Dawn Patrol – Newcastle Ocean Baths | Image Carol Duncan

The iconic Newcastle Ocean Baths will re-open to swimmers this month after a huge, multi-million renovation of the pool and surrounding promenade areas. Stage One of the project will also see more shade for visitors to the baths.

Newcastle Ocean Baths have been loved by Novocastrians and visitors alike since the unofficial opening in 1913 and the official opening in 1922. Read more about the visit by the legendary Duke Kahanamoku to Newcastle Ocean Baths here.

The official opening program stated that the new refreshment room offered ‘tobacco and cigarettes, ice creams, cool drinks, light lunches and afternoon tea’.

But heading off to the baths for a swim hasn’t always been as easy as it is today – a quick timeline shows why:

  • Late 18th C – English medical tracts recommend cold salt water bathing as beneficial for health
  • 1810 – Governor Macquarie bans bathing at the Government wharf in Newcastle
  • 1820 – The Bogey Hole constructed by convict labour for Commandant Morisset
  • 1825 – First formal baths in NSW were constructed at The Domain, Sydney
  • 1838 – Law prohibiting daylight bathing in all waters throughout the entire Colony within view of a public place
  • 1850 – Bathing accommodation for women established on Newcastle Harbour
  • 1861 – Segregated bathing for women established on the southern end of Newcastle Harbour
  • 1882 – Lands Department allows Newcastle Council to occupy and construct Soldiers’ Baths beneath Fort Scratchley
  • 1884 – The Bogey Hole enlarged by Council
  • 1893 – Newcastle Council passed by-law permitting beach bathing at all hours for both sexes
  • 1905/11 – Council considered numerous plans for baths on a section of Newcastle Beach
  • 1911 – Tenders balled on design for baths by City Engineer L B Blackwell; construction started September
  • 1912 – Local architect F G Castleden was appointed to remodel Blackwell’s plans
  • 1913 – Baths open to the public on New Year’s Day
  • 1918 – Admission charged, new dressing accommodation constructed

It’s one of the great pleasures of Lost Newcastle that our members share their family photos, and, of course, many of these include visits to the baths.

This is just a small collection of photos from members, UON Special Collections and others to enjoy. And if you’ve ever visited the baths during an east coast low – to ponder how they didn’t get smashed into the sea decades ago!

Newcastle Ocean Baths under construction 1912 – Ralph Snowball | Image UON Special Collections

Much like with the Newcomen-street baths, the Newcastle Ocean baths was a project that took years of planning and discussion beginning in 1901. The cost was a real concern, considering the soldiers baths cost £3000 to build and required constant reconstruction work and sand removal to make them usable. The council was promised a grant from the government of £3000 in 1903, however it was forgotten about in a transition of governments and was never given.

In 1906 the Newcastle city council, with the help of the councils of the surrounding area, applied for another grant. In the years following there are disagreements from numerous individuals on where the baths should be located. Either excavated from a rock plateau at Newcastle beach, or located in the wave trap which is referenced as a place to swim horses and is likely what we call Horseshoe Beach today.

This time spent debating led to the formation of a committee, insistent of taking over the role of baths construction. However this was shut down by the lands minister who insisted the council take on the responsibility of constructing the baths, even though there were doubts about the success after the Newcomen-street Baths failure.

Work began on the baths in 1911 and utilised state of the art electric drilling machinery and cranes. Work was often put on hold for weeks due to rain and rough seas and in December of 1911 the workers went on strike due to a wage dispute with the council. Work was progressing well and the estimate was that the baths would be completed by the start of the bathing season of 1912, however in July a massive storm caused massive damage all along the NSW coast, including a lot of the work already completed on the Newcastle Ocean Baths.

This damage led to some changes in the original design to accommodate for these extremes in weather. By October the basin was close to being completed however, there was no dressing accommodation for the bathers. It was decided to erect temporary dressing sheds so the baths can start making some money necessary to complete the work.

On the 1st of January, 1913, the Newcastle Ocean Baths was opened to the public for the first time. At this stage, not even the basin itself is completed and the baths are increasing with popularity every day. The permanent concrete structures at the ocean baths were erected in 1922.

Many storms, and high tides have battered the Newcastle Ocean Baths in its time, each time causing damage and prompting renovations and repairs. The Iconic stepped structure flanking the pool was designed to provide seating, but more importantly, to protect the baths from further damage.

UON Special Collections
Photo | Lost Newcastle member Kathie Kirsop of her daughter approx 1990

Ocean Baths 1956 | MHNSW
Day at the Baths | CN Wilfred Goold Collection
Newcastle Ocean Baths East Coast Low | Image Carol Duncan
Frederick George Castleden – Architect | Image Libby Maskey

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