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!"