The his­tory of Forster Ocean Baths

Australian Traveller - - Contents -

ITS RUGGED COAST­LINE and wild surf means that New South Wales is home to the ma­jor­ity of Aus­tralia’s ocean pools. Al­though the wa­ter had al­ways been a source of food and recre­ation for In­dige­nous peo­ple, early Bri­tish set­tlers were ten­ta­tive at first. But as salt­wa­ter bathing started grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity in the early 20th cen­tury, pools were carved into cliff faces: to­day there are al­most 100 in New South Wales, each with its own unique his­tory, shape, size and per­son­al­ity. Forster, on the Mid North Coast, is an ar­che­typal Aussie hol­i­day town de­fined by its lakes and gor­geous beaches. And at the south end of Main Beach you’ll find its ocean pool. Its tran­quil­lity be­lies an an­i­mated his­tory, but its nick­name, the Bull Ring, gives us a clue. The Forster Ocean Baths were opened on 18 Jan­uary 1936, the most northerly in the state at the time. They were part of an im­pres­sive com­plex that in­cluded chang­ing fa­cil­i­ties and a cafe sell­ing milk­shakes, ice-cream and lol­lies. At the end of the year, a ‘casino dance palais’ was opened ad­ja­cently. En­try into the baths was three­pence for adults and a penny for chil­dren un­der 14, with sea­son tick­ets avail­able. Flood light­ing meant you could swim at night. The un­likely nick­name that has en­dured for the pool came from a cafe that later moved in. The Bull­ring was a do-it-your­self bar­be­cue that opened in 1973 and op­er­ated un­til the build­ing in­fra­struc­ture was de­mol­ished in 1978; the casino came down later, in 1992. Forster was al­ready be­com­ing a pop­u­lar hol­i­day hotspot be­fore a bridge across the wa­ter con­nect­ing it to neigh­bour­ing Tun­curry in 1959 saw tourism boom fur­ther. Prior to this, a ferry trans­ported mo­torists be­tween the two re­sort towns, and an un­dated book­let pub­lished be­fore this time,

Forster Pic­to­rial In­cor­po­rat­ing Tun­curry,

boasts of the at­trac­tions this ‘Par­adise of the North’ had to of­fer – from beaches, fishing, prawn­ing and scenery to camp­ing, cot­tages, ten­nis courts, weekly pic­ture shows, dances and other amuse­ments. And, of course, the ocean baths. The book­let il­lus­trates their charms: “the pool is in a shel­tered cove, be­tween the Cape Hawke and Surf­ing Beach and a beau­ti­fully wooded head­land. The baths are con­ve­niently sit­u­ated in the town, be­ing only three min­utes’ walk from the post of­fice. The pool is a mag­nif­i­cent stretch of wa­ter 280 feet long and 180 feet wide, de­signed to be self-fill­ing at high tide. It has a nat­u­ral floor, the depth of wa­ter vary­ing from 00 at the sand to eight feet six inches at the ocean wall, thus form­ing a safe pool for chil­dren, and also giv­ing am­ple room for Olympic swim­ming re­quire­ments. Flood light­ing at night cre­ates a bril­liant scene.” With thanks to the Great Lakes Mu­seum in Tun­curry, a so­cial his­tory and mar­itime mu­seum run by vol­un­teers from the Great Lakes His­tor­i­cal Co-op­er­a­tive So­ci­ety Ltd; great­lakesmu­

CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: An im­age of the orig­i­nal Forster Ocean Baths set-up, taken circa 1950; The ocean pool as it looks to­day; The DIY bar­be­cue that op­er­ated in the ’70s earnt the pool its un­usual nick­name, the Bull Ring; A his­tor­i­cal im­age of the pop­u­lar spot.

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