‘Muck runs off you’: Swimmers say Newcastle Ocean Baths worse than ever

Two-time national surf lifesaving champion Jeff Dawson has been swimming in Newcastle Ocean Baths for 59 years and has never seen them so dirty.

Mr Dawson, who was named in 2008 as Newcastle Surf Lifesaving Club’s outstanding competitor of the 20th century, and other regular users contacted by the Newcastle Herald expressed dismay at the state of the city’s landmark ocean pool.

“I’ve been swimming there for 59 years – I’m 72 and I started when I was 13 – and I’ve never seen the pool, the surrounds, the whole lot, as dirty as it is now,” Mr Dawson said.

You get out and wipe your legs and … muck runs off you.

“It’s an absolute disgrace. They just haven’t been cleaned properly. All the corners of the pools, where the wind and cigarette butts blow into, they’re all filthy.

“Five or six years it’s been going downhill badly. It’s just getting worse and worse. You get out and wipe your legs and … muck runs off you.” 

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Mr Dawson said the problems extended to the pool surrounds.

“Cigarette butts have been laying there for weeks and months. Things just aren’t being done,” he said.

“The showers are rotten dirty all the time. They don’t get cleaned out properly. It’s just filthy.” 

Another swimmer said all the regulars had commented about the poor state of the ocean pool.  

“As one, people are saying they have never seen it as bad, because the walls are dirty, like an algae, and the pool’s murky,” he said.

“It’s not what it used to be, and the fact that the council or developers have that up front and centre as an icon of Newcastle and a good reason to live here, it’s sad that it’s deteriorated to that extent.”

Six council staff scrubbed the walls of the baths during their weekly clean on Wednesday morning.

By early afternoon, as the pool was refilling, a brown film had formed over one corner of the water surface and an aluminium can floated nearby.

The council said on Wednesday that it was satisfied its staff were adhering to a “rigorous, regular cleaning timetable” and water testing had shown the baths were safe for swimming.

“The extreme hot weather experienced in Newcastle over the past week is obviously out of council's control, but it has resulted in very high usage of Newcastle Ocean Baths and warmer water associated with the high air temperatures,” a spokesman said.

“During summer, warmer water accelerates algae growth, resulting in an unsightly build-up on the walls in the splash zone.

“The sand bottom gives rise to turbidity which is greater in warmer months when usage is higher.

“While this results in the appearance of an unclean pool, testing indicates the water quality is acceptable for public swimming.

“Water quality has also been affected by the large amount of weed around the rock shelf and in the water at the Cowrie Hole.”

Weekly cleaning included emptying the baths, removing debris from the pool floor, cleaning and whitewashing walls and removing oysters.

“This process is dependent on weather and surf conditions, which can prevent some weekly cleaning activities due to high seas,” the spokesman said.

“We recently extended the cleaning hours of the amenities at beaches and ocean baths. Instead of finishing at midday, cleaners now work from before dawn through to 8pm in summer.”

A surfer walk past the baths as they refill on Wednesday. Picture: Simone De Peak

A surfer walk past the baths as they refill on Wednesday. Picture: Simone De Peak

Mr Dawson said the council should be more flexible about when the baths were cleaned. 

“Last week they didn’t whitewash [the walls] because they emptied the pool at six o’clock in the morning and there was a high tide of 2.11 metres, the biggest tide of the year, at about 9 o’clock, so the water didn’t get out of the pool,” he said. 

“Last year they started doing it around the tides, but this year every Wednesday morning the pool goes at six o’clock, and that’s it. If it’s raining or the water’s coming, then bad luck, they don’t do it. There’s no back-up plan to do it.”

Mr Dawson said the pool was too shallow because the council had not removed enough sand off the bottom.

“The pool’s getting shallower and shallower. It’s probably 18 inches, two foot shallower than what it was two years ago.

“When they emptied the pool in August they took 31 truck loads out instead of about 131.”


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