Swimming is both a childhood rite of passage in Australia and a national obsession. Surf beaches, harbour pools, rivers, billabongs, creeks and dams are where children learn to swim, keep on swimming and then visit with their own kids and grandchildren.
Australia’s record-breaking swimmers have been our heroes since the days of the original ‘million dollar mermaid’ Annette Kellerman. Thousands of Australians now take part in ocean swimming races, whilst many more swim regularly for fitness and mental health.
And there are now some wonderful Australian swimming books to keep swimmers happy and engaged even when on dry land. Splash in!
The Memory Pool: Therese Spruhan
Summers at the pool are a touchstone of Australian childhoods, explored here in print for the first time. In 28 interviews with swimming legends, local heroes, authors and a movie star, this book brings back all the childhood memories for readers too. As the blurb on the back of the book says:
‘Smell the chlorine, taste the hot chips and feel the burning concrete underfoot as you read these stories of Australian childhoods at the pool.’
Novelist Trent Dalton takes the reader back to Brisbane’s Sandgate swimming pool in the 1980s, and Ellen Connor recalls her part in the successful battle to save iconic Fitzroy Pool in Melbourne in 1994. Artist Lizzie Buckmaster Dove describes a pivotal time in her life at the Blue Pool in Bermagui, and actor Bryan Brown remembers summers at Bankstown Baths in Sydney in the 1950s.
Therese Spruham has found stories of sea pools, backyard pools, river and bay pools, country pools and of historic pools, now closed down and lost except in the memories of their summer visitors.
Some of my favourite reminiscences were from teenage champion Olympian Shane Gould, and of her endless laps at Pymble. Merv Knowles was eight when Manuka Pool in Canberra opened in 1931 and she is still swimming there. My personal favourite, though, is Therese Spruhan’s own account of her childhood summers spent swimming at Northbridge Baths; the races, the fish in the water, the steep walks up and down.
Are these her memories or my own passion for this pool put on paper? This story chimes with me not because I swam there as a child, my childhood memories focus on Portobello Baths in Edinburgh.
But my two older boys and I spent many, many days at Northbridge Baths. I watched them learn to leap into the fish-filled water there, to dare to use the diving board. We raced each other in the 50m lanes, in the days when I could still swim faster than them, and endless games of cricket were played. I loved these summers at Northbridge, my sons’ own memory pool, dear to me for the lush days, hot chips and great joy of plunging in.
The Memory Pool by Therese Spruhan was published by New South Books in November 2019.
You can find The Memory Pool on Amazon Australia here.
Places We Swim: Caroline Clements and Dillon Seitchik-Reardon
Places We Swim is another book that will galvanise new swimmers and stir the souls of all who love searching for new bodies of water to throw themselves into. This book covers the entire Australian continent plus Tasmania, with in-depth sections on 60 of the authors’ and friends’ favourite swimming spots, accompanied by dozens more brief descriptions of excellent places to swim.
The photography in this book is truly spectacular, with many aerial shots and wide landscapes boasting extraordinary Australian scenery. Places We Swim quickly became a best-seller and it’s my secret desire to use it for an Aussie swimathon adventure one day. Who’s in?
I should be free in about five years times. Patience, patience!
The authors have explored the deep Outback and some of the most remote places in Western Australia’s Kimberley. They show us wonderful hot springs, including Lightning Ride Bore Bath in the far west of New South Wales, and deep gorges with pools and waterfalls like those of Karijini Gorge in Western Australia’s Pilbara.
Places We Swim was first published by Hardie Grant in 2018.
Wild Swimming Sydney: Sally Tertini and Steve Pollard
Sydney is a wild swimmer’s paradise, with so many easily accessible beaches and ocean, harbour and river pools to swim in and almost all of these wild places cost nothing at all. And, within easy reach of Sydney, there are even more gorgeous spots to have a dip, a dive or a dash in the waves. In this Antipodean version of the popular Wild Swimming series, Sally Tertini and Steve Pollard have listed over 250 places to swim, all within a three hour radius of Sydney.
The book is dripping with gorgeous photographs that would inspire even wild swimmer beginners to get away to the coast or head further inland. Its strength is that it lists so many places to explore, it could keep you going with ideas for years and years. Its weakness, I find, comes down to the short descriptions of each place. I need more information, especially if planning to explore somewhere new with my children.
I’d recommend searching online for the place you’re planning to visit, to find more information on how to get there and what you will find.
Wild Swimming Sydney is divided into 11 sections: City & Harbour, Sydney North, Sydney East, Sydney South, Illawarra, South Coast, Southern Highlands, Sydney West, Greater Blue Mountains South, Greater Blue Mountains North, Central Coast & Newcastle.
Each section has a map showing all of the swims, then listings with information about what you will find at each place and how to get there. There’s also advice on the best spots and some interesting details.
The photography is terrific, this is an aspirational and inspirational book and would keep any swimmer happily exploring new places for years and years.
Wild Swimming Sydney is published by Wild Things Publishing.
Sydney Rock Pools: Ignacio Palacios
This book shows the magnificent, wild beauty of Sydney’s rock pools and in equal measure, illustrates the deep passion they inspire.
Spanish fine art photographer Ignacio Palacio moved to Sydney and found himself living at Dee Why, close to its famous rock pool. This reawakened a love for swimming and then a project to photograph all of Sydney’s dozens of ocean pools.
I bought the first edition and was mesmerised by the photography. Palacios has spent a huge amount of time photographing at sunrise, it must have taken months and months of work to get so many exquisite photos. If you share his passion for these Sydney rock pools, you will truly appreciate his efforts.
Several photos of each pool sit beside interesting facts about the pool’s story, there’s usually one or two amazing aerials in the mix too. The aerial photography in this book really does show the rock pools off to their best advantage, whilst the dawn and dusk shots would give any swimmer the urge to rush down at those times to enjoy in all the wonderful colours of the sky and sea with their swim.
This is a large coffee table book which makes it a terrific present for swimmers or any lovers of the sea. It’s one of those never-fail gifts for friends who have been visiting Sydney, or for Sydneysiders who live overseas.
This A4 landscape hardcover book has 136 pages, the second edition above was professionally published in 2017 by the author.
Swimming Through Winter: Kirrilee Bracht
Kirrilee Bracht’s memoir is an Australian story of swimming for mental health, even for survival, in the style of The Outrun by Amy Liptrot and I Found my Tribe by Rith Fitzmaurice.
This non-fiction prose book starts with a fictional prologue in which someone is being isolated and abused by another, both persons unknown. This elliptical section is as much as the author tells us about the emotional winter she found herself swimming through. Then come the main chapters May, June, July, August and September; each has shorter pieces on many topics, with the main focus on swimming in the sea in this coldest time of the year in Australia.
In the book there are many memories of the author’s childhood and her adult years too. We come back again and again to the winter swimming, with lovely descriptions of the wildlife above and below the waves, and of the intense experience that is swimming in cold water. There is also much written about the companionship of swimmers, the bonds forged and the unspoken understanding between the group, both as they swim and on dry land too.
After winter comes spring, and with it the end of the mental imprisonment. The covers says:
‘At some stage all of us have to swim through some kind of winter.
When cold water swimming brings joy and healing, you’re well on your way to spring.’
I’m sure that many swimmers will relate to this book.
Kirrilee Bracht self-published her book in 2018. You can buy it through her website here.
Can you recommend any other great books on swimming in Australia?
Read about my Top 10 Wild Swimming Books on this post, or click the image below!
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