The Connection With Sydney Pools

The stories that surround Sydney pools range from the prosaic outdoor baths of concrete and grass found in suburbs around the country to iconic sites such as the North Sydney Pool, completed in 1936. But these pools also hold a more personal significance. They are places where we form our memories and connect with others. This is something highlighted in the exhibition at the NGV, The Pool, which brings together diverse voices to explore Australia’s connection with pools.

The exhibition and its accompanying book very successfully evokes a sense of place. Australians are incredibly passionate about their pools, which are much more than just a place to swim. They are historic, designed and “artificial” sites full of individual memories and shared social significance, as demonstrated by the voices captured in The Pool exhibition at the NGV.

One example of this is the story of Mettam’s Pool, in Woolloomooloo, a small rock pool that was built in 1935 by a former soldier to give local families a safe harbour swimming spot. It was popular with children who would splash about and play – a sort of community water park. It has since been refurbished to include diving platforms, a cafe and a boardwalk that provides shade. It’s the kind of pool that people drive out of their way to visit, and it is now rated highly on Trip Advisor with 4 1/2 stars.

But despite their social significance, pools can be hard to keep open. Many have been lost in recent years, including some of Sydney’s most famous, such as the Sydney Opera House Pool, a relic from 1902, and the heritage-listed MacCallum Pool at Cremorne Point, built as a rock pool as early as 1883 and now a small but deep harbour pool that’s long enough for laps and surrounded by deck chairs.

Another example is the pool at Kurnell, a suburban town in western Sydney, that was built in the 1930s by the community to provide a safe and convenient place for their children to go swimming. The pool was popular with families and a focal point of the community, with an active programme of events, and it was even used as a training base for the New South Wales Police swimming team. But the pool closed in 2017 and has yet to reopen.

A number of locals are trying to save the Kurnell pool. But their efforts face several challenges, including a lack of grant money and competition from bigger cities for external funding sources. It will be a test of whether they are willing to fight for this place that’s been a part of their lives for generations.

While the fate of many sidney pools hangs in the balance, there’s still time to save them if we can rally support. For more information about the campaign and to get involved, see their Facebook page. Penelope Rossiter is a historian and a member of the editorial team at The Conversation AU. She doesn’t work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations.