There are many treasures beneath the northern footings of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The picnic-perfect lawns of Bradfield Park, the grinning gateway to Luna Park and the rickety charm of the North Sydney Olympic Pool.
Why would Sydneysiders, whose veins run with seawater, love a public pool so much – especially one ringed with crumbling concrete, 1930s stuccowork and a façade of multicoloured bricks?
To the men and women breaststroking along its eight sparkling blue lanes each morning, it’s about the view. The view that takes your breath away even as you raise your head to draw it; the vast underbelly of the bridge thrown into perfect relief against a cloudless sky at one end, Luna Park’s bright Ferris wheel at the other.
To the sunscreen-smudged kids clumped in the shallows on a Monday afternoon, it’s because there’s space to practise your underwater handstands and because Mum has to concede that a post-swim cup of hot chips and tomato sauce is an unassailable Aussie right.
To the seniors moving carefully through their lunchtime aquarobics class, it’s all the reminders of yesteryear: tokens and keys for lockers rather than fancy swipes and apps, the cracked paintwork, the gracious “ladies” and “gentlemans” signs over the change-room doors.
And to those who were here back then, it’s the place where Australians proved that we’re the world’s best water babies. Here, the great Murray Rose smashed the 880 yards freestyle record in 1956. Between 1956 and 1964, the legendary Dawn Fraser claimed seven individual records.
Today our champion athletes train in specialised indoor academies in high-tech performance suits. Once, like we do now, they simply pulled on their nylon togs and swam, fast and free, beneath the blue sky and the bridge.
4 Alfred Street South, Milsons Point
Image credit: Chris Pearce