Almanac Life: The Crystal Pool

The stairs leading down to the Crystal Pool (with handrail). *Photo by Billy Millar



The cold has set in now, and it is anathema to those who are not “winter people”. People like me. People who despair at the shortened days, and brace for a fight against the chilly south-westerlies. The depths of this most frigid of seasons claw at my equilibrium, and I wonder is it errant of me to be wishing away the days? Impatient to usher in the warmer days to come, I find myself either looking eagerly forward, or looking back and pondering summers past. For the fondest of my memories are perpetually sunlight drenched.


Summer has always been the season: holidays; trips to the beach; bar-b-ques; back-yard cricket matches; beer-gardens; long, lazy, languid afternoons slowly segueing into mild, barmy evenings. Bringing to mind these visions can take me as far back as my childhood, and those stinking hot days when my dad would arrive home from work to announce that we were off to Williamstown beach, just a short drive from our home. There has never before or since been anything more inviting and satisfying than the cool salvation provided by those waters on a scorching afternoon.


When he had decided that I was old enough, my father introduced to me a refuge a little further around from those over-populated sands. “This is the Crystal Pool,” he announced, “I have swum here since I was a boy.” We clambered down the rocks and waded into the water. He paddled away silently, beckoning me to follow, all the while moving further from the shore and chuckling at my frantic thrashing of the water, so desperate was I to reach the safety of his arms. I was immediately entranced, by the anonymity of this oasis, by the half-dozen or so youths swilling beers and lairizing and impressing the local girls, and by the dozen or so steps which descended stealthily from the concourse above down into the waves. To this young lad, what had previously been an ugly nondescript back-water had magically metamorphosed into a watery wonder.


As I grew older, I found the Crystal Pool’s ability to wash away my worries incomparable, and my need to immerse myself in its embrace necessary during the glorious months of summer. The experience of surveying “The Crystals”, and knowing exactly on which rocks to tread, and hustling down the camber with a “one-two-three”, and performing a flat dive into the shallows, and hearing the lookers-on gasp at your derring-do, was one of my great teenage thrills. Local knowledge is imperative to avoid the dangers – the treacherous jagged rocks, the slippery moss-covered steps, the occasional sting-ray – which constantly lurk just below the inviting surface.


When they were mere toddlers, I introduced my own sons to the Crystal Pool, and I delighted at the sight of them clutching a hold of me just as I had clung to my father all those years ago. They, too, have cherished this haven ever since being introduced to its charms. I still chuckle when they announce that they are going for a dip at “The Crystals” and pretend not to worry that they might try to emulate the foolishness I displayed when I was their age. But there is no denying the generational connection which is entwined with the Crystal Pool.


Last winter, under the chilly cloak of the off-season, when only the crazy Willy Dolphins swim at daybreak, the local Council had put in position a shiny, stainless-steel handrail down the middle of those ancient grey bluestone steps. I was stunned, as the visage I had loved over the course of almost half a century had been altered so dramatically. I cursed the jobsworth who had authorised such an outrage.


My last swim at the Crystal Pool was in that twilight period, just prior to our lives were irrevocably changed by Covid-19. Too old to carelessly careen down the rocky embankment, I tentatively descended the deceptive steps and silently floated away from the rocks, leaving my cares on the shore wrapped with my car-keys in my towel. Paddling back to the steps, buffeted by the waves, I instinctively grasped for the handrail. Maybe its installation was not such a bad idea after all.


More from Smokie Dawson HERE


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About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Nicole Kelly says

    You evoke a beautiful image, Smokie, making me long for summer again. I’m not a winter person either and am counting down the days. I loved the generational connection too. Beautiful.

  2. Stunning words Smokie. Never frequented Williamstown much at all. And not either, to swim. Beautiful reflections upon time. Love it.

    Love Summer; but have grown to love winter! Appalling weather, wind, rain sleet etc combined with internal delights of open fire, tv footy and a bit of knitting :) and maybe a wine, make for moments of winter perfection.

  3. Andrew Fithall says

    Loved this Smoke. One point of order. I have previously been corrected by a certain Colleen Hunter (née McVeigh) when referring to The Crystals. Colleen said that only the singular The Crystal is correct terminology. As I have lived nearby for only 25 years, I will never be deemed a local and so must defer to someone who is. Can you please get this sorted out?

  4. Dangerously, I have made the change suggested by Andrew Fithall, even though he is blow-in.

    Smokie, is AF speaking sense?

    Or does it not matter – because if it’s ‘The Crystals’ in the Dawson household, that’s how it should be expressed?

    What should I do?

  5. Nicole and Kate: thanks for the comments. I am a summer person and always will be!

    Andrew: Yes, Colleen is correct (and of course, the McVeighs have possibly been in Williamstown longer than the Dawsons). When I was young, it was always the Crystal Pool or “Crystal” for short. “The Crystals” is a more recent phenomenon, which I chose to use (but am happy to have edited, JTH) which has been ushered in by a younger generation. In fact, I rarely – if ever – hear the youngsters refer to the place as the Crystal Pool. To them it is “The Crystals”.

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    Sounds a magic place Smokie. Bring on summer!

  7. Great stuff Smokie lovely trip down memory lane and it’s freezing today in SA makes me appreciate it even more

  8. Such is the appeal of your memoir pieces Smokie that I’d love to do a Williamstown tour on a minibus with you on the microphone up the front. Other FA types might be on board too. It’d be excellent. This is a history also worth our attention.

  9. Superb Smoke. Reading that was like listening to Paul Kelly’s “Deeper Water”. A beautiful song. A child clinging to a father’s arms in deep water. Is there a better image to describe fatherhood?

  10. Daryl Schramm says

    Enjoyable read. Thanks

  11. Good stuff, Smokie. Real good. I have very similar feelings about Jawbone, a few hundred metres west. Even more removed from the hustle and bustle of the summer beach. I used to snorkel at The Crystal Pool/The Crystal/The Crystals but too many dogs, fishing lines and spearfishing these days. I envy your insouciance in diving into the water. Keep the stories coming.

  12. Bruce O'Brien says


    Your article evoked memories personified. I (almost) shed a tear.

    Bruce O’B.

  13. There seems to be strong feeling about the name of this marvelous place. So, after much deliberation, I’m paying appropriate respect to the author/s view by referring to it as ‘The Crystals’.


  14. Sounds a bit like how daylight saving has become daylight savings…..

  15. I’m all for the WIlly Tour hosted by Smokie – so long as it ends with a long lunch at Ragusa Republika. The finest Croatian food I’ve eaten (don’t tell the Avenging Eagle’s mum). Lunched there with her extended family on the day after the 2018 GF. Sublime – both days.
    The Adriatic is my ideal swimming location. Flat, calm, crystal clear and high salinity to assist with staying afloat without effort past my waist.

  16. Chris O’Keefe says

    Another top piece Smokey.
    Was always known to me and as The Crystals .
    Snorkelling there during the 80’s and 90’s the sea life was more abundant back then, but would often yield many a tin VB can too.
    Love the hand rail. One of the better investments from HBCC.
    Just need the rafts back now!!

  17. Great read.

    The experience of surveying “The Crystals”, and knowing exactly on which rocks to tread, and hustling down the camber with a “one-two-three”, and performing a flat dive into the shallow

    I too used to jump off the rocks as you described but in the last 2 years I noticed the bottom rock has gone missing. Does anyone know what happened to it? Has the council removed it or has someone rolled it into the water? You need that bottom rock to launch yourself into the water.

    It’s not the same anymore

  18. Robert,
    I appreciate you reading and commenting.
    Yes, I had noticed this year that something was slightly different, but could not put my finger on it, noting that my days of diving in after the 1-2-3 step are long gone.

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