We live at the northern end of the beach in Coogee. This was once the “poor cousin” side of Coogee Bay, with dilapidated buildings and a rusting dome on top of the Coogee Palace. It’s now a favorite place to dip and swim for young and old alike. At high tide on these early summer mornings, the smell and taste of salty sea and brine is as invigorating as the fresh feel of the 21 degree waters on the skin. For a long while these baths were privately owned as part of a men’s only baths.
We downsized from a house to an apartment in 2011, after our children had grown up and left home. Moving into a smaller space without storage was difficult, but we’d found a flat in walking distance to the sands of Coogee Beach. My husband likes pointing out the little bit of our building that he can see through the trees, when he is in the ocean. He has decided that this will be where he has his ashes scattered—in the sea—after his passing. I find it hard to think forward to the next cup of tea. But I love this place too.
The Gateway to Giles Baths
The arch by which you once entered the original baths building has been retained by the council. On the wall inside this arced structure is a sombre list of the names of Coogee residents who were killed in the Bali Bombings of 2002. Eighty-eight
Australians were killed, out of a total of 200, including twenty from Sydney’s Eastern suburbs. Five of them belonged to an amateur rugby league team called “The Dolphins”, who were celebrating the end of the footy season.
The young women in the photo at Giles Baths (above) are reading the names of those killed in the Bali Bombings.
Giles is now unenclosed and open to all today. Surprisingly, there are “women only” baths on the southern side of Coogee Bay, next to the larger “Wylies” public baths.
The Memorial Sculpture
The grassy hillock above Giles Baths has been renamed Dolphin Point in honour of the five young sporting lives lost to the Bali bombings in 2002. The ocean views are superb from this locality, with high cliffs reaching down to the waters and to the public baths below. It’s a sobering shrine, but it reflects, for me, the notion of infinity, especially with the backdrop of the sky, blue sea and shimmering horizon confirming the metaphor. A remembrance day occurs each year on 12th October at this site .
The Shrine to the Virgin
In December 2002, the proprietor of a well-known laundry in North Coogee looked out at the view from the doorway of her premises, and saw a surprising spectacle: a vision of the Virgin Mary shimmering at the end of a white fence that bordered the cliffs above Giles Baths. The spectre could be seen plainly only when the sun was shining, notably at about three o’clock in the afternoon. When news spread of this phenomenon, hundreds of spectators and faithful pilgrims turned up to see for themselves the apparition.
Many believed it was a sign from God, wanting to offer comfort to those suffering from world conflicts and fear for the future. Others scoffed at the idea, saying it was merely an illusion formed by sunlight, reflected from a white wooden post. Journalists named it the “Lady of the Post”. At least three research papers conducted by universities, pointed to outpourings of collective grief and fear as a rational explanation for the apparition. It was several weeks after the Bali bombings, and the time leading up to the War in Iraq. Then something all-too-human occurred: the fence was kicked down by vandals and the laundress was abused and threatened. Once the Council stepped up and mended the fence, the apparition had disappeared. And the crowds stopped coming.
Some true believers constructed a makekshift garden shrine, added small statues, artefacts, photos and notes about the sightings. They continue to tend the garden and to look after the shrine until this day. See newspaper article: The Fathers, the Sun and the Holy Post
The Impressionists’ Seat
This monumental sculpture in the form of a public bench on high stilts was created by Eileen Slarke in 2005. It honours the impressionist artists who painted coastal scenes of Sydney in the late 1800s, some of them from this very spot, overlooking the beach. Sculpted faces and busts of Charles Conder, Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton form the metal back of the seat. Children love to climb up the wooden ladders and sit on the high seat, kicking their legs and laughing down at their parents who are taking taking photos of them.
The Dome and the Coogee Pavilion
The (now) blue-and-white Coogee Pavilion dome has dominated the Northern Coogee sky for decades. It once capped the famed Aquarium and the Coogee indoor baths.
In August 2014 the building re-opened as the Coogee Pavilion in a $30 million+ renovation by the Merivale group, and its director Justin Hemmes. The young developer has created an imaginative and amazing project beneath the dome that has been re-named the Coogee Beach Pavilion.
It is a modern space with an industrial/marine theme inside, decorated with eclectic touches and old world furnishings chosen by Hemmes’ sister. It successfully invites and welcomes several paradoxical demographics, including mothers-and-babies (mornings downstairs), schoolchildren (holidays in games rooms), sophisticated diners (restaurants) and clubbers (upstairs bar areas).
The Coogee Aquarium and Swimming Baths were officially opened on 23 December 1887. The Palace included an indoor Swimming pool (25 x 10 meters), an aquarium featuring the tiger shark from the famous shark arm murder case, a Great Hall that could be used as a roller skating rink, Canadian toboggan ran down the hillside for over 70 meters, a herd of 14 donkeys to ride as well as swings, whirligig’s rocking horses, toy boats, aviaries, flower beds, bandstand and an open-air bar. (http://dictionaryofsydney.org/building/coogee_aquarium_and_swimming_baths)
In June 1945, a strong storm caused the large dome to collapse; in 1987 the Coogee Palace and Dome were re-built and converted to restaurants and bars.