There is no collective noun for pools so let me suggest one – a coogee of pools. This is to reflect the one kilometre in Coogee that has 5 pools, the densest concentration of pools on the NSW coast. The pools are (from north to south) Giles Baths, the Ross Jones Memorial Pool, McIver Baths, Wylie’s Baths, and the tiny Ivor Rowe rock pool.
I considered doing a 5-pool day but decided this would not do them justice because Coogee’s pools are not only concentrated but are also some of the best pools on the coast. Today I started at Giles Baths and ended at McIver Baths via the Ross Jones Memorial Pool.
The tide and the post-tsunami swell were against me even though I started late in the day. I can’t get in at Giles Baths because the waves are so high. Young boys crouch under the ocean-facing rocks as waves shout over them. The waves are coming big and fast, trapping a boy on an outlying rock. Every time he tries to get off, he glances behind him and sees a behemoth rolling towards him and has to take cover. After a few attempts to get off the rock, his demeanor moves from bravado to fear and a tremble creeps into his voice as he cries for help. The ferocious set of waves finishes, and he saves face by scrambling to safety. The adults shake their heads from the safety of the barriers.
Giles Baths is a near-perfect pool. It looks like a totally natural pool with a big channel to the ocean-facing north. However, a big block has been dropped in on the south side to make it into a more regular pool. It has a timeless entrance thanks to Mr. Oscar Giles who built a gym and hot baths in 1928 to complement the pools. The entrance echoes the grandeur of the art deco entrance at Newcastle Baths, both a nod to the British tradition of going to Bath in the UK to ‘take the waters.’
I end the day at McIver Baths, better known as the Ladies’ Baths where my good friend Kate F. is on the door. It’s the last female-only rock pool in NSW and has become increasingly contentious with regards to transgender rights. It has been a bathing spot for women since 1876 but gender is not as clear cut as it used to be. Who has the right of access to this beautiful space?
Not that you feel this contention while you are there, as flocks of women arrive late in the day to disrobe and bathe. Their smiles and chatter are relaxed as they ready themselves to take the waters. But I think about this as I arrive. The group in front of me are a mother and her children, all Muslims. On the rocks, the mother takes off her rose hijab and dress to reveal her modesty head-to-toe swimsuit. Her kids shriek their way to the water, and she chats on the phone. She can be here with her head naked to the sky because there are no men here.
Sites of the highest beauty and harmony in the world are often contested. Mark Twain proposed that there was no beauty like the beauty of Jerusalem, but beauty and harmony do not necessarily translate into peace. Diving into the waiting water I think from this trip that there is certainly enough beauty and harmony to go around.