There’s been a pool of sorts at Bronte since 1883 when it was known as ‘the bogey hole at South Nelson Bay’, but it wasn’t until 1887 that Waverley Council set aside 150 pounds to carve out a sea bath from the towering sandstone cliffs. Shortly after opening the council imposed a set of rules.
‘Gentlemen can bathe between daylight from 10.00am to 4.00pm each day. Ladies can also bathe at the same time daily, except Sundays and public holidays which are reserved exclusively for men.’
The rules also note that ‘each person using the Baths shall wear an appropriate bathing dress’. Entry to the Baths cost fourpence (adults) and tuppence (children).
Today, the best things in life are free.
In 1901, a young Solomon Islander by the name of Alick Wickam, a keen amateur swimmer, entered a race at Bronte Baths, astonishing the crowd with his speed and his unusual swimming style.
“..he swam with his head held fairly high, turning it quickly from side to side breathing with each complete stroke. The entry of his arms was short and towards the centre line of the body with the elbows well bent. His arm action was very fast and short. Each arm performed a symmetrical action with the head turning from side to side as if breathing on each side, but only breathing on one side to each stroke.”
The swimming coach at the East Sydney Swimming Club who was there at the time is said to have exclaimed “look at that kid crawling”….and so was born The Australian Crawl.
The baths’ most unusual swimmer arrived unannounced one day – a shark washed into the pool by a high tide and wild seas.
At sunrise this morning, the baths were sparkling and the tide was high…
As quoted in the Waverley Council website ‘One of the many famous swimmers at Bronte Baths was Olympian Evelyn Whillier (De Lacey). As an 18-year-old she represented Australia in swimming at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, two years later she won a gold medal at the 1938 Empire Games.
When Evelyn returned she settled in Bronte and became a Bronte Baths regular until her death in 2004. In her late 70s she could be seen in the water at 5.00am daily, summer and winter, swimming several kilometres as part of her exercise routine.
She was an active member of the Bronte Breakers and the Bronte Amateur Ladies Swimming Club, coaching and giving swimming lessons for more than 40 years. She is credited with teaching two generations of locals to swim.
When she was asked by an interviewer about life in Bronte she said:
“The beach, the smell of the surf and the sea, the walk back through the park – what more could you want in life?”