animal life of the rocky shore. Observing and photographing the nudibranchs can be part of the appeal of visiting this pool.

Assessed significance: Worth nominating for State Heritage Listing.

Current heritage status: Listed in 2002 in Schedule 6 (Interim Heritage Items) in the Bega Valley Local Environmental Plan.


The Boemelaars said...

There are several hardy souls who can be seen swimming here every morning all year round :)

Unknown said...

I continued to learn to swim here in 1965 with Mrs Sawtell after moving from Sutherland to Dignam's Creek before the Cobargo Pool was built.

Sally said...

Great to hear!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Sally, this is wonderful information on a wonderful place. I'm just wondering - i can't seem to find the NSW Ocean Baths site - do you or anyone happen to know if that site is still active or if it has shifted to a new address. A google search doesn't seem to be uncovering anything..

Sally said...

No, I can't find it anywhere either. So glad I copied some of the material to some of my posts. Seems to have completely disappeared. Having just finished swimming in all the ocean pools between Palm Beach and Manly (I'm gradually getting all the photos ready for here!), it's really disappointing.

Kanda Wills said...

does anyone know how long the pool is