Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hobart's old and new pools

While we were in Tasmania for a wedding last week, I went to the Hobart Aquatic Centre for a swim. Hobart City Council advertises this complex as an escape to a sub-tropical summer's day even during the city's coldest weather. Well it was certainly warm inside the indoor centre - a bit too warm. But it was lovely in the water and not too busy. The thing I liked best about this pool was the colour of tiles.

Mainly white with black tiles marking the centre line down each lane, the 50-metre pool also includes smaller mint green tiles. I found this colour combination very relaxing as I swam along. Officially opened in 1997, the Hobart Aquatic Centre is also known as the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Pool in honour of Australians who served in that war. As well as an 8-lane 50-metre pool it includes a 25-metre warm-up pool, a 25-metre leisure pool with slide and a diving pool with a diving tower.

Sandy Bay Baths

During our five days in Hobart, I also investigated the location of one of the city's first swimming pools at Sandy Bay. Opened in 1840 by Frederick Bell, the Sandy Bay Baths were located around about where the current Sandy Bay Rowing Club is based, out from Short Beach on the Derwent River. The timber construction included ladies and gentlemen's baths and two refreshments rooms where breakfasts, tea and coffee were provided. In the early 1900s there was much consternation about male bathers not wearing trunks when swimming at the Sandy Bay Baths. Worse still was that a partition between the ladies and gentlemen's quarters was riddled with peepholes which allowed ''big hulking fellows to eye the fairer sex"!
While the ownership of the baths changed hands numerous times as proprietors struggled to make a living, the baths continued operating for more than a century.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

'Soulful' ocean baths in Saltwater show

If you love pools, you'll love the exhibition at the Meyer Gallery in Darlinghurst, Called Saltwater, it showcases paintings by Cindy Goode Milman and photographs by Ian Lever of Sydney's ocean and harbourside pools.

Cindy Goode Milman's colourful oil paintings are the result of her year-long study of ocean and bay pools from the Northern Beaches to the Eastern Suburbs - and to the Dawn Fraser Baths at Balmain. She describes this 12-month exploration as: "Nothing short of soulful."

Originally from Canada, Cindy says she is fascinated by the micro-communities that exist around pools. Her collection of oil vignettes on board which are featured in Saltwater convey people's enjoyment of pools - from a morning ritual swim, to a weekend dip with the kids, surfing or fishing off the edge and reflective moments poolside. A resident of the Northern Beaches, Cindy has also recorded ocean swims such as the Palm Beach to Whale Beach Big Swim in a series of oil paintings.

Ian Lever's colour and black and white photos depict the beauty and moods of Sydney's ocean and bay pools at dawn, midday and dusk. Known as Mr Ocean Pool, when Ian is not behind his camera, in the dark room or teaching photography, you are most likely to find him surfing.

Saltwater runs till 31 December 2009 at the Meyer Gallery at 269 Bourke Street Darlinghurst. The gallery is open Thursday to Saturday from 11am-6pm and on Sundays from noon until 4pm. http://www.meyergallery.com.au/

To find out more about Cindy Goode Milman and Ian Lever go to: http://www.cindygoodemilman.com/ and http://www.ianleverphotography.com.au/

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Spring Hill Baths: a jewel of a pool

If Spring Hill Baths in inner city Brisbane was a swimmer it would be a slow, mellow breaststroker wearing a floral cap. Opened on 9 December 1886, it is Brisbane's first in-ground public baths. It also lays claim to being the oldest indoor pool in the Southern Hemisphere.

People who swim at this grand old lady of Australian pools are not in a hurry. It's a place to soak up the atmosphere and journey back to a bygone era of quirky signs and colourful change cubicles. The water in the 23-metre pool is solar heated to 27-30 degrees C. When I swam up and down I felt like I was cocooned in an exotic cave or in a pool on an ageing ocean liner.

While the idea of wearing goggles and a cap seemed a bit serious for this chilled-out space, in its early days Spring Hill Baths was the venue for Queensland's major swimming competitions, as well as many school carnivals. In 1927 it was one of the first pools in Australia to allow mixed bathing and it remains one of the oldest pools still in use. It is definitely well-preserved and restored. The only major change in recent years is that a large central portion of the roof is now open to the sky.

The pool was featured in the 2003 film Swimming Upstream, which was based on the life of the 1950s Brisbane swimming champion, Tony Fingleton and his family. For the Fingleton kids, Spring Hill Baths was a great escape and refuge from their difficult home life. As Tony Fingleton said: "Summers in Australia in the 1950s were long and hot, like being locked in a sweat box day after day. Water changed that; it kept you alive and safe, at least for a little while."

The day I dipped into the Spring Hill Baths I met a women who'd spent a "long, hard day at the hospital" waiting for her husband to come out of surgery. On her first visit to Spring Hill Baths, she came to the pool to unwind. "It's like a jewel," she said. "Every pool has its own character. This one is a beauty!"

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Angourie's blue and green pools

While we were in Yamba a couple of weeks ago, we dropped in to Angourie to visit the blue and green pools. A famous surfing spot, Angourie's fresh water pools are the result of the quarrying of rock for the Clarence River breakwalls in the 1890s. The pools were created when a spring was disturbed during excavations. The large, deep areas that had been dug out filled with water. And so, the blue and green pools were born. I am not exactly sure how they got their names but I think it is because the water in one pool was always quite blue and in the other tended to be green.

Back in about 1980 when I spent two weeks in Yamba with my uni friends we swam in the blue pool. I remember it was quite a unique and slightly unnerving experience being in such a deep, fresh water pool, just metres from the pounding waves of the ocean. The boys in our group had great fun diving and jumping into the pool from high rock faces around the pool.

Unfortunately it's a different story now. A sign at the start of the bush track that leads down to the pools, says their popularity as swimming holes has decreased in recent times due to water quality problems connected to algal blooms. So we didn't have a swim but both pools are still quite beautiful to look at and spend a few quiet moments beside.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Discovering Yamba's sea pool

On a road trip to Brisbane this month we stopped overnight at Yamba on the NSW north coast. As well as having a lovely dinner at Pippi's restaurant, the stopover provided a great opportunity for this pool-obsessed person to investigate the Yamba Sea Pool.

After a long drive from Sydney I was really looking forward to a swim. But as we got closer to the pool we were confronted by several signs saying: "Main Beach Pool Closed. Danger, Keep Away". "Oh well, I'll have a swim in the surf," I consoled myself. But as I was walking away I bumped into a local heading towards the pool. "Not having a swim," he said to me. "It's closed," I replied. "Don't worry about the signs, it's okay to swim," he reassured me. "If we get booked, we can share the fine," he added with a chuckle.

So after quite a chat with my fellow swimmer who I now knew as Paul, the soy bean farmer, I tentatively entered the 33-metre pool, not really sure if I should be in the pool. Built in 1969, the pool is starting to look a bit rundown. However when I suggested to Paul that it could do with some refurbishment he rejected the idea. "It has character the way it is," he said. And maybe he is right.

There's definitely something special about ocean pools. NSW has about 100 of them with a large proportion in Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle. Some of these pools are natural pools on rock platforms. Others like Yamba Pool have been formed when the rock platform has been deepened and concrete walls and floors have been added. Others are concrete pools located on rock platforms. It's a unique experience being in an ocean pool with waves tumbling in as you swim along. When the seas are big it's always great fun hanging on to the wall or the chain dividing the surf from the pool, and waiting for the force of the waves to crash over you or push you back into the pool.

The next morning when I returned to the Yamba Sea Pool for another swim, I got to the bottom of the mystery of the 'Pool Closed' signs. A man cleaning up around the beach told me that the pool hadn't been filling up properly but was okay now. The council just hadn't got around to taking the signs down.

If you'd like to know more about NSW's sea pools go to: www.nswoceanbaths.info/

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The wonder pool of Australasia

After an absence of more than 20 years, I recently returned to North Sydney Olympic Swimming Pool. I spent a lot of time at this pool during my high school years and into my 20s so my visit was a trip down memory lane. While there have been a number of additions in the past decade, including a 25-metre indoor pool, a gym and two restaurants, much of the rest of the complex hasn't changed.

The imposing grandstand where we sat for our school swimming carnivals is still there, as is the art deco plasterwork shells, dolphins, birds and frogs, which adorn the wall closet to the harbour. There's a new entrance to the pool, but the cavernous stairs that used to lead down to the turnstiles remain. The smell of the Ladies Change Rooms transported me back to my school days, and like a flashback in a film, I was surrounded by a room of giggling schoolgirls self-consciously undressing for a swim.

When North Sydney Pool was opened in 1936 it was hailed as 'the wonder pool of Australasia' because of the high standard of its facilities and the sophistication of its modern filtration system. It was built in the Stripped Classical Functionalist style with an emphasis on symmetry and a few touches of art deco. Treated and filtered sea water was pumped from the harbour to fill the pool. At the opening on 4 April, North Sydney Alderman CC Faulkner waxed lyrically about the quality of the water exclaiming:
"Imagine the most perfect sapphire in the world - colossal in dimensions, blue, with a radiance that dazzles yet soothes; that is what the water in the Olympic pool is like."
In the early days of the pool, locals were encouraged to swim in the pool daily for their health's sake as "there is a luxurious warmth about the pool water, a softness that caresses and invigorates, that stimulates and is health-giving."

As well as its distinctive design and spectacular location next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Luna Park, North Sydney Pool is famous as being the pool where 86 world records were set. It was the venue for the Third British Empire Games in 1938 and many NSW and Australian Championships. Between 1956 and 1978, the likes of Dawn Fraser, Jon and Isla Konrads, Lorraine Crapp, John Devitt, Shane Gould, Stephen Holland, Jenny Turrall and Michelle Ford set world records in the waters of this Australian icon.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A lifetime connection with pools

For as long as I can remember I have had a fascination with swimming pools. Whenever I am near one I have a terrible urge to dive in. After I have been in one, I have trouble tearing myself away from the comforting, womb-like, liquidy space.

As a child I spent hours poring over the designer pools in The House and Garden magazines my mother bought occasionally. Even better were the pictures in The Australian Women's Weekly of the Grimaldi family luxuriating around their sparkling blue pool in Monaco. The Shah of Iran's exotic pools with their ornate mosaic tiles would also draw me in. I would gaze at them longingly, wishing I could plunge in.

During my childhood I formed a close connection to two pools on Sydney's lower north shore: Northbridge Baths and North Sydney Olympic Swimming Pool. Northbridge Baths were a 15-minute walk down the hill from our family home, which my parents bought just before they married in 1958. I learnt to swim at the baths, was a member of the swimming club and spent countless hours there after school and on weekends with my siblings and friends.

North Sydney Olympic Swimming Pool became a big part of my life when I went to high school in 1973. Our school was not far from the pool and so all our swimming sessions and carnivals were held there. Leading up to the swimming carnival, I spent many early mornings practising for the races or honing our syncronised swimming skills for our team's water ballet - a highlight of the annual school swimming carnival.

For the past 20 years, Leichhardt Park Aquatic Centre in Sydney's inner west has been my pool of choice. While planes heading south to Sydney Airport fly overhead, it's a pretty relaxed spot overlooking Iron Cove and next-door to the rambling grounds of Callan Park, the former psychiatic hospital at Rozelle. Most mornings I swim 20 laps of the pool which is a great way to start each day. When I finish my session, I find myself hesitating, not wanting to leave the simple almost natural state I feel in the water. Eventually I draw myself away, knowing I will return the next day to enjoy the experience all over again.