O’ Wollongong! What a lot of pools you have! We have swum in Wollongong pools before, but now that we are seriously pool hunting, we just keep discovering more each day. We shall have to revise our list.
We rise early this morning to meet the lovely Kerry Kimbrey, who has very kindly offered to escort us to the Nuns’ Pool. This turns out to be wise as I don’t think we would have found it without her guidance. One of the oldest pools in the state, it gained its name from being used by the local convent school and the nuns would lead the girls there. This is not an easy pool to access, and it is shallow, so do not expect to do any serious swimming. But it is very special. Every pool we visit needs some sort of human intervention for our purposes, but what works best is where the intervention is at a minimum. The Nuns’ Pool is the best example I have seen of this, two short walls work as a dam to hold the water in at low tide, the rest is provided by nature. The bottom is stones and pebbles and the fish do not seem frightened. They nibble at my legs as I stand with Kerry at the dam, and we talk about nature.
While we are there, a woman climbs the barrier at the top and enacts a ritual in the cliffside. She has brought a bundle of twigs and unfolds and folds a piece of paper that she then tucks into the cliff wall. Is she saying goodbye, or has she written a would-be lover’s name on the paper and cast a devotional spell? Kerry and I ponder this as we enact our own ritual. Two women talking as we lean on the dam wall of the pool. There is no better place for ritual than in nature.
We check out the old Wollongong Ladies’ Baths on the other side of the headland, where solid steps have been cut into the rock for access. This is a ghost pool, a faint reflection of what it once was. The walls are falling into the sea and hold only a skerrick of water, hardly enough for swimming.
Then we head to the Gentlemen’s Pool a few hundred meters away. This was a pool that I had thought was no longer functioning and so had missed off my list. How wrong I was. It’s an excellent pool with which I immediately fall in love. The water is clear and deep – most rock pools you can stand in, but in the middle of this pool your toes cannot make contact with the ground. Again, there has been minimal human intervention – a single long wall serves as a dam against the ocean, the rest is nature’s offering. As the tide comes in the sea is now level with the wall, blurring the boundary to make the whole ocean your rock pool.
These are fine old pools, but I fear they are slowly receding while new pools – the Continental Pool, Shellharbour Pool, Thirroul Pool, Port Kembla Pool – are in the ascendant. These new pools are beside the sea and use filtered ocean water. I am pleased that councils have built them and can see they serve their community well. But they do not resonate in the same way as the old pools, the ghost pools being pulled back into the ocean, sustained only by our visits.