MERCURY SERIES - Saltwater Sanctuaries
After 20 years of swimming at Towradgi rock pool, Phil Murray's routine is entrenched.
Six mornings a week, he heads for the edge closest to the sea, swims one lap, then stops, stands, and thinks to himself: "How lucky am I?"
After another eight laps, he angles himself slightly so the 10th and final lap is performed diagonally, so he finishes at the ladder.
"That pool is the highlight of my day," Mr Murray said.
"To me, it's an indication of how lucky we are to be living in Wollongong, or Australia even."
Mr Murray's laps grew uncharacteristically directionless one day in June last year when he spotted a shark - later confirmed as a wobbegong - swimming underneath him in the opposite direction.
It was nearly as long as he was tall. He turned and - fascinated - began trailing after the creature. Growing bolder, he reached down and gave it a pat.
"It just looked at me, then it kept going."
The wobbegong was a big story on the TV news that night, as the pool was closed and experts summoned from Sydney Aquarium to figure out how to return it to the open sea.
But as the Illawarra Mercury reported: "When a valve that lets water in and out of the pool was opened, the animal answered the call of the ocean, slipping through the pipe to freedom."
No such fanfare surrounded the visit of a soccer ball-sized octopus in the pool about four years earlier.
The creature first let its presence be known to Mr Murray by brushing a tentacle against his foot as he was about to leave the water.
Over the next few weeks, he kept tabs on his little, speckled companion, which eventually took up residence in the pool outlet.
"I used to dive down and have a look at it," Mr Murray said. "I loved that octopus. I respected it and it respected me."
Towradgi pool was one of the last built in the Illawarra, opening in 1964 after five years' work by volunteers and contractors.
According to a 1964 report in the South Coast Times, the first rock was blasted out in October 1959 and the first concrete was poured a year later.
East Corrimal resident John Carter spent a good portion of his teen leisure time helping out at the construction site.
There were explosives used sometimes and men from the neighbourhood - many attached to the lifesaving club - would jackhammer away at the black rock in their 1950s short-shorts.
The younger ones would help by carrying the smaller bits of rock away to a stockpile.
"There was a lot of excitement because we were going to get a pool," Mr Carter said.
"We were just kids, hanging around the periphery helping when we were off school and at the weekend. [Few people] had cars to go around and do other things - we just used to go to the beach."
The pool - 50 metres by 25 metres with an adjoining toddlers' pool - was opened on October 10, 1964, at an official ceremony in chilly conditions.
The South Coast Times reported: "Only one girl wore a bikini - and she pulled on a cardigan to minimise shivers."
Paul Brennan has been visiting the pool for more than 20 years, since before he moved to Towradgi from Engadine 15 years ago.
Back then, he would come to the pool's edge for New Year's Eve to watch the fireworks explode down the coast with a handful of others who knew of the site's festive appeal.
"Life's changed, but this is similar to what it was doing back then," Mr Brennan said.
"Scenery. View. Salt water. It's good for the skin, you're out in the sun, out in the environment. It takes away some of the everyday pressures."