WARREN Armstrong wasn't going to miss this.
The Merewether Ocean Baths reopened on Thursday after a 10-month, $4 million makeover that revamped the iconic swim spot months ahead of schedule.
By 8.45am a 30-strong crowd had gathered to wait; families, a few of the younger generation, and the daily swimmers who have been displaced during the closure.
At 9am, with the sun already stating its intentions for the day, the lifeguards planted the red and yellow flag and they were off and heading for the water.
One lark among the first to take a dip remarked that the council had "forgot to turn the temperature up".
But none of them were quicker than 94-year-old Mr Armstrong, who can forever claim the title of first in the water after the revamp.
He said he had decided he was "going to make sure I was first", and he did, beating the rush to get his toes wet on the new access ramp before anyone else.
A Merewether resident for the past 67 years, he was 15 when the baths opened in November 1935 during the Great Depression, and trekked from his old stomping ground in Mayfield to be at the grand opening.
"I remember everything about it," he said. "I rode my bike from Mayfield just to be here just for the opening, and I remember all the things in the pools; slides and floating devices, everybody running around."
Mr Armstrong swims in the pool "every day", and is a bit of a legend to those who frequent the place.
The place of the baths in Merewether's identity is unquestioned. For people like Lindsay Stankovic, 20, and Blake Deller, 21, it has been a piece of the fabric of growing up in the suburb.
"Yep, from Nipper and Surf Life Saving, it's pretty much a constant," Mr Deller said.
"I'm probably here every day nearly when it's open," Mr Stankovicsaid.
After the initial rush the swimmers kept streaming in, so that by 9.30am the crowd had grown.
Robert and Jillane Mander, from Sydney, said Novocastrians were "so lucky" to have the baths. They're in Newcastle looking after their two granddaughters, Lily, 3, and Aurelia, 1, and were chuffed the kids would be able to "tell their grandchildren they were here for the opening".
"There are rock pools and swimming pools all along the Australian coast but I really don't think there's anything quite like this," Mr Mander said. "And obviously the community love it immensely as you can see from all the people already here."
Standing back near the pavilion, project manager Greg Lequesne watched on, "very pleased" to see his hard work being enjoyed. A "very enthusiastic" council cleaner had arrived at 3am to turn the new, faster pumps on.
"When you're working on it every day, it feels like a long time, so it's great to see how much everyone is enjoying it," Mr Lequesne said.
Most important, though, was the verdict of Mr Armstrong: "It was wonderful, perfect temperature. I think it's money well spent."
The council has warned the pumps are still in a commissioning period so the baths might be closed at times while they're being tested.
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