Where Sydney Swims is a annual summer series about a very Australian thing: swimming. After a year of unknowns, one thing we know for sure is that the water has felt more refreshing and revitalising than ever this summer. We talk to a musician, an artist, a writer, a model, a comedian and the deputy lord mayor of Sydney about their preferred swimming spots, where to go for meal nearby and what they’ll be reading in the sun.
Whether it’s a beach, an inland lake or a suburban pool, these are the places thousands of Sydneysiders will spend their days this summer.
JESSICA VANDER LEAHY, MODEL AND WRITER
Model, writer and presenter Jessica Vander Leahy has contributed to Cosmopolitan, Elle and Whimn, covering fashion, beauty and feminism. She grew up in Sydney, but has spent years working between New York, London and LA. Vander Leahy is currently working on season two of her podcast The Affirmation Project – a micro-dose of daily self-reflection and spirituality.
What does summer in Sydney feel like to you?
Alive. I feel like we emerge from the shells we’ve been hibernating in and rush to the sandy shores. Summer means Sydneysiders’ collective pulse starts to hum to a hypnotic rhythm that spells seemingly endless beach days and barbeques.
Where do you usually swim in summer?
I grew up in the Shire, so the southern beaches will always have a special place in my heart – Bundeena and the little coves around Cronulla, like Salmon Haul. But, having lived in the city for years, there’s something really special about a swim in the harbour – if you can wrangle a mate’s boat.
What are your beach essentials?
SPF – not just any, but a proper physical barrier like Mecca’s To Save Face – and a nice big beach bag. Being from Papua New Guinea, I love using my handmade rope bilums for the beach because they’re just so strong and get better with age.
What are you reading this summer?
I’ve got to get through Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – my mum raves about it. And, of course, Obama’s A Promised Land is on audiobook; [it’s] so special when the authors themselves read to you with their tone and cadences. Also, I want to read Dolly Parton’s Songteller — she’s my icon, and when I saw her sing on Colbert and make him cry, I just fell in love with her all over again.
Where do you have a drink or something to eat after a swim?
If I’m in the east, Out of the Blue [Clovelly] for a fish burger – it’s not a revolutionary choice but there’s a reason why some things find fame, and their fish burger is beyond.
JESS SCULLY, CITY OF SYDNEY DEPUTY LORD MAYOR
Councillor Jess Scully uses creativity to engage people in urban life, and she’s working to shape a sustainable and inclusive future for Sydney. Founding director of Australia’s largest creative-industries event, Vivid Ideas, Scully advocates for adopting new models for housing, access to culture and opening up politics to younger, more diverse participants. In 2019 she was elected deputy lord mayor of the City of Sydney, and in 2020 she released her first book, Glimpses of Utopia.
“Last year I was pregnant, and the only [thing] that offered any relief from the constant unassailable pain was just being in the water,” she tells Broadsheet. “I loved going to Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre in Ultimo at the end of the day and just floating or doing backstroke and looking up at the ceiling.”
But come summer, Scully’s favourite place to swim is Parsley Bay. “It’s so picturesque and beautiful and shady, and you can have a picnic. It’s a really gentle bay, so, with the little one, it's easy to go in and have a splash,” she says.
As for what she’ll be reading this summer? She mentions Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta, a non-fiction exploration of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives on problem-solving. “But I do need some fiction, because I just need to have some kind of mental break from work, a bit of an escape.”
Scully agrees that 2020 has allowed us all to celebrate what we have right on our doorstep. She recently visited the South Coast, and her husband’s family live just south of Newcastle, so they’ll spend time there over summer.
She says she associates Sydney summers with hot afternoons and jasmine. “The smell of jasmine is the number one thing for me. And the heat. You can wait all afternoon for the heat to break and for the cool change to blow in. And the sound of cicadas.”
Singer-songwriter Jessica Cerro (aka Montaigne) experienced a lot of change last year. The music industry was hit hard by the pandemic, and Montaigne was set to represent Australia at the Eurovision Song Contest (which has now been rescheduled for 2021). In the meantime, she’s been engaging with her audience in new ways on digital live-streaming platform Twitch.
What does summer mean to you? What does it feel like?
Hot. I have a feeling this summer will be all about two things: staying inside when it’s too hot and playing video games and eating ice-cream, or, on a nice day, going for a swim or snorkel, or skateboarding in a crop top and bike shorts.
Where do you like to swim in Sydney?
I live in the inner west but swim at Clovelly – it’s nice to snorkel there with the big and little groupers.
What will you be doing this summer?
Going to Orange to hang out with my partner’s extended family. I’ll also be visiting my family in Canberra at some point.
What are you reading this summer?
I have a bit of a queue, but at the moment it’s Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo.
What music are you listening to this summer?
I’m loving Elle Músa’s new music – Mango Pops sounds exactly like summer. I’m also very excited for new Genesis Owusu. And to throwback: Venezia by Ryuichi Sakamoto. I have a playlist I got from my stylist for Eurovision promo shoots, made by her husband, called Cool Breeze Japanese, which I’ve refined down to my tastes and is full of excellent Japanese new wave and electronic songs. Venezia is a highlight and probably in my top 10 of favourite songs of all time.
MATT OKINE, COMEDIAN
Matt Okine is an Brisbane-born comedian, actor and radio presenter who lives in Sydney. Okine spent three years co-hosting Triple J’s Breakfast, before turning his semi-autobiographical standup show The Other Guy into an acclaimed television show. He’s spent the last year on a range of projects: working on an EP, developing TV shows, adapting his book into a screenplay, and making a daily podcast (All Day Breakfast) with his Triple J co-host Alex Dyson.
“It’s funny, when I moved to Sydney I stopped swimming,” he tells Broadsheet. “Growing up in Queensland I used to love going to the beach and then when I moved to Sydney, I stopped for years because it was just a little bit too difficult to get to the beach from Chippendale [because] I didn’t have a car.”
Now he’s got the swimming bug again and takes regular dips. When we spoke, he’d just returned back from Victoria Park Pool, where he takes his toddler daughter.
In summer Okine is a sucker for North Bondi, and often goes to Coogee because it’s close to Tuga Pastries, which he says has the best Portuguese tarts in Sydney.
He’s not much of a sunbaker, though. “I’m in the water or I’m on my way home, I don’t really sit down and relax”. On his way home he’ll listen to a podcast – he’s is a big Case Files fan, and also listens to Crime Junkie, Shameless and Inside the Big Day Out, which he says “is really impressive”.
Okine admits he used to hate Sydney’s small beaches, because he was used to the Gold Coast and endless stretches of sand. “But the segmentation of beaches here is so great,” he says – he likes the fact that an array of different beaches are all within walking distance of each other.
“Whenever I’m floating in the water at Gordon’s Bay, I’m looking up at the cliffs and I think to myself, ‘Why the hell do I spend thousands of dollars going overseas on holidays?’”
RAMESH MARIO NITHIYENDRAN, ARTIST
Sri Lankan-born, Sydney-based artist Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran creates vibrant sculptures and paintings. After completing a large-scale installation at the AGNSW towards the end of last year, he’s had some downtime over summer. His self-portrait was also a finalist in last year’s Archibald Prize.
What does summer in Sydney feel like to you?
Summer is hot, fun and generally involves lots of food.
Where do you swim in Sydney in summer?
I’ve been exploring the beaches in the Royal National Park, as well as La Perouse. Although, a favourite new swimming spot has to be Lake Parramatta. It’ s right near my studio in Rydalmere.
Why is Lake Parramatta so special?
It’s low-key, family-friendly and feels so different to the coastal offerings of Sydney. The area has been regenerated and cared for, so the water quality is safe. There’s something hopeful about this place.
Where do you go for a drink, coffee or meal post-swim?
Parramatta is one of my favourite places to eat. I can have chilli any time of the year, even when the sun is blazing. I can’t look past Temasek for a comforting Malaysian feed after a dip. Alternatively, I’ll get an icy bubble tea from one of the many places close by.
MARLEE SILVA, WRITER AND PODCAST HOST
Marlee Silva is a Gamilaroi and Dunghutti author and podcast host. She is the author of My Tidda, My Sister: Stories of Strength and Resilience from Australia’s First Women (published in 2020) and the host of the Always Was, Always Will Be: Our Stories podcast. She’s dedicated to sharing positive stories of her culture, family and country.
Silva grew up and still lives around Cronulla, which means she has an abundance of swimming spots on her doorstep. She admits that the last few years the crowds over summer have swelled, so she prefers to focus on the areas where visitors don’t tend to visit. “If I’m just going to a swim to cool off early in the morning, I’ll go to Salmon Haul, or Bay Lane, around the fisheries, in the south of Cronulla. There are no waves, it’s really quiet and very relaxing.”
She lives in Yowie Bay, but often runs to Cronulla main beach where she’ll have a coffee or breakfast. “I always go for a juice after a swim,” she says, likely from So Fresh in the Cronulla mall. If she’s looking for lunch she’ll head to Blackwood Pantry or vegan cafe Heart & Soul.
To Silva, summer feels hot and bothered. “My room is the hottest in the house, so that feeling of being up at night and a little restless because of the heat is the first indicator of summer for me.” She relishes the quiet in the evenings when people are too hot to do anything other than lay around and try to keep cool. She’s nostalgic about the taste of salt in the air and on her skin, and the sand in her bed. “My hair feels scrunchy and crackly from salt, there’s sand everywhere … and it stays there well beyond summer.”
Caroline Clements is the author of Places We Swim, a guide to the best places to swim in Australia.