Pool Reviews

Brighton Baths – Brighton-le-Sands, NSW 2216

Brighton Baths

Named after the UK Brighton beach maybe, but why le Sands? Anyone know?

My experience in the pool

They call Brighton-Le-Sands ‘Little Greece’. I didn’t know this when I arrived for my swim at Brighton Baths but virtually all the old guys lounging around the beach seemed to be speaking a language that sounded a lot like Greek (not that I’m a Greek speaker myself), but since I’d passed Greek restaurants, Greek lawyers, Greek travel places, I kind of guessed.

The Brighton Baths Athletic Club also appears to be a retired Greek stronghold, at least judging by the cluster of guys sitting outside the clubhouse by the beach giving me directions to the nearest public toilets and changing rooms.

I’d driven past the swimming enclosure at Brighton-le-Sands countless times on my way to or from the airport, and actually never seen anyone in the water here. But when I arrived on a warm April morning around 9am, there were half a dozen people wading or slowly free styling along the length of this shark-proofed swimming enclosure in Botany Bay.

I’m kind of glad there were others there. I’m naturally suspicious of pools I don’t know when nobody is in the water. But the nets here look pretty solid and the water looked beautifully clear.

There was the first hint of slightly cooler water temperature after a few cooler nights, but once in the water, it actually felt perfect for a good swim.

Someone had written that the swimming enclosure is about 200m long. Judging by how many strokes it took me to swim from one end of the shark net to the other, I’d guess more like 150m or maybe even a bit less. Maybe the 200m enclosure dates back to before the 1960s when the ‘permanent’ boardwalk and pontoons were swept away in a massive storm (see photos in one of the links below).

You enter the water via a soft sandy beach and the water gets deeper fairly gradually. There were lots of fish swimming around the net at the northern end of the enclosure, but none down at the south.

I love the way you can watch the planes coming in to land at Sydney Airport, just across the bay, and if you pause for breath and look out to sea beyond the shark net, you look straight out to the ocean beyond the two headlands that protect Botany Bay. Lots of history here, and if you are interested in all things Captain Cook and First Fleet, there is an interesting sculpture of ship’s sails along with info on the names of the people on board those first ships and their route over here from Portsmouth in England.

The way the waters open out via those headlands to the ocean beyond also shows how exposed Brighton Baths must be when there’s a strong swell off the east, and how the whole infrastructure could have been demolished if there was a freak storm back in 1966.

It’s kind of a shame there’s no 50 year commemoration of the passing of those real baths at Brighton, but what I can say is that on a day of light breezes, today’s shark-netted Brighton Le Sands Baths have barely any waves and it’s hard to imagine how rough it must have been on that day the place fell apart in the storm.

Anyone out there remember Brighton Baths before 1966?

Getting there, getting in, getting changed

I caught a bus from Rockdale train station, which dropped me off on Bay Street, right across the road from Botany Bay and Brighton Baths. There is a direct bus from Sydney CBD, but it’s pretty infrequent. Lots of parking right by the main road along Botany Bay to and from Sydney Airport.

There’s only one way into the water at Brighton Baths. It’s a short walk over the sands into the water, which starts shallow and only slowly gets deeper.

Don’t try to use the Brighton Baths Athletic Club building – that’s members only and they’ll only redirect you to the toilets at the other (northern) end of the building. There are, though, public showers outside by the Athletics Club entrance – you’ll just need to go and change at the other end of the building!

Tidal differences

I don’t think tides make a big difference to the swim at Brighton Baths. The water is a good depth all the time, unlike some of the other swimming enclosures on Botany Bay.

History and stories of the pool

Brighton Baths used to be a lot bigger than they are now and had more of a formal structure, with a boardwalk all around the enclosure, but this was washed away in a big storm in 1966 and never rebuilt.

I don’t have any stories of the baths, though I read that when the Brighton Races took place nearby (possibly the shortest lived racecourse in horse racing history – opened in 1895 and closed down by 1911), punters – and jockeys – would come for a cooling dip after a day at the races by swimming in Brighton Baths. So, although the structure that was destroyed in a storm in the 1960s was only put up some 30 years earlier, there has been swimming in this spot for well over 100 years now.

There’s a bit of history of the area on this website about Sydney.

People I met here included…

I didn’t really get into conversation with anybody here, even though there was a handful of older Greek-sounding and -looking guys in and around the water. None of them seemed interested in striking up a conversation with an obvious outsider, so I didn’t get beyond my first attempt and let it be for this pool…

What’s your story? Any memories of swimming here? Any stories to tell? Or did you just have swimming lessons in days gone by?

Whatever you have to say, however brief, I’d love to hear from you and will add any stories to this section of the site as and when I receive them.  Add your comment or story under ‘Leave a Reply’ below.

Links to other articles on this pool

Some lovely old photos on swimming blogger Sally’s post about Brighton-le-Sands

I enjoyed this post on a writing blog from 2015. If the link to this doesn’t work, try a search for Ian Wells, Brighton-le-Sands – it’s a lovely piece with memories going back several decades.

The Lazy Swimmer blogger came here in 2009 as part of his tour of Sydney rock pools and baths.

And there’s a bit of background on the Brighton Baths Athletic Club on their own website – just don’t try to enter their premises if you aren’t a member…

Coffee, tea or milkshake after the swim?

There are several options for your post swim coffee on Bay Street, which is the main street in Brighton-le-Sands Beach area, heading back towards Rockdale. I found two serving up decent coffee

Bay Espresso – 295 Bay Street, Brighton-le-Sands, NSW 2216

Open Daily: 5.30am – 5pm Monday – Friday; 6am – 3pm Saturday;     7am -1pm Sunday

CoffeeBay

 

Probably the best coffee in Brighton-le-Sands, this little coffee shop is tight for space, but they have a nice range or roasts, blends and a single origin from Toby’s Estate.

If you like sitting out on a terrace with views of the sea beyond, then go to:

Mootch & Me – 313 Bay Street, Brighton-le-Sands, NSW 2216

Open Daily 6am – 6pm

Mootch

18 thoughts on “Brighton Baths – Brighton-le-Sands, NSW 2216”

  1. Can’t recall where the le-Sands name came from, but my parents had a couple of Rockdale history books that are now with my sister, so I will try and find out. The pool is actually 120m long. The best way to check lengths is to use the measuring tool with Google Earth or SIX Maps. Very accurate, as Olympic pools show as exactly 50m. Always plenty of room to swim at Brighton even on the warmest summer days, but unfortunately with all the restaurants parking is not so easy.

    I certainly have early memories of the baths, starting with being knocked over by ‘waves’ as a toddler and finishing with not being allowed to use the metal slides and diving platforms because of not being able to swim! I have a certificate for learning to swim at age ten, so my time at the old pool would have been from around 1959 till its closure in 1966.

    My mother mentioned regularly going to the baths after playing tennis. This would have been just before and/or just after WW2. She lived lived her whole life in the Rockdale area, so may well have been their earlier as a child as well. She thought that by the 1960s the baths had been neglected for a long time and were probably vulnerable to a decent storm. Nevertheless I remember seeing a copy of a photo showing what looked to be a 2m wave at Brighton, but I’ve also heard that subsequent massive dredging of the bay means this will never happen again.

    1. Great stories, Graeme. Thanks for sharing them again. If you find out that origin of le-sands from your parents’ history book, I’d love to know. The metal slides and diving platforms sound great fun too

      1. Couldn’t find my parents books, but found Brighton-le-Sands The Suburb That Grew From The Sand Hills – Rathbone RW 994-411 Brig in Sans Souci Library. A potted history mainly concerning the name and the baths:-

        Thomas Saywell was responsible for the initial development of BLS and built the original segregated baths in 1886 as an attraction. He wanted to call the area New Brighton. This was rejected as this was the name under which Manly was being developed. His second choice was BLS. Just so happens that New Brighton was a Merseyside town in England and across the river was a village named BLS. One assumes these relate back to the famous Brighton seaside resort.

        Saywell lost money on the developing and his baths became dilapidated, so the council opened the Brighton Municipal Baths in 1928. There is a great aerial photo http://db3.auroracloud.com.au/NRML/Images/JPEG/004/Brightonlesands_1930_Aerial_032.jpg showing both baths. The book didn’t say when the old baths were removed.

        Material for the new runway was dredged from the bay, which resulted in big waves that once broke on the sandbanks out towards the heads now broke on the beach. As a result of a “cyclonic storm” in mid June 1966, the (new) baths were badly damaged and never re-opened. As I mentioned above, the bay was re-dredged to prevent large waves reaching the beach. A few years later they were replaced by a netted enclosure in the same position.

        1. Fascinating – I know of New Brighton on Merseyside (developed not long before the the NSW Brighton-le-Sands by the look of it), but I didn’t know there was also a Brighton-le-Sands on Merseyside!

          Also interesting to hear that the big 1966 storm was made worse by dredging linked to the runways at Sydney Airport.

          Thanks again for the comments.

  2. Hi. There’s a Brighton-le-Sands in the UK. It’s not Brighton south of London. It’s in Merseyside, just out of Liverpool in the north-west of England. I used to live in the next suburb, Waterloo, and would walk along the seafront there. It was a pretty grim stretch of coast in those days. The beach (actually Crosby Beach) is where Antony Gormley’s “Another Place” installation is situated.

  3. Oops, just the spotted previous comments! Brighton-le-Sands on Merseyside is not news to you! My mistake, sorry.

  4. My partner and I swim here every Monday morning. In fact, a group of about 6 of us!, after which we enjoy a coffee at the kiosk at the northern end of the boardwalk. The Brighton Beach Athletics Club is a vibrant and busy hive of activity on weekends. The water is always cleaner than other Botany Bay swims further south. It is a privilege to have such a nice beach so close and convenient to where we live.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Julie. Sounds like Monday mornings are the time to be there! And yes, I still have three other Botany bay swims to do, but they so much seem to depend on tides; and some say they are not so clean also, so I’m waiting for the right time to go there.

      1. I moved away from BLS in Jan 1974 & can remember going to two weddings in Dec 1972 at a restaurant in the old baths buildings. At that stage the boardwalk & I think, the diving platforms were still there & we walked around them.
        I think the baths were still open & operating then. My brother used to swim with the BBAC every Sunday.
        My mother also used to swim competitively at the old baths, the stumps of which were still evident in the bay opposite Gordon or Princess St in the late 50’s early 60’s

  5. Thanks for the original post Simon and for the interesting info by others. It is such a joy living close by for a short time. I finally have my answer about the length of the enclosure. (120m) and am really proud that I can swim a lap stopping only once regroup. The Rathbourne book makes for interesting reading about the history of the suburb. After my close encounter with a junior Great White (as identified by the Kyeemah last summer in front of Gate 155, I only swim in the enclosures at Brighton and Kyeemah. I was worried about upkeep of the enclosures but a few months ago I was happy to see 2 council workers in a dinghy moving along the outside of the fencing while a diver was (hopefully checking) below, along the fence line. I’d be interested to know how often the enclosure is checked and maintained by council.

  6. I meant the Kyeemah bait shop owner was adamant it would have been a juvenile great white or bull shark. I was swimming on a hot clear weekday in Feb in groin deep water out front of gate 055 when I noticed 2 fins about 40 meters north of me, in water much shallower than I was standing in. My brain could not compute the reality as I couldn’t believe sharks would come in to such shallow water. At first I thought it was a log as I could see the ridge of its back between its 2 fins. I stood transfixed till my husband looked up and then came running down the beach yelling ‘Shark’. I finally mobilised and ran in seemingly slow motion to get out. The shark by this time had turned in my direction. I believe it was young ( about 2 metres) and simply curious. No way I could’ve outrun it if it had scoped me. It then leisurely turned towards the open water, diving under (darn shame) a jet ski skimming parallel to the shore. We think it was the same shark that appeared near the kite surfers at Ramsgate and then made its way up Alexandria canal to Mascot a few days later on Feb 11 or 12, 2017. I’m now nervous even IN the shark enclosures but the bay is a beautiful siren. https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/australia/large-shark-spotted-in…/ar-AAmR7iq

    1. What an amazing story. I can understand your nervousness and I’d be the same. I don’t know how people like Mick Fanning get back in the water after such close encounters. Thanks for sharing it

  7. There’s an old-school style ice cream shop called Brighton-Le-Sands Ice Creamery which just next to the road and they have lots of historical pictures inside.

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