Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Eden's historic Thompson's Point Baths - A rare and important recreational facility:

For generations of Australians, the beach and ocean has played a significant role in our culture and lifestyle - coastal indigenous peoples were utilising the shoreline and neighbouring waterways for centuries, and unsurprisingly, it took little time before the early European settlers also began making use of the resource.

With the British medical profession highlighting the hygienic and therapeutic benefits of open-air bathing in cold saltwater, ocean swimming began to gain popularity by the late 18th century. Australian coastal waters, however, also represented unfamiliar and often intimidating prospects - pounding waves, strong currents and threat of shark attacks all served to unnerve those who braved the ocean, particularly in an era when few could swim properly, let alone strongly.

Metropolitan areas began to construct purpose-built baths in an attempt to protect swimmers from these physical dangers, providing participants with a safe environment in which to utilise the health benefits of the ocean. The development of these facilities also addressed the 19th century Victorian social standards of decency and morality by enabling restriction of widespread public display of the human form. Since 1833, a daylight hours ban on bathing had been in place, restricting opportunities for swimming, but as the 1890s turned over into the 20th century, a shift in social attitudes saw the activity regarded more as a healthy activity and cost-effective competitive sport as opposed to those earlier therapeutic and hygienic values.

Thompson's Point Bath, C. 1907. 
Courtesy of the Eden Killer Whale Museum [EM3869].
Finally, in 1902, the issue came to a head when Manly newspaper editor William Gocher took a personal stand, entering the ocean at noon on three successive Sundays before being finally arrested on the third occasion in front of some 1,000 onlookers. His efforts had the desired affect, with the liberalisation of the law the following year, although all swimmers over eight years of age were still required to wear neck to knee bathing costumes.

Australia's early beach culture had begun, and combined with the increasing affluence of an expanding middle class, greater disposable income, more leisure time and a developing sea side tourism industry, a shift in attitudes and values saw escalating public demand for improved beach access and safer swimming facilities. Just one result was a rising number of ocean baths constructed up and down the coastline to provide smooth, calm swimming environments with greater protection from drowning and shark attacks.

By this time, Eden was already becoming a popular far south coast holiday destination, with its sandy beaches and convenient ocean access being highlighted to promote the benefits of the town.

Thompson's Point Baths and wharf. 
Courtesy of  Eden Killer Whale Museum.
It was in December 1899 that moves were first made to secure a public bathing facility for Eden - that month a public meeting was held to nominate individuals to take charge of a site recently granted for such a facility. With a committee consisting on J. A. Boyd, C. Downton, F. H. Phillipps, T. H. Wellings and C. J. Williams, September the following year saw the inaugural meeting of the Trustees, with F. H. Phillipps being appointed Chairman; T. H. Wellings Secretary; and J. C. Williams Treasurer.

The following month, a letter was forwarded to the Minister for Lands requesting a special grant of £300 for construction of a "suitable bathing area" at Thompson Point, along with additional correspondence to local member, the Honourable W. H. Wood, asking for his support for the special grant.

November 1900 saw a request to the Lands Department for an officer to inspect the site and assist with construction cost estimates, while in February the following year, the Minister for Public Works advised that Mr. Bossier, Clerk of Works, had been requested to inspect the site and estimate baths costs while in the area.

Jean Helmore (Whiter) with friends at the Thompson's Point Baths.
Courtesy of Jenny Drenkhahn.
By March 1901, Mr. Bossier had undertaken the site inspection, but as he was not qualified to give estimates, the Minister for Public Works requested the Merimbula Wharf construction Superintendent to inspect the site. The Trustees received a £75 grant from the Lands Department the same month but although Mr. Bloomfield, Engineer of Harbours and Rivers Department, suggested Shelly Beach as a more suitable site during his July inspection, the committee decided to stick with their original site at Thompson's Point.

By 1904 public donations had reached £10/18/- and the following year after £25 was paid to the Trustees by the Lands Department for construction of the Public Bath " the foot of Flinders Street..." Contracts were awarded -  J. A. Spurling was paid £15 for the excavation of the rock, while John Hines was paid £11/18/- for cementing the baths and erecting a room.

The two dressing sheds on the reserve above the baths can be seen in the foreground.
These were destroyed during the disastrous 1952 bush fires.
Courtesy of Jenny Drenkhahn.
After only three years, the Trustees were looking to enlarge the facility, and with a £2 donation from a Mr. Whitney and £25 from the Lands Department, the contract was awarded to J. A. Spurling at a cost of £45. During October 1907, C. E. Walcott provided a loan of £8 and by the end of the year, expenditure on the Thompson's Point Baths stood at £70/18/-. However, despite use of the site for around a decade, it wasn't until 1913 that the Land Board issued the trustees with a Permissive Occupancy.

By 1936, consideration was being given to again extending the baths and to that end, the Eden Advancement Association secretary, the Harbourmaster and Mr. Denholm inspected the site and took soundings. With estimates not considered to be "...excessive...", the advancement association members agreed that a shark proof swimming area was an "...absolute necessity...", and decided to apply to the then Imlay Shire Council for a £1,200 grant to undertake the work. Although the shire supported the move and agreed to submit a grant application, the President said that he would let Minister for Works and Local Government Mr. Spooner "...toss for it - the baths or the Burragate Bridge..."

View of the Thompson's Point Baths and the footbridge that provided access from
the cliff top, C. 1930s.
Courtesy of Jenny Drenkhahn.
By mid-1936, the association had begun considering alternatives to the Thompson's Point Baths site, calling a public meeting in July to "...devise ways and means of bringing about the construction of the proposed baths..."  The Eden Town Baths Committee, consisting of local residents such as G. D. Impey, V. T. Welsh, H. P. Wellings, J. B. Eurell, H. Denholm, H. C. Hartup, P. T. Brown, J. Turnbull, W. Blaxter, T. Tracey, T. L. Ramsey, S. G. Earngey, W. H. Quin and W. J. Duffy with J. A. Ireland as secretary, were appointed to take over the project from the Eden Advancement Association, with the objective being the "...establishment of safe swimming baths at Eden..." However, when they met the following month, only six of the fifteen members showed up, and after the group faltered, Eden Advancement Association again stepped back in to the fold to continue what was to be a lengthy and drawn out process.

Thompson's Point Baths as they presently appear (2015).
Between the mid-1930s and 1960, a number of alternative sites were raised, including Snug Cove, Cattle Bay, the wharf area at the end of Weecoon Street, Yallumgo Cove (Ross' Bay), Shelly Beach, both the northern and southern ends of the cemetery, Imlay Park, and, finally, Aslings Beach. Options explored included wire netted bathing areas, heavy rope shark-proof nets and stone sea walls, while other local governments, including Manly, Sutherland, Kiama, Kogorah, Bulli, Ramsgate, Cronulla and Rockdale were all contacted to secure information regarding construction and maintenance costs. Eden Advancement Association also approached the Imlay Shire Council for preparation of plans, specifications and costing estimates for the various options.

Public fundraising for a new facility commenced in early 1937 and over the years a plethora of events including street stalls, sports days and balls were held. By May 1937, the trust account for the project stood at £150 and the same month £1,000 from a £10,000 shire-wide town improvement scheme grant was earmarked for a bath at Cattle Bay, land which the Eden Advancement Association purchased around 1939. However, by this time World War II had broken out and local fundraising quickly focused upon patriotic rather than infrastructure work.

Not surprisingly, with so many other competing demands and no facilities to dispute its place, the Thomson's Point Baths continued to play an important recreational role for the community.  After the Permissive Occupancy was terminated by the Lands Board in April 1946, a peppercorn rent option was offered to the Eden Advancement Association. 1947 saw a £1 payment by the Eden Advancement Association to the Lands Department for permissive occupancy of the area, although this was refunded early the following year, when it was noted that payment was not usual.

By 1949, the facility was still being described as "...the present rock pool..." and by March 1953 council was trying to determine ownership and construction dates of the facility in order to respond to public requests for repair of the footbridge that provided access from the cliff top. The permissive occupancy was apparently still active by 1962 and in November that year Mrs. F. M. Smith wrote expressing concern as to the safety of the footbridge.

It was in 1946 that the the option of Aslings Beach was first raised as a potential alternative site for a new ocean pool, but despite local media frequently raising the "...urgent need for [a] shark proof swimming pool...", it wasn't until 1960 that the site at the southern end of the beach was finally agreed upon. Construction of the Eden Memorial Swimming Pool (now referred to as the Aslings Beach Rock Pool) commenced in January 1961 with the official opening taking place in November 1961.

Nonetheless, the Thompson Point Baths were to remain a popular and important recreation and educational facility for the local community for many generations. Even after construction of the Aslings Beach facility, it continued to provide a sheltered, calm and safe swimming area, free from sharks and other ocean predators for many of the district's youth right through and in to the 1960s.

Today , the Thompson's Point Baths are the oldest and one of only three remaining examples of ocean pools within the Bega Valley Shire Council local government area and one of the oldest extant non-metropolitan examples across the State. 

They are indicative of the birth and growth of the Australian beach and later surf culture that figure so prominently in the local and national Australian way of life today. A popular communal gathering place, the baths reflect an era in which broader social and cultural attitudes towards sea bathing shifted from secluded bathing primarily for therapeutic and hygiene reasons towards public sea bathing pursued as a legitimate healthy leisure time activity.

The baths have a strong social significance for the local population. As a focal point of recreational and education activities from its initial completion until beyond the 1960s, the baths are held in high esteem by many generations of the local community who played, relaxed, sunbathed and learned to swim there. They provide significant evidence of the value placed on recreational bathing by residents over a period of more than half a century.

Considered in conjunction with the Aslings Beach Rock Pool (originally known as Eden Memorial Swimming Pool) and the Eden Olympic Swimming Pool, the Thompson's Point Baths provide important evidence of the growth and development of bathing and swimming facilities within the township from around the turn-of-the-century right through to the present day. They also provide a link with and illustration of the impact that the growth of the amateur swimming movement had on community expectation, demand and provision of increasingly improved public facilities.

Eden's Thompson's Point Baths is a representative example of community recreational tidal pools that were once popular along the NSW coastline. However, as a result of changing community swimming habits and the fact that construction and maintenance of many similar facilities were largely a public / community responsibility, it is an increasingly rare example of its type. They also provides an important physical link with important local builder and contractor John Hines and are an unusual extant example of his work.

Retaining its traditional irregularly shaped layout and appearance, the baths are set in an aesthetically spectacular harbour location, providing an important physical link with, and documenting the development and use of the foreshore for local social and public recreational facilities. The baths are also an important illustration of an ingenious early design solution to exploit and alter the natural environment for the provision of amenities for human use and enjoyment.

In July 2013 the Thompson's Point Baths were nominated for inclusion in Schedule 5 (heritage) of the Bega Valley Shire Council's Local Environment Plan (LEP). 

© Angela George

Bega Budget
Drenkhahn, Jenny, pers. comm.
Eden Baths committee minute book, Eden Killer Whale Museum collection
Eden Magnet
Eden Magnet and Pambula Voice
Helmore, Paul, pers. comm.
Henry, Geoff, pers. comm.
Korner, Joanne, pers. comm.
Magnet and Voice
Moore, Cheryl, pers. comm.
Pambula Voice
Raymond, Pat, pers. comm.
Roberts, Karen, pers. comm.
White, Jody, pers. comm.
Whiter, Peter, pers. comm.
Whiter, Robert, pers. comm.

1 comment:

  1. Time to restore access from the clifftop and get the show back on the road