Wylie's Baths and Kiosk is marked by a single suspended sign: "OPEN 365 DAYS A YEAR". The path dips towards the sea, through a narrow blue door and down to the gate, where you'll pay $4.50 for the pleasure of using the pool.[fold] It's a steep asking price, especially considering the McIvers Baths next door requires only a 20 cent entry and possession of either a uterus or excessive youth (it's a women and children-only pool). And, of course, Wylie's is even pricier compared to the non-existent cost of sunning yourself on the sands at any of Sydney’s beaches.
But upon paying the fee, you won’t have to fight with your elbows to get a seat at a table overlooking the ocean. You can even find a plastic chair to isolate yourself at the end of the deck. You'll find half the crowd below the deck in the shade, spreading their towels on the flat cement or sitting on the benches beneath the boardwalk. In short, the competition is pretty scarce for towel real estate. So if you can put a price on an unfussy seaside dip, $4.50 is about right.
Wylie's was established in 1907 and was among the first mixed-gender bathing pools in Sydney. It remains a living, breathing relic of a destination that was once the definition of an exciting summer day.
But on this particular morning the water is too high and rough to leap into the pool just yet. The sea wall has drowned under the tide, waves shoot forward and claw themselves back out with the kind of force that even a seasoned swimmer would be wary of. Kids splash and yell in the ankle-grazing rock pool. The chalkboard before the entrance marks times for high and low tide; another hour will see it subside, poised for swimming.
The whole aesthetic is retro seaside Australiana, but in a way that isn't contrived or ironically striving to reference. It feels like the setting of a Max Dupain photograph. Maybe I need a jaunty swimming cap to complete this picture. There's a discernible nostalgia for an era that is recognisable, even if you haven’t lived it.
The kiosk hints at long, languid summer holidays as a child. The fare is sausage rolls and pasties, Golden Gaytimes and lime Splices, ham and cheese sandwiches and homemade cakes that you can genuinely imagine having baked yourself. The coffee isn't too shabby either. If you're waiting for the tide to fall, it’s very easy to amuse yourself with some reading material under one of the shaded spaces on the deck.
Showers and a change room mean that you can legitimately go from beach-to-bar with a proper dry down and a glance in the mirror to make sure you've scrubbed up okay. Showers set you back a whole 20 cents for hot water – although there's a free shower under the deck that’s fine for just rinsing off.
For anyone who has had the beach as the setting for their summers, frolicking the sand-less surrounds of the Baths is oddly pleasant, civilised, even. There’s something to be said for the leisureliness of an ocean pool and the space to spread yourself out under the shade of a deck.
Neptune Street, Coogee
Daylight savings: 7am–7pm
Standard hours: 7am–5pm
(02) 9665 2838