Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Barry Adams
Interviewer: Eadie Swift
Interview date: 3 May 2019
Eadie Swift I am Edie Swift and I am interviewing Barry Adams about the Bulli Sea Lions, formally the Bulli Brass Monkeys, it is May 3rd 2019. The interview will go to the Local Studies Library in Wollongong Library. So would you like to start Barry with when you first joined?
Barry Adams Well it goes back to 1952 when I joined Bulli Surf Club and Bulli Surf Club operated at Bulli Beach of course and they had soccer team and in late 1958, because of money, the soccer team disbanded and the surf club in their wisdom thought to keep the members together, through the winter they’d form a winter swimming club. So in 1959 they had a meeting which I was in attendance with my mate Hugh Carpenter, the only two that are still swimming and the Bulli Brass Monkeys was formed and the first year of operation, it was and the 1st year of operation it was basically a fun thing. Swimming in the Surf, fun obstacle games in the baths the word got round and other surf club members started joining Bulli Brass Monkeys. So in 1960 we had a we had a fairly strong team and we approached New South Wales Winter Swimming Association to join them but because another club in Sydney had the same name as Brass Monkeys we had to change the name to Bulli Sea Lions. So, in 1962 our name was officially formed as Bulli Sea Lions with the Swimming Club and we did swim at the New South Wales Winter Swimming Association meets.
Eadie Swift And where did you swim then?
Barry Adams We always swam in Bulli rock pool, at Bulli Beach.
Eadie Swift Now when you first started was it a lot different the pool, the way it looked and everything?
Barry Adams Oh yes. It was at Bulli Pool at one stage, it had a diving board on the seaside end and had scallops in the shore side where the high tides pushed the water over and so you had to be very careful in a very high tide you didn’t get washed over. There was no safety rails around and no broad walk on the short end and then, and we had a channel around the shallow end that used to channel the water away from the beach towards the North but in later years the Council, in their wisdom, came and built over that and put a ch-, kids pool right where that channel was. And over the years that’s formed like a dam wall collecting sand and it’s always full of sand. [coughs] And the main pool every 3 or 4 months has to be cleaned out of the sand. Because when the southerly blows it blows the sand straight into the pool because it can’t follow the normal contour of the bars away to the North.
Eadie Swift So, uh, when you, uh, first started then you didn’t dive in with those scallops in there?
Barry Adams Yeah [coughs] it was always, Bulli was always a good pool for that because it did have on the shallow depths about a 5 foot, 4 foot deep so you could dive in successfully. You didn’t stand in the scallops, you stood on the other side.
Eadie Swift And then did you, uh, as you, you developed, uh, this, this club as it developed then, you had different rules, it was more formal then.
Barry Adams Well, we developed into having a points score and because the point score was so contested, it was broken into a monthly point score and then an overall point score and then at the end of each year we’d have a presentation and, suprisingly, it was in at the Wollongong Master Builders Club. And people, members would go in there with a collar tie and a coat, a blazer or what have you. It was nearly a formal presentation, a lot different to what it is now.
Eadie Swift Was that once a year you’d have that?
Barry Adams It was once a year at the end of the season.
Eadie Swift And that was in the 1960s?
Barry Adams That would be the 1960s. Yes.
Eadie Swift And, so, uh, then back then did you go somewhere for soup?
Barry Adams Uh, in the first couple of years we always came up to Bulli Workers Club and had hot soup at Bulli Workers Club. And, being an all male club, most of the members would come up there, have their soup and stop there and have a few schooners. And gradually the older, the members got older and started having families and women started, wanted to, to join. And there was a little bit of a kerfuffle about allowing women to swim. So, but in 1983 the women were officially allowed to join Bulli Sea Lions.
Eadie Swift And why was there a problem with that?
Barry Adams Well, [coughs] it was an offshoot from the Surf Club, mainly males only and they thought it was their domain and their, sort of excuse to get away for a couple of hours of a Sunday morning. But as I said, they gradually got older and they had families themselves and they were involved with the young families who wanted to partake with Dad. So they ended coming down and the young boys were swimming, but then why couldn’t the young girls swim? And this was where the argument came from.
Eadie Swift So, in the ’70s then did you have, uh, the, the same format for, for the Club, did it develop differently?
Barry Adams Well, because we did have a lot of good swimmers from the neighbouring clubs, from Austinmer Otters, Thirroul Surf Club and Wonoona Surf Club, and even North Wollongong Surf Club, we had a very strong relay team. And then so we competed in some of the championship events in Sydney against the other clubs. So we’d have a bus trip to the likes of Cronulla Polar Bears or Coogee Huskies of a Sunday and that was an all-male thing as well up until women joined.
Eadie Swift And so what did you do in the 1970s as far as every Sunday, what was your schedule?
Barry Adams Every Sunday it was a sprint, a handicap sprint, and the winner of that would go into a final and then each team that was in the heat would form a team for the relay and then you’d have a relay swim. So, to make the final, you had three swims.
Eadie Swift And then did you go somewhere for, uh, well you went to the Bulli Workers Club, afterward, yeah?
Barry Adams Bulli Workers Club, yes.
Eadie Swift And who made the soup?
Barry Adams The kitchen staff, because, because we attended the Workers Club on a fairly often basis that was their contribution to help the Sea Lions. And that basically started in 1962 and they’ve been one of our major supporters, sponsors ever since.
Eadie Swift And, uh, what were the officers like in 1970, in those 1970s?
Barry Adams Well, the first year in 1959, the officers came from the Bulli Surf Club. Their president was Owen Mercer, I was their Club captain, so we naturally just took in charge and we became the Regional President, Club Captain of the Brass Monkeys at that time. And then, in the following year [coughs] because we’d developed so much, we did have an Annual General Meeting where officers were elected.
Eadie Swift And then as you got into the 1970s did you do the same?
Barry Adams It’s carried on the same, ever since, yes.
Eadie Swift And what was your position then, through the years?
Barry Adams Well, I was, I was Club Captain for a number of years and then became Secretary and then later on became President and then for the last 20 years I’ve been Secretary.
Eadie Swift And what is your duties?
Barry Adams Mainly, as Secretary, to correspond to between, with the swimming clubs, affiliate with the, now, the Australian Winter Swimming Association. Deal with correspondence and, oh, and help run the Club as far as functions etc.
Eadie Swift So, in the 1980s, um, did, did the women join then did you say?
Barry Adams In 1983 there was a proposal for women to join so there was a Special General Meeting called. And I’ve gotta be honest, I was one of the ones that voted against women joining and, funny enough, two of the, the people that pro-, moved and seconded that the women join are no longer in the Club. But I’ve got to admit that was one of the best things that ever happened to the Sea Lions, ‘cos if the women weren’t there now, we would be battling.
Eadie Swift Oh, what, how would you be battling?
Barry Adams Because the numbers, the, the Clubs that haven’t involved the women and families, they’re battling for numbers.
Eadie Swift Why is that? Why don’t people want to come and swim?
Barry Adams Mainly, because the original members are becoming too old and their younger families have got so much else on. In the early days when we were originally kicked off, in the Winter, there was, in Bulli, soccer, or nothing else. And if you went further there was Rugby League at Thirroul and Corrimal, but in the Bulli area, it was soccer. And as I said, when the soccer team folded, we naturally followed our instincts and went with the Surf Club winter swimming. And at that stage it was a novelty and enjoying a soup and a beer afterwards, that was a real male thing. But we got older too and that’s when the families got involved.
Eadie Swift So you think it’s much better for the Club?
Barry Adams Oh yes, yes.
Eadie Swift And, uh, do the women fit in pretty well as far as competing?
Barry Adams In the Sea Lions we worked it out that [coughs] the women join as associate members and they only paid half the fare of the senior members, but they cannot hold an executive office. But they swim and can, in fact, the very first year that women swam, the first King Sea Lion was a woman. So, they’ve joined in and equally, equal with the competition.
Eadie Swift And what does it mean to be a King?
Barry Adams You have to swim every Sunday with 100% and then all those 100% swimmers have, have a race off and the winner of that race becomes the King Sea Lion for that year. And for the first one to be a woman, we didn’t know what to call her. King Sea Lion, King Sea Lioness or whatever but the name King Sea Lion has held.
Eadie Swift Now, if you, we’re going now to the 2000’s, so during those years how did things change?
Barry Adams They have changed because, as I said, ’83 we had, the women joined and we were the only club on the South Coast that had women swimming. So we had to be very careful in, with the inter-club visits that the women swam in a point score early and then disappeared when the other clubs came down to swim because the other clubs wouldn’t swim with women. So, but then I think about three years after that, Stanwell Park joined and they had women swimming, so we had an inter-club visitation with Stanwell Park. And that was one of the first ones where women was, they’re, were equal with the men when they went on a visitation.
Eadie Swift Now, do you still go to, uh, do they have all the Illawarra winter swimming clubs have a championship every year?
Barry Adams The South Coast Winter Swimming Association formed in 1964 with all males of course. And the first championship was held by Wollongong Whales and in 1965 Bulli held the South Coast Winter Swimming Championships at the Bulli pool and had the function in Bulli Surf Club. They’ve carried on ever since [coughs] and I think in about the late ’90s, a Kiama club, the Kiama Ice Cubes came into being and a couple of their women wanted to join the Winter Swimming Association and swim at the championships. And there was a lot of hoo-ha about that and it was even in the papers. But the South Coast Championship Association held firm and till, to this day women and not allowed to swim in the South Coast Championships.
Eadie Swift And, and why is that?
Barry Adams The male chauvens-, chauvinistic people sticking to their guns, saying it’s a male thing, that’s their day out and they don’t want the women there. But I can see it coming, it will happen that women will be able to swim. In fact, the Australian Winter Swimming Championships are now, are mixed.
Eadie Swift So that’s Australia-wide, those championships?
Barry Adams Australian-wide, yes.
Eadie Swift Does your club go there to those?
Barry Adams Uh, we do occasionally, when it’s close. We don’t travel, uh, ‘cos this year, an example, the championships are over at Cottesloe, Western Australia and because a lot of our members are Surf Club members, who do their travelling in the summer, they don’t want to travel again in the winter.
Eadie Swift Oh, I can see that. So now, we’re up to 2019 and what’s going on with the Club right now?
Barry Adams We’re at still, we’re probably, one, the second strongest Club in the Illawarra or South Coast. Wollongong Whales would be the strongest Club as members, but they’re still male only and we would be a very close second with a mixed club.
Eadie Swift Do you have children?
Barry Adams We have children swimming, yes. And that’s, that’s one of the reasons it’s helped, by being a family Club involving the young children of the members.
Eadie Swift And they can’t keep up though, I mean their times would not be the same?
Barry Adams Well times don’t matter because it’s all, it’s all, all handicap. And we have a woman swimming who is in her 80s who swims, whose time for 50 metres would be nearly 80 seconds. She swims and can win a point score, because it’s, it’s all handicap.
Eadie Swift And where do you go for your refreshments?
Barry Adams Well, we’re, because it’s family involved now, we take it in turns of bringing a bowl, a pot of soup to the beach, we heat it up down there and have a soup and then we all go home our own way. There’s no alcohol down there.
Eadie Swift Right on the beach?
Barry Adams On the beach, yes.
Eadie Swift Where?
Barry Adams In front of the Surf Club.
Eadie Swift Well, I still don’t understand how you keep warm.
Barry Adams You don’t, you often, you know, ‘specially when there’s a howling Southerly blowing and with a bit rain around, you’re standing up at the end of the pool and you think, what the bloody hell am I doing up here, you silly old fool. But once you’ve had your swim and get showered and dressed, you feel good for it.
Eadie Swift But, uh, do you put a coat on or something during the time that you have to just stand there?
Barry Adams That is the hard part, yes. The hard, or the hardest part is on relay, when you’re up the far, the deep end, standing there waiting, you could be waiting for over a minute for your turn and that’s the hard part. You’re only there with costumes on. But once you’ve had your swim, you get out and put a coat on.
Eadie Swift And do you go, you must have to go back later to your house and make sure that you’re warm back there.
Barry Adams Well, a lot of them go straight home and have a hot shower.
Eadie Swift Yeah, yeah, that’s a good thing, yeah. So the pool in, in 2019 are there any changes to the pool?
Barry Adams Yes, as I said, the Council came in and put a safety rail all around it and on the shallow end, put a walkway and, which is quite good, as far as you can stand there and watch the swimmers swim.
Eadie Swift And then do you have, um, a lot of vegetation in the pool?
Barry Adams At times, we get seaweed, but the biggest problem is, as I said earlier, the sand. We still have the sand and we have to, had to at times, not be able to the swim in the pool because of too much sand.
Eadie Swift Have you had any accidents where you had to rescue people?
Barry Adams In the days before the handrail was put up, we had to have, be, be very careful when a couple of the members at the scene imbibed a bit the night before, were a little bit wobbly on the pool and we had to be very careful that they didn’t get, fall over the back instead of into the pool. But no, we haven’t had any accidents.
Eadie Swift You haven’t had to rescue the public there?
Barry Adams No, touch wood, up up until now.
Eadie Swift And what’s the best thing about this for you?
Barry Adams The fellowship and being involved with your mates from Surf Club days and now seeing their children coming up and being involved their children. My son swam and, in fact, I had a granddaughter swim at one point score. So things like that, being so much family-orientated has been good.
Eadie Swift Do you have annual dinners anymore?
Barry Adams Yes, we have an annual dinner, and at the Bulli Workers Club of course, yeah. And that’s our presentation day, as well. It’s a sit-down dinner and then a few alcohol drinks, or whatever, and the presentation of trophies.
Eadie Swift Well, this has been wonderful. Do you want to add anything else?
Barry Adams Only that, from all those 60 years, last year we had our 60th-year dinner and there’s only two members from that original meeting who’s still involved with Bulli Sea Lions. [coughs] And they’re, we’re both life members. There’s Hugh Carpenter and myself, Barry Adams.
Eadie Swift Would you like to donate this to the Local Studies Library at the Wollongong Library?
Barry Adams Yes, I think it’d be a pleasure, a privilege.
Eadie Swift Thank you.