OUR beaches "are amazing, but there's more to us than that".
So wrote City of Newcastle's Cr Carol Duncan in this paper last week (Supporting night-time economy a stellar act, NH 11/11).
While our beaches on our blessed stretch of shoreline are no more amazing than those hugging much of the NSW coast, it's our ocean baths that are the true stars.
Both Newcastle and Merewether ocean baths play a huge role in new arrivals falling in love with the city.
And there's probably nowhere in the Hunter that feels the pressure of large numbers of humans exercising or trying to escape the heat as much as MOB and NOB.
Iconic, loved and extremely well patronised. With that pressure comes both responsibility and public pressure on the City of Newcastle (CoN) to keep them feeling clean, looking clean.
A letters correspondent in this newspaper recently noted that cleanliness at the baths appeared to have slipped in recent months.
Regulars had noticed that weekly cleaning practices no longer involved the whitewashing of the pools using hydrated lime - a practice which has been undertaken during weekly cleans (when conditions allow) at NOB and MOB since Jesus played halfback for the Nazareth Knights.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
I've written on numerous occasions about general cleanliness at and in the pools and surrounds. To little effect.
Sure, a sweep of the promenade and areas around the pools and cleansing of the outside showers removing human detritus and built-up sand on the promenades might follow a rant in the Newcastle Herald, but conditions soon revert back to a default "normal". And normal is not good enough.
I've previously argued in this column that those charged with supervising the cleaning work at the pools need to regularly attend the pools and ensure cleaning duties are constantly and properly carried out according to "the list" in a manner that reflects the significant symbolic capital our pools have developed locally and beyond.
There's no doubt - from even a cursory use of the Google machine - that hydrated lime is regarded as a potentially dangerous substance.
CoN are right to ensure safety of employees and contractors. But providing personal protective equipment is used as prescribed while handling and applying hydrated lime, workers should not be negatively impacted by using the substance.
A CoN spokesperson told me cleaners have been trialling Triple 7 Bio Concentrate since August and will do so for another six weeks.
They are using the trial product for a section of the baths while the remainder is being cleaned using hydrated lime, so it's not as if management have determined the product's use be totally abandoned.
The spokesperson also stated a: "comparison of the products is showing minimal to no oily film in the trial area (one week after application) whereas the not treated area has visible oily film. This effectiveness has the unfortunate consequence of disclosing all of the impurities and damage to the pool walls built up over many decades, and makes it look dirty. This damage will of course be addressed through the restoration of the baths set to commence next year."
"Ultimately we had wanted to rid the pools of any slime, build-up of bacteria and algae then paint the walls so they look better. But because of the porous condition of the walls at NOB, we can't apply paint."
What about MOB though?
Given CoN's usual approach of highlighting "best practice" blah blah when discussing change to long standing procedures or reasonable community expectations around infrastructure and maintenance matters, perhaps CoN must undertake further investigation into how other places with clean feeling and clean looking ocean baths achieve such a desirable quinella.
Northern Beaches Council - whose ocean pools constantly look and feel clean - use an algaecide called Algae B Gone.
When pools are emptied, it is applied to the surface and mechanically scrubbed into walls and promenades.
The Bondi Icebergs use manual labour with large scrubbing brooms once a week. Hard yakka, good result. A "few" times a year they use an algae resistant treatment.
It is terrific CoN have committed to the stage renewal of the NOB to address decades of neglect. Action starts next year.
But with appropriate CoN management attention to detail and investigation of how other ocean pools constantly achieve a clean feel and look, we might see the results of "best practice" on an ongoing basis.
There's only one kind of whitewashing pool users should expect from CoN when it comes to cleanliness at NOB and MOB.
- Paul Scott is a lecturer in the School of Creative Industries at the University of Newcastle. Twitter @paul_scott_ or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Do you have an opinion on the ocean baths? Email email@example.com or text 0427 154 176.