For the first time in more than a century, Sydney’s iconic Bondi to Coogee coastal walk is set to be without public access for a portion of the summer while a new pool is built. It’s just one of many seaside pools set to close around the city as a result of NSW’s redevelopment plans. But these are not just swimming pools, they’re spaces with history and meaning for people from all walks of life.
A series of recollections from 28 Australians, collected by Therese Spruhan for her book The Memory Pool: Australian stories of summer, sun and swimming, explore how these spaces have shaped our lives. From the smell of chlorine to water bombing, body shaming and a mixing of cultures, these are memories of shared social space.
Spruhan says there’s an important connection between these ocean pools and our identity as Australians. “It’s not just about the swimming pool as an architectural form but it’s about the social space, the community that is connected to it.”
While these pools are full of individual and cultural significance, their future is uncertain. Governments need to invest in them to ensure their sustainability, but they are also expensive and take years to build. In NSW, councils are unable to use their pool levies for new projects due to changes in funding mechanisms introduced by the state Labor government. This has already led to a backlog of projects worth $525 million. Blacktown mayor John Bleasdale is calling on the next NSW government to restore these funds.
These rock pools, from Palm Beach to South Cronulla are at the heart of local communities and rich in history. They are the inspiration for the exhibition The Pool currently on at NGV Australia. Photographer Vincent Rommelaere, from the Venice Biennale exhibition Australia Unseen, has captured their beauty and the voices of those who swim there.
NGV Australia’s The Pool is a visual journey to more than 30 rock and ocean pools around Greater Sydney. It is on display until February 18. The exhibition is accompanied by the book Australia Unseen: The Pool.