“Swimmers: take your maaark!” A sharp whistle, then three women take off from the deep end of Port Kembla pool.
They wear matching swimsuits, but this is where the uniformity ends.
Swimming breaststroke in one lane, freestyle in another and backstroke in the next along, the women go to the wall their own way.
“You do whatever [stroke] you can do,” Dawn Robinson tells the Mercury, from the bleachers.
“As long as you don’t end up on the bottom.”
It is Thursday, and as has been her tradition for the past 50 years, Mrs Robinson is swimming laps with the Port Kembla Mermaids.
A year-round social swimming club for ladies, the Mermaids time and keep records of their races, moving to Dapto heated pool for the winter months.
They are celebrating their half century with new royal blue jackets, embroidered with their namesake mythical sea creature.
There will also be a dinner and a trip to Sydney, though such outings are not uncommon for the Mermaids.
The club has cultivated decades-long friendships and true camaraderie.
“Swimming is a great leveler,” Mrs Robinson said.
“You can be rich or poor; you can’t hide much in a swimsuit.
The group was borne out of a Port Kembla backyard, where the owner allowed his heated pool to be used for therapeutic swimming lessons for asthmatic children.
The lessons evolved to include the childrens’ mothers, and other women.
“There were nine of us originally,” Mrs Robinson said.
“There was a time we were having competitions with other clubs from Corrimal and Oak Flats, but it’s been some years now.
“We’re the only one left.”
Cold wind whips the water’s surface at Thursday’s meeting.
Between races the women are a gaggle of suntanned limbs and chatter, with a vitality that belies their years.
They are, says Mrs Robinson, “preserved in brine”.
The group’s youngest member is 20-year-old Tamarra McInerney.
She likes how the women spur one another on and help each other, in and out of the pool.
“I think my generation sort of lacks that, unless it’s on Facebook,” she said.
The oldest Mermaid is Ruth Bayliss, 90.
The other ladies were there at her husband’s funeral; she has returned the gesture for some.
Injury has kept her out of the water recently, but she still turns up some weeks and stands at the end of a lane with a stopwatch, keeping time.