MERCURY SERIES - Saltwater Sanctuaries
A thin band of concrete and stainless steel is all that separates the flat sheet of Bulli tidal pool from the heaving Pacific Ocean.
It's mid-morning. The Olympic-sized pool at Waniora Point lies quiet. A lone swimmer paddling slow laps along the northern wall is all that disturbs the water's turquoise glass surface. A family arrives, mum poking an umbrella into the sand as toddlers toddle to the kids' pool.
It is an unbeatable location. Far down the rocky outcrop jutting from Bulli Beach, it is almost impossible for shade to be cast on the water from the grassy headland above. The area is sheltered from noisy cars on Trinity Row by that headland, which also creates a handy sand dune for kids to scramble up and slide down.
But the main attraction is this pool, this still sapphire sheet sitting silently but for the odd ripple flickering over its surface. Where half the thrill at Austinmer or Wollongong pools is navigating - or waiting for - waves crashing over the edge, the Bulli baths are set so high it would take big tides to break over their walls. Waves toss and turn, tumultuous, but in the pool all is calm.
The narrow strip of concrete wall and steel guardrail keeps watch at sea's edge, simultaneously acting as makeshift starter's blocks for lap swimmers. The small pool's southern corner is buried by sand. A boy pokes and peers into the water outlets, plastic bucket in hand. Maybe he's looking for crabs. He gives up and tips out his pail before I can ask.
A toddler in a so-hot-right-now bucket hat and orange rashie stumble-runs to the small pool's edge, bravely dipping a toe in and casting a cheeky look back to dad trailing behind. Dad drops a boogie board into the ankle-deep water and bucket hat climbs aboard, the first step in becoming our next Sally Fitzgibbons.
The natural rock pools sit adjacent to the man-made ones, shallow basins brimming with crabs and fish and anemones waiting to be poked by grinning children.
These waters aren't populated by anklebiters today though. Mums enjoy a little "me time" under wide umbrellas as kids race plastic trucks on the sand and squabble over turns on the boogie board. Balls are bounced, buckets fill with sand, sea water is sipped by curious kids before an exasperated "no, no, don't do that" from mum.
Later, dad will take the children out into the big pool.
Mum raises an eye to the water to keep more careful watch. Where the sea is unpredictable and rough, the pool is calm. The same water flows in and out of both, but no doubt mum rests a little easier when the kids are in the pool rather than the surf.
Swimming history harks back 100 years
The big pool is 75 years old, 2013 its diamond jubilee year, but Bulli’s ocean pool history is even older.
Public baths known as the Floyd’s Rocks pool were built in 1903, fast becoming one of the most popular swimming spots on the coast. Before long, however, its popularity became its downfall – as early as 1933, Bulli Shire Council was being lobbied to build a new, much larger pool to accommodate recreational and competition swimmers, even after the Floyd’s Rocks pool was lengthened to 37 yards in 1916.
Built with an £1800 budget, the new Bulli Baths were unveiled in 1938 with much fanfare, including an opening swim meet attended by four Empire Games representatives.
The toddlers’ pool was added in the late 1970s.
The Floyd’s Rocks pool was eventually partially demolished, but the remaining concrete walls still jut out from the sand a little way down the beach.