Ladies-only at lovely McIver’s Baths

It only costs 20 cents to get into McIver’s Baths, a lovely sea pool nestled in a protected curve of the coast at Coogee. There’s no turnstiles or reception desk at this peaceful place so making a contribution relies on honesty and trust.

Reserved for women and children only, no men are allowed at this pool. This custom goes back to the early nineteenth century when the pool was thought to have been a traditional bathing place for Aboriginal women. From the late 1820s white women also bathed there, and since the 1860s it has remained a women-only bathing area. A few times in its history, organisations and individuals have applied to have the baths open to men but each time they were unsuccessful. A key objector to Randwick Council’s 1946 proposal was the Mother Superior of the Brigidine Convent at Randwick. She said the nuns at her convent, any country nuns vacationing there and the 100 boarders at the Brigidine school would not be able to visit the baths if they were opened for mixed bathing.
The baths are named after Robert and Rose McIver, who began operating them in 1918 and developed them into the form they are today. With Mina Wylie, Bella O’Keefe and others, Rose McIver established the Randwick and Coogee Ladies Amateur Swimming Club in 1923. In the 1970s and 80s renovation work was completed, and in 1994 the pool was heritage-listed by the National Trust.

Today the pool attracts all types of women but is particularly popular with Muslim women, Pacific Islanders, older women, mothers with babies and young children and lesbians. The day we popped in for a dip the ladies at McIver’s were lounging on the steep, grassy slope above the pool, reading, relaxing and enjoying the sun. Others stood in the water and chatted. One goggled and capped woman swam laps up and down the 20-metre sea pool, dodging the less energetic bathers floating and relaxing in the crystal clear water. A group of Samoan women hung on to the pool wall and enjoyed the wash of the waves gushing over their bodies like they were in a spa. My nieces jumped in and swam about, declaring later that McIver’s was a very nice, peaceful pool, protected from the wind and big waves. They would come back again even though at nine and 11-years-of-age they weren’t so sure about the naked bosoms of some of the patrons, but maybe the spirits of the Aboriginal women who first discovered this bathing beauty would lure them back.

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  • Yes is definitely a lovely pool to take a dip in and I think is the only ladies-only pool in the country! I think I will have to take Eimear and Orla back to the pool – this time they will be prepared for a bit of breast-bearing.

  • So proud to read this lovely review as I am the great grand daughter of Rose and Bob. By the way the surname is McIver, not McIvor.

  • I am very sorry I got the spelling of your great grandparents name wrong. I would love to find out more about their time at the pool and your family’s connections to it. Hope to hear from you again. How did you find the blog – did you just google the name of the pool? All the best. Therese

  • I have posted a link to this page on my blog (http://lazyswimmer.blogspot.com/2011/03/coogee-ladies-baths.html). I hope this is okay. I’ve been blogging about swimming around the Sydney coast in the various ocean pools and tidal baths. However, as a chap, I’m (quite rightly) unable to report on McGivers Baths. Your description is excellent, so I’ve pointed readers in this direction. If you have any objections, please let me know and I’ll remove the link. Cheers, Chris.

  • Thanks Pool Companies.

    Chris – that’s absolutely fine. I will become a follower of your blog and link to it here. Happy swimming.
    PS – It’s spelt McIvers not McGivers baths

  • The only negative thing about the pool is that boys are allowed in up to 13 years of age… unfortunately the last time I went, there were 3 of these teenagers gawking and commenting on the few women there, which made for an extremely uncomfortable experience, I actually left.

    At this age boys are obviously very sexually aware and not the innocent creatures they may have been 100 years ago! I’d suggest only young boys be allowed in with their mothers (NEVER alone!) say under 8 – what do regular users of the pool think? Amanda

    • Hi Amanda, I think 13 is a bit old and agree it would be better if the pool was open to boys under 8 and accompanied by their mothers. Thanks for your comment. Therese

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