Review by Tim Stephens
Wild Swimming Sydney by Sally Tertini and Steve Pollard is an indispensable handbook for exploring and enjoying wild swimming in the array of inland and coastal waters to be found in the greater Sydney region. Wild swimming simply means swimming in natural waters for pleasure.
The book contains a carefully curated list of places in and around the Sydney metropolis where it is possible to find largely unspoilt and wild locations to cool off on a hot day or to enjoy an invigorating plunge in the middle of winter.
Australians have always had a fascination with swimming in wild places. Australia’s indigenous peoples maintained a deep connection with the freshwater systems on our dry continent and the saltwater seas that surround the colossal landmass. Rivers, creeks, lakes, lagoons and springs held immense spiritual and cultural significance. Following colonisation first nations peoples were dispossessed of their traditional country, especially if there was water to be found. The landmark Mabo decision recounts a typical story of Aborigines being driven from the Hawkesbury River by settlers in the early 1800s, despite an assurance by the government that they could continue to live there.
Sally and Steve introduce Wild Swimming Sydney by acknowledging the Aboriginal connection to water. The Eora peoples saw rivers, waterholes, and beaches as sacred places created during the Dreamtime by ancestor spirits who continue to have a presence to this day. It is not difficult to appreciate why these locations hold such significance when spending some time at the spectacular swimming spots collected in the book.
Early European settlers generally had a more utilitarian and less sophisticated appreciation of water in the Australian landscape than the first Australians. Swimming for pleasure either on the coast or at inland waterways had a chequered history among Europeans (swimming during daylight was even banned for some time) and it was not until the surf life-saving movement was born in the early twentieth century that recreational swimming became more widespread and life savers could be found not just at Bondi but even in places such as the Cooks River.
The heavy pollution of many rivers and beaches by industrial and household effluent in the mid twentieth century led many Sydneysiders to abandon swimming in nature and instead flock to newly built chlorinated municipal pools. However, these concrete complexes offered none of the ethereal delights of swimming in nature.
Thankfully, the tide has now turned, the water quality of our rivers and beaches has dramatically improved, and there is growing interest in wild swimming. There are now multiple social media groups dedicated to sharing wild swimming experiences in Sydney, across Australia and the world.
Online resources are all well and good, but as any seasoned bushwalker or canyoner knows there is also a special place on the bookshelf and the backpack for excellent guidebooks.
Wild Swimming Sydney is such a book. Meticulously researched by Sally and Steve, it contains the key information you will need to find over 250 wild swimming locations in and around Sydney. The book begins with some sound practical advice for the wild swimmer, whether you are looking for a quick dip or are more intrepid and want to head deep into challenging country.
However, perhaps the best advice is not of a practical nature at all, but goes to the intangible psychological, spiritual and physical benefits of wild swimming. Don’t rush your wild swimming experience, counsel Sally and Steve. Really savour each swim, enjoying the journey there and back (by public transport or bicycle if possible). Perhaps even camp nearby and take in something of the surrounding area and its other attractions. And remember that where there is one wild swimming spot there are probably others nearby worth exploring.
The book is divided into eleven chapters, each devoted to a Sydney region, from the city and harbour, north to the Central Coast, west to the Blue Mountains, south to the Illawarra and South Coast and up and down Sydney’s coastal fringe. The swims are also listed according to some key attributes, so you can easily find swimming holes that are best for picnics, or for seclusion or for swimming au naturel.
For each region there is a helpful map showing the location of each swim, together with a list of the authors’ absolutely favourite spots in the relevant region and a narrative account of some of the features of the region and its special gems. Then for each individual swim there is a concise description of the facilities available and instructions for the walk in, which includes grade (easy to hard), distance and total elevation. Some of these walking notes are quite brief, and although they will generally suffice you should consult a map before venturing into the more remote locations. The entry for each swim also includes latitude and longitude coordinates which is helpful in pinpointing precise locations. And most importantly for those seeking out a truly wild swimming experience, there is a seclusion rating which will give you a sense of whether you will have a pool entirely to yourself.
Wild Swimming Sydney was clearly a work of love for the authors, and this shines out in the engaging and descriptive prose and in the stunning photographs which fill its pages. It documents an extraordinary variety of wild swimming opportunities in Sydney. I have only had a chance to enjoy a small sample of these, but with Wild Swimming Sydney in the backpack I look forward to enjoying many more in the years to come with family and friends.
- Sydney City & Harbour
- Sydney North
- Sydney East
- Sydney South
- South Coast
- Southern Highlands
- Sydney West
- Greater Blue Mountains South
- Greater Blue Mountains North
- Central Coast & Newcastle
- Usefulness — 5/5
- Value for money — 5/5
- Overall — 5/5