What’s Up With the Sydney Pools?

Whether serene at low tide or choppy and cold at high, Sydney’s ocean pools are some of the world’s most beautiful. And while they may not have all the bells and whistles of a modern swimming centre, these aquatic wonders are free to swim in and, at least during the warmer months, one of the city’s best ways to cool down in the Pacific.

Meegan Zen tasked herself with figuring out what was up with these pools along the shoreline and coastline of Sydney – and she wasn’t alone in her curiosity. Just about every Sydney beach has at least one, built to give swimmers protection from the cold Pacific air and big seas.

They’re also a hive of activity, with some open year round for those keen to keep fit. But why were they built in the first place? And how do they work, anyway?

The answer to the former question may seem obvious: it’s a way for the city to protect and promote its spectacular beaches. But the latter is a bit more complicated. There are also historical reasons for their construction, and some recent debates about their role in the urban landscape.

It’s been a rough ride for North Sydney Pool, the iconic tidal pool nestled beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge and built as the country came out of depression in 1930. It would go on to host 86 world records in a ‘who’s who’ of swimming greats and, in 1938, was the venue for the first Commonwealth Games held in Australia.

But it’s been a rocky road for the community, too. The project has run over budget and suffered delays thanks to a range of issues including council infighting, claims of pork barrelling and heritage concerns. And it’s not looking good for a quick opening, with the deadline being pushed back to 2025.

In an attempt to avoid the same pitfalls, independent Sydney MP Kylea Tink has introduced a bill to parliament that could help prevent future political follies like North Sydney’s. But the federal independent MP acknowledges that it’s unlikely to save the pool from its current woes, which include a $100m bill and an opening date that’s still unknown. Charging fashion week shows, production companies and private parties – which fall outside the usual remit of a local pool – might help to offset the costs over time. But it won’t be enough to make up for the years of disappointment and frustration.