Sea without a shark: australia’s ocean pools turn 200

Sea without a shark: Australia's ocean pools turn 200

They are as much a part of australia as kangaroos, the sydney opera house and crocodile dundee: the ocean pools, the swimming pools with seawater directly on the beach. Many of them offer spectacular scenery, separated from the open ocean only by a narrow wall of concrete.

Swimming in the pool has three big advantages: no current, no waves and no sharks either. In australia, that’s not entirely unimportant. This summer, which is just beginning on the other side of the globe, the pools will be 200 years old.

Their "inventor", so to speak, was an english lieutenant general named james morisset. As city commander of newcastle on the east coast – australia was then still a british convict colony – morisset decided in the summer of 1819 that he needed a private place to swim. So he had a basin blasted into the rock by the sea, which prisoners then had to straighten out. Today there are more than a thousand such ocean pools on the fifth continent.

Newcastle’s "bogey hole" is one of the smallest: six and a half by ten meters, only one and a half meters deep on average. No comparison to the most famous of all pools: the "icebergs" in sydney, directly at the world famous bondi beach. There, people swim in an almost olympic-size 50-meter pool on eight orderly lanes. Tourists are also allowed in, for the equivalent of not even five euros – for swimming or just to take photos. In any case, since instagram has become popular, even more are coming.

However, anyone wishing to become a member of the "bondi icebergs club," founded in 1929, must pass an entrance test. This includes having swum five australian winters (may to september) in a row, on three out of four sundays. To keep things simple, blocks of ice are dumped into the salt water at the opening of the season. But the water can also be quite cold. In addition, waves crash into the basin every now and then.

Sometimes, veterans say, ocean pools are "like swimming in a washing machine". But on other days it also feels like bathing in champagne. One man who should know is kenton webb. The 49-year-old from sydney is pursuing an ambitious project: swimming 1000 meters in each of 1000 pools. 521 he has already. "What I like about ocean pools? The taste of the water: real sea. Colors: green, blue, turquoise. Pure white when a wave comes. And the cleanliness: you can see the sand on the bottom."

Most ocean pools were built in the 1920s and 1930s, as part of government construction projects during an economic crisis. That was a time when many people couldn’t swim properly and therefore didn’t dare go into the ocean. And, of course, even then many were afraid of sharks. You’re mostly safe from that in the pools. Every few years, however, a shark does wash up in the basin – in sydney, most recently in october 2017. A woman quickly maneuvered the one-meter animal back into the sea.

In the meantime, ocean pools fell out of fashion. Even in australia, many cities preferred to build indoor pools that can be used year-round. The newest ocean pool dates from 1969. Currently, however, it looks like a comeback: currently, there are new projects in nearly a dozen coastal communities, some of which are well underway. Sydney architect nicole larkin has developed an interactive site on the internet with 60 existing pools in 3-D for this purpose.

City of ballina justifies rediscovered interest: ‘we live in an aging society’. Ocean pools allow children and elders alike to swim in nature without the risks of the ocean."In addition, seawater pools are much cheaper to build and operate than indoor pools, which have to be heated and chlorinated. Some also argue that in times of climate change, water resources need to be better used.

Kenton webb is far from such considerations. He plans to swim through 50 new pools next year, when he turns 50, on his way to setting a record of a thousand. Among the next targets is also a pool in berlin, not a pool at the sea, but at least a pool in the river: the "badeschiff" in the river spree. Once the australian even stood there in front of the door. But the pool was closed for renovation.