Friday, December 31, 2010

Brisbane's 'sophisticated' Centenary Pool

In rainy Brisbane over Christmas, we dropped into the Centenary Aquatic Centre on Gregory Terrace in inner city Spring Hill.  Designed by James Birrell, Brisbane City Council's principal architect from 1955 to 1961, this complex was considered highly innovative and sophisticated in its design when it opened in 1959.

In particular its elevated modular restaurant which overlooks the complex's 50-metre pool, diving pool with diving tower and wading pool, was singled out as cutting edge and very modern.  Now a gym rather than a restaurant the space-age structure reminds me of The Jetsons' skypad apartment from the 1960s cartoon. 

While most public pools being constructed across Australia in the late 50s and 60s tended to have an "almost militaristic insistence on order and regularity", James Birrell arranged the Centenary Centre's three pools in a random manner so that a "festive air is developed". 

Influenced by modern artists such as Hans Arp and South American architect Oscar Niemeyer, Birrell wanted the Centenary Pool to be a work of art rather than a purely functionalist structure. In 1960 a Melbourne art and architecture magazine selected it as one of the top ten buildings in Australia. Nearly 50 years later it was featured in the Powerhouse Museum's exhibition, Modern Times: the untold story of modernism in Australia.

Built to commemorate Brisbane and Queensland's 1959 centenary celebrations, it was the city's principal aquatic centre until the Sleeman Sports Complex at Chandler opened in 1980.

While today the centre is looking a bit tired and more retro than sophisticated, it is still a nice place to take a dip with well-ordered lap swimming, clean change-rooms and friendly, welcoming staff.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A kaleidoscope of colours at Annette's pool

When I was at the new Annette Kellermann Aquatic Centre 10 days ago I captured some amazing reflections in the water.

There were so many beautiful colours, patterns and shimmery shapes it reminded me of looking through a kaleidoscope.

The vibrant greens, yellows, oranges and reds of the newly opened aquatic centre took on new shades  reflected in the water.

The pool became a dreamy world of purple, mauve, soft greens, pale pink, faded red, light yellows and blue.

Just the sort of seductive space Marrickville-born Annette Kellermann would have enjoyed diving into during her days performing across Europe and the United States as the Australian Mermaid and Diving Venus in the early 1900s.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Colourful centre opens in Enmore

There was a real sense of excitement when the new Annette Kellermann Aquatic Centre opened its doors for the first time yesterday. Locals streamed into the indoor complex which includes an 8-lane, 50 metre pool, a children's leisure pool and a hydrotherapy and program pool.

Some just came to have a look; others, especially the children couldn't wait to get in the water. There were squeals of delight throughout the $18 million facility. Little ones and big ones loved the wading pool with cascading water spouts raining down on them.

There was standing room-only in the middle-sized program pool where mums and dads played with their kids or watched them as they duck-dived through each other's legs, did handstands or floated about on noodles and kickboards. In the 50-metre pool there was just as much fun happening with boys and girls diving off the blocks, bombing and flipping, while a few adults lapped up and down the pool.

It's a place of vibrancy and colour, the new Annette Kellermann Aquatic Centre.  There's splashes of colour everywhere from the lime green beams on the internal roof, to the yellow and orange feature walls, multi-coloured lane ropes and striped, spotty and flowered shower doors.

It's a much improved version of the old Enmore Pool (closed in July 2009) with better ventilation and loads of natural light beaming in through large areas of glass throughout. The creative use of colour gives the centre an atmosphere of fun, daring and diversity, which seems to fit well with the character of the inner west community.

As Sue from Leichhardt said: "It feels like Marrickville. It is a reflection of Marrickville with all the different types of people (who live here). I like the feel of it. It has a villagey atmosphere not like the big city pools that seem more corporate."

Another plus for Sue is the hot showers and that it's not a 'poser pool'. "You don't have to feel self conscious here," she said.

Long-time Enmore residents' Merle and Thelma also dropped in for a look. While Merle has been a keen swimmer in the past she said these days she can get into a pool but has trouble getting out.

Tempted to return to the water after seeing the new complex, Merle said: "I think I could still get into my cossie."  With disabled access in both the Olympic-size pool and the program pool, we might see Merle and Thelma back in the swim.

As well as the aquatic facilities, the centre has a pleasant outdoor sitting area with tables and chairs with umbrellas, which overlooks lovely Enmore Park. There is also a grassy area where a few teenage girls lay on their towels and enjoyed a chat in the sun.

The complex also has gym facilities where a variety of fitness programs including yoga, pilates, strength training and cardio equipment will be held. And perhaps most importantly, there will be a cafe which will be accessible to both park and pool users.

All-in-all the centre is a great addition to the Marrickville Municipality. Annette Kellermann, the Marrickville-born swimmer, aquatic performer and film actress would be proud to have it bear her name.

The Annette Kellermann Aquatic Centre is located in Black Street, Marrickville. It is open from 6am-8pm Monday to Thursday, 6am-6.30pm on Saturdays and from 8am-6.30pm on Sundays.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lovely lap pools at Blueys Beach

Exploring the streets of Blueys Beach near Forster on the NSW mid-north coast last week, we discovered a number of laps pools hiding by the side of very flash holiday houses. 

For me, it was a bit like discovering a piece of treasure. One pool was perched on the edge of bushland, surrounded by soaring gum trees. No one was swimming on the rainy afternoon we walked by, but there were plenty of leaves and bark immersed in the waters of the sleek, rectangular space

As we walked down the hill towards Boomerang Beach, we caught a glimpse of another lap pool stretched along the side of a luxurious home.  The house seemed empty but as we gazed down on the pool, the water in the spa began to move.

It would have been nice to dive in and test the waters of the narrow space. But we weren't invited. Instead we headed back to Blueys Beach for an invigorating dip in the surprisingly cold waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Leichhardt Pool's 50th birthday

Olympic swimmer Eamon Sullivan will be making a guest appearance at the 50th birthday celebrations for Leichhardt Park Aquatic Centre (LPAC) this coming Sunday, 28 November.

Festivities will start from 10am and continue until 3pm and during that time entry will be free. Activities include face painting and jumping castle, fitkids classes, adult fitness classes, morning tea, a charity barbeque, and squad and learn to swim demonstrations.

Staff from the local history section of the Leichhardt Library will also be showing images from the pool's history including the original Leichhardt tidal baths which were located on the shores of Long Cove on the Parramatta River, almost directly below the current aquatic complex.

The Leichhardt Council Baths, as they were called, operated from 1905 to the late 1950s. While the quality of the water in the Parramatta River was probably declining by then, after the success of the Melbourne Olympic Games councils all over Australia were keen to have a modern, chlorine complex in the municipality where future Olympians could learn to swim, play and train.

As the catalogue of the 2008 Powerhouse exhibition, Modern Times states: "By the late 1950s the local pool was fast being regarded as an essential community venue for accessible and safe sport, education and leisure, and the impetus for pool construction gained pace around the nation."  In fact, between 1945 and 1972, 32 pools opened in Sydney alone.

Leichhardt Pool was part of that wave of building, and on 10 December 1960 it was officially opened. So while it's a few weeks early, happy 50th birthday LPAC. Have a great day on Sunday.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Salt water bliss at the Palm Beach rock pool

On the weekend I immersed myself in the Palm Beach rock pool. Built in the 1920s, the ocean baths are at the southern end of Sydney's Palm Beach in the area known as Cabbage Tree Boat Harbour and Kiddies Corner. Overlooking the rectangular space are palatial homes, which these days are mainly owned by the rich and famous.

Last Saturday afternoon when we visited the pool, people sat around the edge enjoying the welcome return of the sun after days of heavy Sydney rain. Women in wetsuits strode through the water giving their leg muscles a workout. Children cruised around the pool on boogie boards and the occasional swimmer lapped up and down the 50-metre length. One wet-suited lapper demonstrated his butterfly skills. As he swam along, his dog ran around the pool and played with a group of children jumping in and out of the water.

As for us, a group of girls away for the weekend, we swam 'sans' wetsuit. The water was a bit cold at first but completely invigorating once we'd dived under.  We had a lovely time lolling about in the water, doing the odd lap but mainly having a chat.

Outside the confines of the pool surfboard riders lay on their boards waiting for the perfect wave. Others rowed by on stand-up boards. On the rocks near the far end of the pool, fishermen cast their rods.

I revelled being in salt water again, which had an almost euphoric effect. As the NSW Ocean Baths website proclaims: "Simply being in the buoyant seawater brings a sense of blissful liberation."

The next morning when we returned for a swim, waves swept into the full pool. As I sat on the wall and let the breakers wash over me I was taken back to my youth; hot, summer days hanging out on the pool chains and letting the power of the waves push me back into the safety of the pool.

If you haven't got a car, the 190 bus from the city will take you all the way to Palm Beach where you can enjoy the delights of this ocean pool. There are showers and toilets in the amenities block beside the pool. The local council cleans the pool every Monday.  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ultimo's curvaceous complex

Ultimo's Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre is overflowing with curves. From the wave-shaped roof that rises high over the 50-metre pool to the soaring curved form of the outside roof.

Then there's the shapely lines of the leisure pool, meandering, twisting and turning around the playful space. The curve of the roof is repeated in the rounded shapes of the amenity pods, and in chrome handrails that sweep dramatically along a walkway and by steps leading into the centre's three pools. 

The complex was designed by world-renowned architect Harry Seidler, who unfortunately died a year before it was opened in 2007. His design was selected from a number of entries submitted to a 2001 City of Sydney competition run by the then Lord Mayor, Frank Sartor. Fifty four years earlier Harry wasn't as successful with his design for the stadium and swimming pool for the Melbourne Olympics, which was awarded to a Victorian team headed by Peter McIntyre.

In 2004, Lord Mayor Clover Moore proposed that the $40m facility be named after Ian Thorpe, who she described as Australia's greatest ever Olympian. Today, as you enter the pool a huge colour photograph of Thorpey torpedoing through the water stretches across the wall opposite the reception area.

Around noon last Saturday when I visited, there weren't too many swimmers of Thorpey's standard churning up the 50-metre pool. The place was pretty chilled with lap swimmers moving at a leisurely pace, as red T-shirted aquatic instructors ran swimming lessons in lanes seven and eight. On the lower level, families frolicked in the water-spraying leisure pool, while bodies soaked up the sun on the terrace or sipped on their coffee.

Unlike many older-style indoor pools which can be stuffy and overly chlorinated this complex is well ventilated and full of natural light. Dappled sunlight pours in through skylight ribbons at each roof truss and there are natural ventilation openings in the roof and facade. Clear glass walls add to the openness of the space. On the eastern side the activities and buildings of inner-city Harris Street reflect into the watery space. On the western side, the centre opens onto two terraces overlooking Darling Harbour and the city skyline.

As well as enjoying the centre's architecture, swimming in the 50-metre pool was a pleasant experience. The water was a nice temperature and feel. Switching from freestyle to backstroke I enjoyed gazing up at the magnificence of the shapely roof, high above me. For an indoor pool, it's hard to beat the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre. It's light and airy, has inexpensive parking below in Pyrmont Street and has a choice of three pools, a sauna and steam room, cafe and gym.

Who knows as you enter the spectacular space, maybe some of Thorpey's aquatic magic will rub off?  And for fair-skinned Celts like me, the indoor centre is a good alternative to lathering my body in 30-plus sunscreen and swimming in a rashie on a sunny Sydney Saturday.

Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre is at 456 Harris Street, Cnr of William Henry Street Ultimo. It is open from 6am to 9pm Monday to Friday and from 6am to 8pm on Saturday, Sunday and public holidays. The centre is closed on Good Friday and Christmas Day.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hobart's abandoned aquatic house

There's something desolate about abandoned swimming pools. All the life has gone from them; they're quiet, empty and still.

All the life has long gone from the Dr Plaister Aquatic House in Hobart. Originally called the Hobart Tepid Baths, the 72-year-old art-deco complex has been boarded up and closed for nearly 10 years. The former Hobart icon lies derelict and abandoned. Instead of water, its pools are filled with graffiti, rubbish, murky puddles and discarded kickboards. Its windows are smashed; barbed wire fences keep visitors out. 

The closure of the Department of Education's swimming program at the pool seems to have marked the end of the Dr Plaister Aquatic Centre. The 1997 opening of the Hobart Aquatic Centre where swimmers could ''escape to a sub-tropical day even during Hobart's coldest months' probably added to its demise.

When the Governor of Tasmania, Sir Ernest Clark officially opened the Hobart Tepid Baths on 10 November 1938 they were described as an adornment and a blessing to the city. The heated centre allowed locals to swim all year round, and it was hoped a compulsory swimming program for Tasmanian children would follow. 

While the baths went into liquidation soon after they were opened, the Department of Education's purchase of the pool in 1948 was the making of the place.  As well as persuading the Department to buy the pool, Doug Plaister, a leading local swimmer and water safety educator convinced the education authorities to introduce a swimming program to the school curriculum. This was the start of the Learn-to-Swim program which was subsequently introduced to schools across Australia.

By the late 1940s the complex now known as Amateur House, had become the centre for swimming in Tasmania. Over the years thousands of children learnt to swim at the 55-yard pool. 

When a group of art interventionists took over the pool for One Night Only in March 2009, reviewer Bec Tudor said the opportunity to lawfully enter 212 Collins Street was a big drawcard. "Whether intrigued by the idea of an outdoor pool in Hobart, curious about what lay behind the boarded-up facade, or a survivor of its infamous stick-wielding swim instructor, everybody knows this site and seems to hold a personal stake in it," Bec said.

Who knows who the 'stick-wielding instructor' was? One name that is synonymous with the place is Doug Plaister. The Mayor of Hobart from 1976 to 1984, Doug Plaister ran the swimming program at the pool and lived on site for a period of time. In 1991 the complex was renamed Dr Plaister Aquatic House in his honour.

While many Hobartians hoped the site would be restored to its former glory, its days as a swimming centre are over.  In the coming months it will be redeveloped into a four-level office and apartment complex.  The facade of the Eric Round-designed building with its distinctive brickwork, is the only part that will be retained.  When the bulldozers finally move in, it will be the end of an era for this Hobart institution. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Winter swimming at Leichhardt Pool

Leichhardt Park Aquatic Centre (LPAC) in Sydney's inner west is my pool. Since I moved to the area 20 years ago, it has been my lap swimming spot. 

While it's very popular in summer, my favourite time is in the colder months when only the regulars brave the outdoor 50-metre pool. Heated to 27 degrees, in the early morning steam rises off the water's surface creating a soft, dreamy-like atmosphere. It's like swimming in an enormous steam bath.

At the Lilyfield end of the Leichhardt Municipality, the six-pool centre with gym and cafe rests in a beautiful setting overlooking Iron Cove on the Parramatta River. Behind the pool is iconic Leichhardt Oval, part-time home of the Wests Tigers Rugby League team. Nearby are the rambling grounds of Callan Park, the former Rozelle Psychiatric Hospital and the Leichhardt Rowing Club where we recently held our wedding reception. 

It's a friendly place starting with Julie, the bright and cheerful receptionist who seems to know almost all the patrons. Bill the manager might also say hi and the life-guards are good for a chat especially when discussing the quality of the water in their pool.

And then there's regulars like Peter, who talks to everyone and possibly spends more time chewing the fat than swimming. Peter has been coming to the pool for the past 20 years since he hurt his back in a car accident. He swims four mornings a week and usually ends his session with a cup of coffee from Philip's onsite cafe Blu Aqua Kiosk with a crowd of regulars.  

Before LPAC was opened in 1960, locals swam at a tidal pool on the shores of the Parramatta River, directly in front of the current pool. Opened in 1905, Ellen Williams, a member of the swimming club during the 1930s and early 40s recalls that Leichhardt Council Baths were great when the tide was high but a bit on the nose at low tide. After more than 50 years in operation, in 1958 the tidal baths were closed.

Like many local governments around Australia, Leichhardt Council was keen to build on the success of Australian swimming at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games and have its own Olympic-standard swimming centre. That dream became a reality on 12 December 1960 when the Mayor of Leichhardt officially opened the municipality's new 50-metre pool, diving pool with diving tower and children's pool.

Over the past nearly 50 years there have been many additions and changes to LPAC and today it has six different pools. But for me there is really only one pool: the 50-metre outdoor pool that will hit its half century on 10 December this year.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Wonderful watery words

When I was reading Kate Grenville's novel The Lieutenant on Hamilton Island I was struck by her beautiful descriptions of water. So I thought I would share some of those passages.

The Lieutenant is the story of Daniel Rooke, a young soldier and astronomer who arrives in NSW on the First Fleet in 1788. It's the story of his fascination and obsession with the night sky, and his friendship with the local Aboriginal people, particularly a girl called Tagaran, who teaches him her language. Like Grenville's earlier novel, The Secret River, this book highlights how different things could have been in this country if all the early settlers treated indigenous Australians like Lieutenant Daniel Rooke. Here are some of Kate Grenville's wonderful watery words:

Sailing into Sydney Harbour, page 51:
"Beyond the cliff an enormous body of quiet water curved away to the west. Sirius glided past bays lined with crescents of yellow sand and headlands of dense forest. There was something about this vast hidden harbour - bay after perfect bay, headland after shapely headland - that put Rooke in a trance. He felt he could have travelled along it forever into the heart of this unknown land. It was the going forward that was the point, not the arriving, the water creaming away under the bow, drawn so deeply along this crack in the continent that there might never be any need to stop."

Daniel Rooke at his campsite at night, page 81:

"From his stretcher he could hear the waters of the port, the restless sound coming in the window hole. The water was never still, always in conversation with itself and with the shore. He could hear it slapping up against the rocks at the foot of the point, knew how it must look,washing foamily into crannies."

Daniel Rooke immerses himself in the waters of Botany Bay in despair after he realises his fellow soldiers were going to behead  Aboriginals they captured, page 278:

"Breaking the skin of the water and sliding beneath it was like slipping into an extension of himself. It was warm, warmer than during the day, almost the temperature of his body. It buoyed him up, lapping itself around him, making him a floating nothing, not of land, not of sea, not of this world, not of another: not Daniel Rooke who occupied the rank of second lieutenant, but a mass without a name, displacing a certain amount of Botany Bay."