At the end of yet another surf season, visitors and locals still wonder at the Forster Ocean Baths being referred to as the Bullring.
They also wonder about stories of a casino at Forster and another casino, still functional, at nearby Old Bar.
The Forster Ocean Baths opened officially on January 18, 1936, with a gathering of about 1500 people. It was one of the largest ocean pools in Australia with sides being 50m, 56m and 69m with the remaining side being the entrance buildings and the casino.
The baths and buildings were designed and constructed under the auspices of Stroud Shire Council which, at that time, was the local government area encompassing Forster.
The project was part of an early tourism development scheme for Forster and built by 'relief of unemployment' workers.
A dance casino was added in 1936 with 450 patrons attending up to 26 dance nights and two or three balls annually.
Five years after opening the casino, Rushby's Casino was opened at nearby Old Bar on December 6, 1941, the day before the bombing of Pearl Harbour.
As opposed to the demolished Forster Casino, the Rushby's Casino structure still exists and is now incorporated into Lani's Caravan Park. The concept of these casinos was to serve as a more recreational facility than the many school of arts buildings which were popular. They were dance casinos rather than gambling casinos.
The Forster Ocean Baths precinct was constructed over a sheltered rocky swimming hole at the eastern end of Main Beach and adjacent to the base of Second Head. At this time, the swimming hole was referred to as Hayden's Pool in deference to local personality, Henry Haden, a dredge master with the NSW Department of Public Works, who lived across the road on the corner of West and North streets.
The new ocean bath was self-filling at high tide and was built to meet the then Olympic requirements. With a large entrance structure, encompassing change room facilities, lockers, showers, a café and assisted by flood lighting, the summer time opening hours were 6am until midnight with the entry cost of three pence for adults (about $1.35 in today's currency), while children under 14 paid one penny (about 45 cents).
The zone has undergone several modes of management with many updates and maintenance schedules. In 1973, sea-changers, Darrell and Cathy Goodwin, were the successful tenderers for a five year lease of the baths. In order to supplement their income from entry fees and the café, they opened a help-yourself barbecue restaurant which they named The Bullring.
Perhaps it was the Spanish mission terracotta design of the building which may have influenced the name choice or maybe the names of similar contemporary coastal eateries such El Rancho Steak House at Surfers Paradise, and the Chuck Wagon at Tugun. Alas, all are now gone.
After the mid 1970s, the baths building and casino were used as craft centres prior to demolition which was necessitated by disrepair due to years of exposure on the waterfront. The pool facilities building was demolished in the late 1970s and the casino in 1991. There has, however, been little alteration to the pool itself which is now in its 87th year.
The 2020 refurbishment of the amenities block and barbecue facilities has greatly enhanced the appeal of the site. This refurbishment was stage one of the 2018 Forster Main Beach Masterplan to guide redevelopment of the Main Beach precinct. This master plan is a 30 year strategy which provides the framework to guide future planning, research and design of the SLSC precinct, the Bullring ocean baths and North Street.
Currently, the Bullring hosts locals, visitors, the Mud Crabs and Turtles swimming clubs and Forster Surf Club nippers water safety education programs. The Bullring is now maintained by the MidCoast Council. It is emptied and cleaned monthly with the next scheduled date being Thursday, June 23.
The Bullring Restaurant is gone, however, its legacy remains in the local folklore in Forster-Tuncurry.
Ruth Stocker from the Great Lakes Historical and Maritime Museum is working on collecting information on the history of the Bullring. Volunteers to help at the museum are keenly sought. The museum is open to visitors each Tuesday and Wednesday 10am-2pm and each Sunday 1-4pm.
The museum can be contacted on 6554 6275.
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