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.
By this time,
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.
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 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 "...at the foot of
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.
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
|View of the Thompson's Point Baths and the footbridge that provided access from |
the cliff top, C. 1930s.
Courtesy of Jenny Drenkhahn.
|Thompson's Point Baths as they presently appear (2015).|
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.
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).
Drenkhahn, Jenny, pers. comm.
Eden Baths committee minute book,
Killer Whale Museum
Helmore, Paul, pers. comm.
Henry, Geoff, pers. comm.
Korner, Joanne, pers. comm.
Magnet and Voice
Moore, Cheryl, pers. comm.
Raymond, Pat, pers. comm.
Roberts, Karen, pers. comm.
White, Jody, pers. comm.
Whiter, Peter, pers. comm.
Whiter, Robert, pers. comm.