I love the part in the “Life of Pi” movie where the hero explains how he came to be called ‘Pi” from the French word for swimming pool (piscine). Swimming pools have always been an obsession with me too: from the rough ones built into the Clarence River bank at South Grafton when I was a kid when immersion in water was a necessary counter to the cruel humid summers. To the sparkling unreal turquoise of the first modern pools I experienced in Sydney visits as an eight-year-old. And then there were Wylies’ Baths on the Pacific Ocean at Coogee when I lived there as an adult. Timber ramparts reach out from the cliffs like a modern-day fortress. You pay $6 to use the facilities and lounge on the timber decks with spectacular views, or descend down a timber staircase into the waters for a swim from the cement. In summer a masseuse sets up her table on the timber floor of the upper deck. Downstairs there are shallow paddle pools for the kids, but it’s all quite natural as well. No chlorine or even sand. And you find shade underneath the timber deck and buy food and drink and make a day of it.
When we returned to live in Coogee recently after a two year “harbour change” with views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and visits to the North Sydney Olympic Pool, it was like coming home. Not only because our daughter and two grandchildren were still here. But: How could we ever have left such an environment? There’s the beach at our doorstep and cafes galore to choose from. And then there are the pools, four in all: one at each end of the beach, and two on the southern foreshore of the Ocean. Wylies’ is the large one further to the south. But the interesting one that I have started to frequent more recently is the Women’s Baths, a little retrograde oasis in a modern more politically correct universe. The local council has allowed it to exist at least temporarily.
For just twenty cents that you throw through the iron grill door into a plastic tub, when no-one is on duty, you can swim and bathe in a deep rocky pool in the ocean, then sunbathe topless on the private grassy banks or scramble down onto the large expanse of rocks that leads to Wylies’ in the distance. Young Moslem women in scarves, heterosexual women, and gay women of all shapes ages and sizes are drawn to this pool, because of its privacy. It is monitored on a volunteer basis.
- Wylies, why not? (idswimthat.com)