Balmoral Swimmers History

Balmoral Wharf and Baths

From 1905 excursion steamers carried passengers to the Spit and Manly. Ferries from Circular Quay serviced Balmoral from 1913 until 1922 and at various times since there has been a weekend service coming to this wharf. The baths were constructed by Council in 1899 in response to the increased interest in public bathing. Open sea bathing was not legalised until 1903. Initially men and women had separate bathing enclosures. TheĀ Balmoral Amateur Swimming Club, established in 1911 has a long association with the baths. Free access to the pool commenced in the 80’s when the building was redeveloped to provide for a restaurant. In 1974 there was a major storm which damaged the pool structure and washed yachts into the pool – they had to be lifted out by crane. The same storm damaged the promenade and caused the adjacent boat shed to burn down. Balmoral baths is one of the few harbour pools still in use.

Winter swimming

Until the advent of winter swimming clubs, the swimming season in New South Wales was usually considered to start on the Labour Day long weekend in October and go through until around Easter Monday public holiday, the ANZAC Day (25 April) public holiday, or the end of April. Winter swimming began in Sydney in the 1920s as a way for men to maintain fitness in the off-season for swimming and surf lifesaving competitions. Winter swimming clubs from that era include the Bronte Splashers as well as the famous Bondi Icebergs. After WWII, winter swimming soared in popularity.

Winter swimmers do not wear wetsuits, so it’s not surprising that winter swimming clubs have well-established drinking as well as swimming traditions. Some winter swimmers attribute their health, longevity and their ability to withstand cold water to drinking a concoction of rum and Bonox. Some clubs are highly formalised, others are loose associations of individuals. Many winter swimming clubs have strong links with the surf lifesaving movement and often draw their members from surf clubs.

The Bondi Icebergs are not the only winter swimming club with strict attendance requirements for their members. Members of the Tuggerah Tuffs who go on holiday during winter and want to keep their attendance record intact have to go to another winter swimming club’s meeting and bring a signed letter back to the Tuffs as proof. Most winter swimming clubs remained men-only into the late twentieth century, but even the Bondi Icebergs now have female members. The Bondi Mermaids club, which formed when the Bondi Icebergs were not accepting female members, also has both female and male members. In 2003, female winter swimmers competed for the first time in their own championship events at an officially sanctioned winter swimming carnival. Although women have been accepted as members by most local clubs since the late 1990s, objection from the few remaining all-male clubs meant women had not previously been able to compete at a representative level in events sponsored by the Winter Swimming Association of Australia (WSAA).

Not all the NSW winter swimming clubs are associated with ocean baths; some are based at non-tidal pools. Winter swimming championships have been staged at inland aquatic centres and now even include competitors wearing the same style of full-length body suits that are used by Ian Thorpe and many other Olympic swimmers. Competitors at the Australian winter swimming titles include former Olympic swimmers and relay events for the over-80s. Like NSW, Victoria and Western Australia also have winter swimming clubs. The 2004 Australian winter swimming championships were held in the Illawarra at Unanderra in a non-tidal pool. Winter swimming clubs often raise funds for charities.