Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Angourie's blue and green pools

While we were in Yamba a couple of weeks ago, we dropped in to Angourie to visit the blue and green pools. A famous surfing spot, Angourie's fresh water pools are the result of the quarrying of rock for the Clarence River breakwalls in the 1890s. The pools were created when a spring was disturbed during excavations. The large, deep areas that had been dug out filled with water. And so, the blue and green pools were born. I am not exactly sure how they got their names but I think it is because the water in one pool was always quite blue and in the other tended to be green.

Back in about 1980 when I spent two weeks in Yamba with my uni friends we swam in the blue pool. I remember it was quite a unique and slightly unnerving experience being in such a deep, fresh water pool, just metres from the pounding waves of the ocean. The boys in our group had great fun diving and jumping into the pool from high rock faces around the pool.

Unfortunately it's a different story now. A sign at the start of the bush track that leads down to the pools, says their popularity as swimming holes has decreased in recent times due to water quality problems connected to algal blooms. So we didn't have a swim but both pools are still quite beautiful to look at and spend a few quiet moments beside.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Discovering Yamba's sea pool

On a road trip to Brisbane this month we stopped overnight at Yamba on the NSW north coast. As well as having a lovely dinner at Pippi's restaurant, the stopover provided a great opportunity for this pool-obsessed person to investigate the Yamba Sea Pool.

After a long drive from Sydney I was really looking forward to a swim. But as we got closer to the pool we were confronted by several signs saying: "Main Beach Pool Closed. Danger, Keep Away". "Oh well, I'll have a swim in the surf," I consoled myself. But as I was walking away I bumped into a local heading towards the pool. "Not having a swim," he said to me. "It's closed," I replied. "Don't worry about the signs, it's okay to swim," he reassured me. "If we get booked, we can share the fine," he added with a chuckle.

So after quite a chat with my fellow swimmer who I now knew as Paul, the soy bean farmer, I tentatively entered the 33-metre pool, not really sure if I should be in the pool. Built in 1969, the pool is starting to look a bit rundown. However when I suggested to Paul that it could do with some refurbishment he rejected the idea. "It has character the way it is," he said. And maybe he is right.

There's definitely something special about ocean pools. NSW has about 100 of them with a large proportion in Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle. Some of these pools are natural pools on rock platforms. Others like Yamba Pool have been formed when the rock platform has been deepened and concrete walls and floors have been added. Others are concrete pools located on rock platforms. It's a unique experience being in an ocean pool with waves tumbling in as you swim along. When the seas are big it's always great fun hanging on to the wall or the chain dividing the surf from the pool, and waiting for the force of the waves to crash over you or push you back into the pool.

The next morning when I returned to the Yamba Sea Pool for another swim, I got to the bottom of the mystery of the 'Pool Closed' signs. A man cleaning up around the beach told me that the pool hadn't been filling up properly but was okay now. The council just hadn't got around to taking the signs down.

If you'd like to know more about NSW's sea pools go to:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The wonder pool of Australasia

After an absence of more than 20 years, I recently returned to North Sydney Olympic Swimming Pool. I spent a lot of time at this pool during my high school years and into my 20s so my visit was a trip down memory lane. While there have been a number of additions in the past decade, including a 25-metre indoor pool, a gym and two restaurants, much of the rest of the complex hasn't changed.

The imposing grandstand where we sat for our school swimming carnivals is still there, as is the art deco plasterwork shells, dolphins, birds and frogs, which adorn the wall closet to the harbour. There's a new entrance to the pool, but the cavernous stairs that used to lead down to the turnstiles remain. The smell of the Ladies Change Rooms transported me back to my school days, and like a flashback in a film, I was surrounded by a room of giggling schoolgirls self-consciously undressing for a swim.

When North Sydney Pool was opened in 1936 it was hailed as 'the wonder pool of Australasia' because of the high standard of its facilities and the sophistication of its modern filtration system. It was built in the Stripped Classical Functionalist style with an emphasis on symmetry and a few touches of art deco. Treated and filtered sea water was pumped from the harbour to fill the pool. At the opening on 4 April, North Sydney Alderman CC Faulkner waxed lyrically about the quality of the water exclaiming:
"Imagine the most perfect sapphire in the world - colossal in dimensions, blue, with a radiance that dazzles yet soothes; that is what the water in the Olympic pool is like."
In the early days of the pool, locals were encouraged to swim in the pool daily for their health's sake as "there is a luxurious warmth about the pool water, a softness that caresses and invigorates, that stimulates and is health-giving."

As well as its distinctive design and spectacular location next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Luna Park, North Sydney Pool is famous as being the pool where 86 world records were set. It was the venue for the Third British Empire Games in 1938 and many NSW and Australian Championships. Between 1956 and 1978, the likes of Dawn Fraser, Jon and Isla Konrads, Lorraine Crapp, John Devitt, Shane Gould, Stephen Holland, Jenny Turrall and Michelle Ford set world records in the waters of this Australian icon.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A lifetime connection with pools

For as long as I can remember I have had a fascination with swimming pools. Whenever I am near one I have a terrible urge to dive in. After I have been in one, I have trouble tearing myself away from the comforting, womb-like, liquidy space.

As a child I spent hours poring over the designer pools in The House and Garden magazines my mother bought occasionally. Even better were the pictures in The Australian Women's Weekly of the Grimaldi family luxuriating around their sparkling blue pool in Monaco. The Shah of Iran's exotic pools with their ornate mosaic tiles would also draw me in. I would gaze at them longingly, wishing I could plunge in.

During my childhood I formed a close connection to two pools on Sydney's lower north shore: Northbridge Baths and North Sydney Olympic Swimming Pool. Northbridge Baths were a 15-minute walk down the hill from our family home, which my parents bought just before they married in 1958. I learnt to swim at the baths, was a member of the swimming club and spent countless hours there after school and on weekends with my siblings and friends.

North Sydney Olympic Swimming Pool became a big part of my life when I went to high school in 1973. Our school was not far from the pool and so all our swimming sessions and carnivals were held there. Leading up to the swimming carnival, I spent many early mornings practising for the races or honing our syncronised swimming skills for our team's water ballet - a highlight of the annual school swimming carnival.

For the past 20 years, Leichhardt Park Aquatic Centre in Sydney's inner west has been my pool of choice. While planes heading south to Sydney Airport fly overhead, it's a pretty relaxed spot overlooking Iron Cove and next-door to the rambling grounds of Callan Park, the former psychiatic hospital at Rozelle. Most mornings I swim 20 laps of the pool which is a great way to start each day. When I finish my session, I find myself hesitating, not wanting to leave the simple almost natural state I feel in the water. Eventually I draw myself away, knowing I will return the next day to enjoy the experience all over again.