The history of Forster Ocean Baths
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; greatlakesmuseum.com.au
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.