Visit Bronte Beach when the tide’s in and you probably won’t see it.
But once the water starts to recede, it reveals itself – the Bronte bogey hole, the much-loved swimming spot that has welcomed swimmers for generations.
Many an Eastern Suburbs kid has grown up splashing around in the bogey hole at the southern end of Bronte Beach. As a youngster, I spent many hours there, and when my own kids came along I introduced them to this very special part of Bronte Beach. But its history stretches back much further than my family’s association with it – and might not be quite what you first thought.
Early history: the first bogey hole
The word “bogey” is derived from an Indigenous word meaning a swimming or bathing place. Bronte’s Baths: a history from Waverley Council states that the original bogey hole was situated where Bronte Baths are today, and it’s believed local Indigenous people used this naturally occurring rock pool for countless years before Europeans arrived in Australia.
That first bogey hole was popular during the 19th century, and it’s easy to see why. It offered Victorian bathers a safe place to swim at a time when “sea bathing” was often viewed as dangerous, particularly at Bronte. An 1886 letter to the editor of The Sun noted that the steep incline at Bronte Beach caused waves “to recede with gigantic force – force which has taken into eternity men, women and children”. The writer concluded by demanding Sydney councils should “for the protection of valuable lives, prohibit by law bathing in the open waters”.
While bathing in the open waters wasn’t prohibited, construction of Bronte Baths began in 1887 and was completed the same year. The site chosen? The very first bogey hole. Bathers could be reassured of a safe ocean dip in the new baths, which enclosed the bogey hole.
The men’s bogey hole
Sitting next to the baths is the “men’s bogey hole”. This spot, which you can enter via a ladder at the side of the baths, was popular in the early 20th century – so popular that in 1905, according to Waverley Council papers, swimmers mounted a petition demanding it be extended.
The council agreed. But not long after the extension, a large storm displaced many of the new, large boulders, ruining much of the work that had been done. Pressure to extend the men’s bogey hole continued, and in 1907 Mr Bradshaw won Waverley Council’s tender to do just that.
Community interest in the condition of the bogey hole continued. In August 1912, a Mr W. Gilmour wrote to The Sun to complain about the council’s apparent lack of concern for the state of the bogey hole or the safety of its swimmers. Mr Gilmour’s main concern was that boulders were strewn along the bottom of the bogey hole, and that the council leaving them there was “nothing short of a shame”.
Today’s bogey hole is born
Mr Gilmour’s grievances about boulders came at a time when improvements to Bronte Beach were being discussed. Two years later, those improvements began when the sea wall and promenade were constructed. The work took place between 1914 and 1917, and during this time the larger bogey hole – the one we know and love today – was also constructed.
Despite what many of us have grown up believing, today’s bogey hole, despite looking like a gorgeous rock pool, appears to have been man-made. According to information from Waverley Council, the new bogey hole had been championed by the Bronte Progress Association, who wrote to Waverley Council in April 1916 requesting the removal of rocks from the natural rock shelf to create a new bogey hole. This new hole would provide a safe swimming area for women and children.
More recently, the bogey hole has apparently hosted more than just kids. Swim Sally Swim reports that in 1996 a pod of dolphins surfed the waves into the bogey hole. And in 2001 a gummy shark who’d found its way into the bogey hole apparently bit a man on the arm so hard that the man had to go to hospital – with the shark still attached.
More than just a swimming spot
There’s no denying the bogey hole – in its original or new position – is a special place. It has always been an iconic part of Bronte Beach and a much-loved eastern suburbs swimming spot for generations.
So what are you waiting for? Go take a dip in the bogey hole rock pool, swim a few laps at the baths, and then meander up the street to the famous, long-running cafe of the same name, The Bogey Hole Cafe, for a delicious post-swim treat.
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Photo credits: localwiki.org