December 27, 2019

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Emailed to more than 38,000 ocean swimmers
weekly in season.

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Xmas Eve was "the busiest day of the year" for resident snapper Glistening Dave and his Dawnbusters at Mona Vale. This is what they look like. It's terrific to celebrate our culcha with class photos of our informal swim groups. Send us pics of your swim group, and we'll publish them (provided they're publishable -- make sure they're a reasonable size, so we can fiddle with them)... Click here... This image by David Helsham (@glistenrr).

Look below...

Swims this weekend...

Early Morning Swims

Articulating our culcha

mollymook book cover 350One of the characteristics of the vast majority of ocean swimming -- that is has no structure – means that it’s very hard to get a handle on it as “a movement” or a “phenomenon”. It’s all just so absolutely informal. We speak of the informal swim groups that set out each morning from beaches all around the country. These groups constitute the vast majority of our caper. No-one has ever counted them, but we reckon there are many more punters doing the early morning informal swimming combined than take part in formal ocean swim events. But who are they? What are they like? What do they do? How do they vote?

This also is one of the glories of our sport. This early morning movement exists, but it has no form; there is nothing tangible to give it substance – no constitution, no agenda, no central authority, no dominating bullies or blowhards at its heart. It’s ironic, when you think about it, that its “substance”, its beauty, lies in this “insubstance”; this informality. There is little coordination amongst these groups that might articulate the culchural background against which this activity takes place day after day. And make no mistake: this is a culchural phenomenon.

Whilst early morning ocean swimming takes place as happenstance all over the joint, it is a crucially important part of the daily lives, and the well-being, of an enormous number of people, especially silly old farts of the very mature variety, and laydees.

Once in a while

But every now and again, something comes along that articulates what this caper is all about. Glistening Dave’s daily coverage of the Bongin Bongin Dawnbusters is one example of this. We try our very hardest, ourselves, when we locate ourselves every now and again at Forster, on the NSW Lower North Coast, to report this culcha. See this account of the life of one of our fave ocean swimmers, Terry Hudson, who has one of the most colourful back stories of anyone we’ve ever known. Terry, an 'umble, quietly-spoken man now from Tuncurry, had a role in the Khemlani affair -- albeit not of his own doing -- which triggered the downfall of the Whitlam Gummint in 1975… He’s packed quite a bit into his 85 years.

We have no official historians recording and assessing what we get up to. It just happens, and we do it.

Amongst those things that come along every now and again, articulating the culcha of what we all do, down in Mollymook, local identical Ken Banks has laboured for years over a project that came to fruition just prior to Xmas: a hard cover book that records the history, the colour, the pageantry, the idiosyncracies, the tensions, and the culcha of the Mollymook Ocean Swimmers.

There is nothing special about the Mollymook Ocean Swimmers, other than that they are at Mollymook, which is, we can say with authority, one of the most glorious beaches on the Strã’an coast. (Mind you, there are plenty of these.) A morning swim at Mollymook from the corner near the surf club, around the rock shelf to the Golf Course, and back, is one of the most beautiful morning swims you will ever do.

But the early morning swims are not the be all and end all of it. The swimming is merely the catalyst for all the other stuff that goes on around it: the personal interactions, the tensions, the triumphs; the searches for the  perfect cuppa; the formation and dissolution of friendships; the sharing of celebrations and tragedies. If you don't do the swimming, then you have no entree to all the rest.

So as a contribution to articulating our culcha, Ken Banks’s book is invaluable.

There must be more of this kind of thing going on...

What and who else are out there doing this? Let us know... Click here

Ocean Swimming - The Story of the Mollymook Ocean Swimmers (self-published). Enquire with Ken Banks... Click here

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A good investment

The timeless appeal of an ocean pool

carley james 150There's been a lot of attention given to ocean pools of late, some of it brought into focus by Therese Spruhan's book, The Memory Pool. Now, engineer James Carley argues that the ocean pool has not only a cultural significance, but it's also a good community investment. This piece was published in The Conversation on December 20.

James Carley is Principal Engineer, Water Research Laboratory, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of NSW. 

Depending on definitions, the coast of NSW, Australia, has about 70 ocean pools, with most located between Newcastle and Wollongong. South Africa has a comparable number, but the rest of the world has only a handful.

Why are ocean pools not more widespread? It isn’t the cost – our research suggests the public benefits of NSW ocean pools greatly outweigh the investment in building and maintaining them. And these pools do hold a special place in the hearts of the communities that use them.

Architect and artist Nicole Larkin says of ocean pools:

Geographically they are outliers of the built environment poised at the threshold of our nation’s boundary. Anchored to our iconic coastline, they facilitate intimate encounters with the landscape and reflect its importance in our national psyche.

Ocean pools were not the first structures built on the Australian coast. There is a prolific network of Aboriginal fish traps around Australia, with many existing structures dating back thousands of years. Any coastal structures more than 6,000 years old now lie under the sea, as global sea levels have risen 120 metres from 21,000 years ago to 6,000 years ago.

The Bogey Hole in Newcastle is usually claimed to be the first post-European-settlement ocean pool. Convicts built it in 1819.

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Convicts built the Bogey Hole, a pool carved out of the rock shelf, at Newcastle in 1819. Carol/Flickr

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Werri Beach pool at Gerringong. Image from Destination Kiama

Most of the first ocean pools involved local residents or surf lifesavers excavating suitable sections of rock shelves and enhancing them with concrete, with many further iterations until arriving at their present form.

The earliest ocean pools in Sydney’s eastern suburbs date back to the 1880s. Many of the 15 ocean pools on Sydney’s northern beaches were constructed or upgraded as job-creation projects during the 1930s Great Depression. Many Sydney beaches have an ocean pool at each end – some even have more than one.

Why does NSW have so many?

The prevalence of ocean pools in NSW arose from a confluence of many factors – geology, climate, culture and economics.


The southern two-thirds of the NSW coast generally consists of short to medium-length sandy beaches, nestled between rocky headlands. Where those headlands are sandstone, there is an ideal balance between a material that can be fairly easily excavated, yet is stable over human time scales. These headlands have allowed pools to be sited on a stable foundation where they don’t alter the shape of the surrounding beaches or fill with too much sand.

Ocean pools and magnificent sandstone buildings are two manifestations of Sydney’s moniker “Sandstone City”.


Mild to hot air temperatures and tolerable to pleasant water temperatures – fed by the East Australian (“Nemo”) Current – are conducive to swimming, bathing and surfing.

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Ocean pools frame our beaches... North Curl Curl ocean pool. Image by Sacha Fenandez 

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South Curl Curl ocean pool. Image by James Carley

Beach and ocean culture

Beach, ocean, swimming and surfing cultures developed in the early 1900s. Despite its pleasures, the ocean can be a dangerous place. Many people drowned in the early days of surf bathing and drownings on unpatrolled beaches continue to this day.
Ocean pools offer the pleasure of saltwater bathing by the beach, free from sharks, large waves and rips. In his poem The Ocean Baths, Les Murray described the experience:

I am not in the sea but the sea’s television.

However, almost all ocean pools have dangerous conditions at times. The Water Research Laboratory at UNSW Sydney has recently applied contemporary coastal engineering techniques for estimating wave overtopping to ocean pools. This work has reconciled the theory with the expert opinions of lifeguards and surf lifesavers for a range of pools.

Economic prosperity

Population centres near the coast, economic prosperity, along with job-creation projects during downturns also drove the construction of ocean pools.

Improved sewage disposal schemes for Sydney in the early 1990s, as well as Newcastle and Wollongong, vastly improved water quality on the beaches, further increasing the attraction of ocean pools and coastal living.

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Black Head pool, which is maintained with fundraising by locals. Image by Trish Cooper.

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The Bull Ring, Forster, so named because some people swim out and back, and some swim across and back and, sometimes, they meet in the middle. Image from [email protected], Forster 

What makes a good ocean pool?

We have polled many users of ocean pools and their opinions are fairly uniform. The best ocean pools have three elements:

  • a lap swimming area (preferably 50 metres long)
  • a separate wading/splash area
  • a space for people to congregate, as these are community gathering places.

For many users, ocean pools complement other ocean activities, rather than replace them. For example, surf lifesavers or surfers often train in them when the ocean is too flat or too dangerous.

Waves washing into pools make for spectacular photos. These can enhance the sense of wildness, the connection with nature, and flush the pool with clean seawater. But waves can also make a pool dangerous and fill the pool with sand, seaweed and sometimes boulders. So a balance is needed.

Pools repay the investment

pool maintenance 250The potential costs of maintenance (cleaning and repairs) have been cited in opposition to new ocean pools. We have surveyed the asset managers for many ocean pools and found annual maintenance costs range from about A$10,000 to A$140,000, with a typical amount of A$80,000.

Pool maintenance typically costs about $80,000 a year. [email protected]/Flickr

The aggressive location (the “wild edge”) means most pools are refurbished at intervals of 10 to 20 years. The budgets for this work range from A$200,000 to A$1.5 million.

Pool upgrades have allowed the walls of most pools to be raised over time. This has generally outpaced recent sea level rise, but accelerating rises will require serious redesign or abandonment of many pools. Some may join the ranks of existing “ghost” pools, such as those surrounding the present Dee Why ocean pool (Isa Wye Rockpool) or the headland between Bilgola and Newport. A keen eye can spot these on Google Earth.

Improvements in pump technology and economic prosperity have meant many ocean pools now use pumps to maintain water quality, rather than relying only on wave overtopping. This allows for safer pools.

In the age of “business cases” we recently combined data on beach/pool use with the economic benefits of an aquatic facility visit from studies by the Royal Life Saving Society. This indicates a typical ocean pool has a basic economic benefit of A$2 million a year and a combined economic and health benefit of A$6 million a year. A high-use ocean pool has a basic economic benefit of A$3.5 million a year and a combined benefit of A$10 million a year.

Thus, if physically suitable and environmentally acceptable sites can be found, the economic payback on investment in an ocean pool is rapid. The people of NSW have always loved their ocean pools, so these findings only confirm their status as highly valued community assets.

The author acknowledges the contributions of Ian Coghlan, Chris Drummond, Nicole Larkin, council staff, pool users, lifeguards and volunteer lifesavers.

You can get to know the ocean pools in NSW at

The Ocean Baths

by Les Murray

Chinning the bar or Thirties concrete rim
of this ocean baths as the surf flings velleities of spray
brimming the bright screen
I am in not the sea but the sea’s television.

As the one starfish below me quivers up
through a fictive kelp of diffraction, I’m thinking of workers
who made pool-cementing last, neap tide by neap,
right through the Depression,

then went to the war, the one that fathered the Bomb
which relegated war to the lurid antique new nations
of emerging television. All those appalling horizontals
to be made vertical and kept the size of a screen –

I duck out of focus
down shill slub walls in this loud kinking room
that still echoes Fung blunger the swearwords Orh you Kongs
of men on relief for years, trapping ocean in oblongs,

and check out four hard roads tamed to a numinous
joke on it all, through being stood up side-on
and joined at their stone ends by bumper-smokers who could,
just by looking up, see out of relegation –

here the sky, the size of a mirror, the size of a fix
becomes imperative: ”I explode up through it beneath
a whole flowering height of villas and chlorine tiled pools
where some men still swear hard
to keep faith with their fathers
who are obsolete and sacred.

From the Australian Poetry Library

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Entries online this weekend...

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Proclaiming Glenelg

Organisers say -

The Proclamation Classic Swim draws its inspiration from South Australia's 180-year heritage. Taking its name from the Governor's Proclamation on 28 December 1836 that established the colony, the event pits swimmers' skills and endurance against an historical constant, the beautiful waters of 'the Bay'.

The Proclamation Classic gives swimmers three options - one and two-kilometre swims and the challenging five-kilometre event - all of which start, and finish close to the popular Glenelg Jetty.

The swim is organised by the Adelaide Masters Swimming Club and the Glenelg Surf Life Saving Club in association with the Bay Sports Festival.

The Proclamation Classic runs at Glenelg this Saturday, December 28 (it always runs on December 28, whatever day of the week that happens to be). 

Online entries close at noon on Friday, December 27.

More info and to enter online... Click here

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Sulawesi oceanswimsafari

Swim with the Maxi Crab

When we take our oceanswimsafari to Sulawesi, in Indonesia, we stay at Lumba Lumba dive resort, in far northern Sulawesi. The Divemaster at Lumba Lumba, Maxi Tabolong, has discovered a new species of Spider Crab, and now it carries his name officially.

The "Maxi Crab", or Hyastenus Tabolongi, a centimeter in size and is well camouflaged.

We're taking our oceanswimsafari to Sulawesi in late June 2020. It's one of the most interesting places to swim on the planet: the water is gloriously clear, and this part of the world's oceans -- the Celebes Sea -- is known as having the greatest diversity of marine life in the entire Indo-Pacific region. We have four days of swims along magnificant reef, plus a day tour of the highlands in the hills behind the coast, and whitewater rafting. You can dive, if you like. Our resort is famous for its diving and its dive staff.

Find out more and book... Click here

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Tonga - Just 4 spots left

Swim with the whales

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Here's a heads-up: our Tonga oceanswimsafari has only four spots left. We can take only eight swimmers/towel carriers at a time with us to Tonga. This makes this oceanswimsafari especially suitable for small groups, as well as singles and couples. If you're thinking you'd like to share in this extraordinary experience, contact us quick and smart... Click here

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New goggles - The rush continues

Selene Swipe, no fog

Our most popular gog, the View Selene, now has a revolutionary, hi-tech version offering anti-fog capacity that lasts 10 times as long as existing goggles, the makers say. The Selene Swipe has technology in its interior lens coating that allows you to clear fog from the lens simply by "swiping" your finger across it.

According to the makers, the "10 times as long" refers to distance they say you can swim before you start to see some fogging with new goggles. They say the standard is 4km, but the Swipes will go 40kms. Whatever, all gogs will fog if you don't respect them and look after them. The issue also is how to deal with the fogging if and when it does occur.

view 820ASA selene swipe 450We've been wearing our new Swipes for 25 swims so far (at the time of writing) hoping they will fog so that we can try the Swipe technology, but the stubborn things refuse to fog. On our last two swims, there was a bit of fog, which went away instantly we swiped across it.

This is the third model of the Selene that we've added to our online store, after the regular Selenes and the Mirrored Selenes. We've sold a lot of swipes since we released them a week ago. Stocks available in Australia are severely limited at the moment, but we've bought up almost the entire current supply, especially of the more popular colours.

Selene is one of the best value gogs you will ever find. And made with an extra wide silicone seal, the Selene is probably the most comfortable low-profile gog you'll find, and it doesn't leave you with Rocky Raccoon marks around your eyes. The Selene Swipe offers anti-fog performance that's 10 times longer than normal, and a swiping lens durability offering 1,500 swipes without degrading performance.

Selene Swipe comes in Blue (BL), Light Blue (CLB), Lavender (LV), Black (Smoke) (BK), Brown (BR).

Find out more and order Selene Swipes... Click here

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2020 oceanswimsafaris

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Swim with whales in Tonga.

June 12-20 – The Philippines – Swim with whale sharks in another paradise of some of the clearest water of the greatest marine biodiversity in the Indo-Pacific region… Click here

June 23-July 1 – Sulawesi, Indonesia – More of the clear water and great marine biodiversity at the other end of the Celebes Sea from our Philippines location. This is a place that hardly any Strá’an visits. It’s pretty well just us... Click here

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A tender scene by la Concha, San Sebastián.

July 20-28 – Tonga - Swim with the Whales – Only four places left in our oceanswimsafari to swim with Humpback whales (above) – One of the most unusual, special experiences you can ever have swimming in the ocean. The humpbacks migrate over winter from Antarctica to Tonga to give birth and generally frolic around. Tonga is one of the few places in the world where we’re allowed to get in the water with the whales… Click here

August 25-31 – San Sebastián, Spain – Swim the Basque country, with its rich mix of culture, food, and history. And the swimming’s terrific, too. That's San Sebastián, above -- A romantic evening on the bay of la Concha... A must-stop during anyone’s trip to Europe… Click here

September 12-20 – Costa Brava, Spain – Swim Catalonia, and France to Spain around the end of the Pyrenees. Another journey through history, art, culture and food, and some of the clearest water you’ll ever swim in… Click here

October 20-25 - Mana Fiji SwimFest - Packages will be ready soon... Watch this space… Click here

October 26-Nov 2 - Yasawas Fiji -  Packages are online now… Click here

Controversy Corner...

What do you reckon about any of this stuff? We received a lot of feedback after last week's newsletter. Check it out... Click here

Let us know and we'll facilitate the debate... Click here

(Also see posts at the end of this newsletter.)

Swims open to online entry...

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We email this newsletter to over 38,000 swimmers weekly in season, and less frequently out of season. If you'd like to advertise with us, please give us a yell.. Click here

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For swim results... Click here

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List your swim group...

List your informal morning swim group on our directory, so that travelling swimmers will always have a place and a peloton to swim with... Click here

Check our swim maps...

For a quick idea of what's going on around your area -- formal events, informal swim groups -- check our swim maps. You'll find them for each area under Swims/Calendar on

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1 comment

  • Jan Portolesi Comment Link
    Jan Portolesi
    Thursday, 26 December 2019 23:05
    Hi I have tried to order some goggles but am unable to get on the site, it keeps giving me a security message. Can you advise me what to do.

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