Located right on Sydney Harbour, MacCallum Pool is like the Pool of Siloam. In case you don’t know what that is, it’s where Jesus healed the blind man. Looking at the stunning views and tranquil waters, you have to wonder if there isn’t anything a swim in MacCallum Pool wouldn’t fix?!
While generations have dived into it’s depths, thrived on it’s aquatic wonders and almost inhaled the breathtaking views, I’m delving into the old newspapers to find out what and who has gone before. These stories are my buried treasure, and add so much meaning to what I see.
That said, there’s no doubt that a lot of “what happens at MacCallum Pool stays at MacCallum Pool”, and no matter how deep we dive in, we’ll never reach the bottom.
Of the stories which can be made public, I’d like to focus on the incredible drive, persistence and grit of Cremorne locals who raised the funds and constructed the original pool themselves. We have them to thank for being able to wander freely into this magnificent pool free of charge and get in a few laps. What an incredible legacy to leave behind.
The vision for a harbour pool began with local resident and Olympic medal-winning swimmer, Fred Lane, who rearranged the rocks to create a natural pool.
Later, a group of keen locals under retired businessman Hugh MacCallum, took up the challenge in earnest. Work finished on the pool on Saturday 23rd November, 1924 after: “Fifteen years of patient, unostentatious work at week-ends and on holidays, work of the youngsters and the parents living around Shell Cove — and at last the monument was completed.”
This little snippet from the 19th January, 1927 does a good job of relating what went into creating the pool:
“This is a story that should make every alderman beam with delight — Every Mayor chortle with joy— .And every ratepayer gasp with admiration and envy. It is told simply in the following letter, which, accompanied by a photograph of a bathing pool, was received by the North Sydney Council last night. “As an example of what can be done by the residents of any suburb, where the people are willing to co-operate and provide the needful, it may be mentioned that, by doing a little every year, this series of potholes at Shell Cove has taken shape, until now it is a safe, shark-proof pool with a graded depth from 2ft, 6in. at the children’s end to 6ft. 6in. at the other end. “Up to date over £700 has been spent during a period of 15 years, and this sum has been voluntarily subscribed by the residents, no outsider’s help of any kind having been asked for or received.” Council expressed its appreciation of the fine public spirit which had prompted the construction of the swimming bath…” 1.
Council -took over the running of the pool in 1930 and on the 29th April, 1933, a plaque was unveiled naming the pool after Hugh MacCallum who had “collected £600 in the locality, and after several years of strenuous labor constructed a swimming pool about 40 yards long and which at high tide has a depth of over six feet. Many North Sydney youngsters have learnt to swim in the pool, and it has become a popular picnic spot.”2.
Here’s an interview with Hugh MacCallum’s grandson which was filmed at the pool:
Meanwhile, as I alluded to earlier, there was another side to MacCallum Pool. On the 5th March, 1930 the Evening News, ran a headline: “CREMORNE POOL: HIGH JINKS ALLEGED”. It continued:
“In a letter to North Sydney Council last night, a resident of Cremorne Point scathingly criticised the conduct of bathers in Cremorne Pool, and asked that the baths be removed. “Since this bathing pool has been in existence, it has been an intolerable nuisance to those who live nearby,” he wrote.
“Bathers use it up to and sometimes after, midnight, and indulge in singing, shouting, laughing, screeching, and often use very bad language. Many bathers, of both sexes, lie on the rocks sunbaking, and others run about the reservation in scanty bathing costumes at all hours of the day.” Ald. Norden asked that the pool be allowed to remain. The engineer will report on the cleaning of the pool.” 3.
I had thought there was further scandal to report until I had a closer read. It turns out there is also a Cremorne in Mackay, Queensland. Of course, I couldn’t let you miss out on a scandal. So here goes. On the 18th October, 1917 a letter to Mackay’s Daily Mercury lamented:
“About a dozen men were lying about in prominent positions, with absolutely nothing on. One man was also swimming about in a state of nudity. These occurrences prevent the place being used by ladies, and surely they have as much right to the place as men. On Sunday it is just as bad.
Yours, etc., DISGUSTED.” 4.
I guess this leaves us with the dilemma of whether we are going to be a force for good and make a contribution to our local community. Or, are we going to be the “fart in the lift”? That’s not to say the two are mutually exclusive. You can be community-minded and still have fun. Yet there’s a balance, and at least a consideration of one of my favourite principles: the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. I’m also a fan of trying to walk in someone’s shoes. Although living this way may not leave a concrete legacy like MacCallum Pool, it could very well build invisible, luxury mansions inside those we meet, especially those who need it most.
Have you ever been to MacCallum Pool or something similar where you live? Do you have any memories to share?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
1.Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Wednesday 19 January 1927, page 14
2.Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 – 1954), Friday 21 April 1933, page 8
3. Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), Wednesday 5 March 1930, page 3
4. Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), Thursday 18 October 1917, page 6
What a great example for both the community spirit and the bad eggs in the same. Hope the first persists!
We have many outdoor pools – lidos- that are still v popular in all weathers. Our local Brockwell was built in the 30s is a delightful piece of art Deco and refurbished 15 years ago. It nearly became redundant in the 80s when one hot summer day the London Evening Standard published a picture of the pool. In the background and out of focus families were happily playing and in the foreground a rat was happily swimming apparently grinning at the camera.
There are open air swimming pools on Hampstead Heath that are v popular too. Personally the chance of me getting on one is zip.
Geoff, you’re always good for a story. I love that story of the photobombing rat offending sensibilities and fits in well alongside the stories of hoodlums. Don’t know whether you saw a previous post about my swim in the pool. I was an absolute coward and it took me an eternity to get in. I only did two laps because I knew the uphill walk home was going to be tough and it was indeed “challenging”. I just Googled your Brockwell Pool and read an overview of its history which was interesting and good to hear it was saved. I hadn’t heard of lidos before.
The prospect of getting into an English open air pool doesn’t enthrall me. It takes me a lot to get into the water these days even in our Australian Summer.
The queues at the weekend defy logic except when we achieve 30 plus temperatures.