Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Discovering Coburg Olympic Pool while watching The Slap

Since watching The Slap, the ABC-TV series of Christos Tsiolkas' novel, I have been trying to identify the pool featured in the final episode. Tweets to the ABC didn't produce any answers but my online detective work did.  Googling swimming pools in Melbourne I discovered the Coburg Olympic Pool, which seemed to match the images on The Slap. The Friends of Coburg Pool confirmed my hunch.

While the Coburg Pool is in a lovely leafy setting by Merrri Creek, on The Slap it looked a bit grungy, a little bit neglected. It reminded me of my local, slightly patched-up Fanny Durack Aquatic Centre and a few other pools approaching the half century. Turns out Coburg Pool was threatened with closure in 2006 and was shut for two seasons. A campaign by the Friends of Coburg Pool helped ensure its re-opening in 2008.

As the Save the Coburg Olympic Pool website states, the pool is part of a long history of swimming on the banks of the Merri Creek. The current complex was built in 1965 to replace swimming in the Merri Creek and lake which had become polluted. As well as the 50-metre Olympic pool, there is a children’s pool, a toddler’s pool and a diving pool. Unfortunately the local Moreland City Council demolished the diving towers in October 2008 before assessing their heritage value.

From its beginnings the pool has been closely linked with the suburb’s history of community activism. The pool’s construction was a local community initiative and was made possible by a massive fundraising drive. Activism in the 1990s kept the complex going. While the latest campaign, Save Coburg Olympic Pool, seems to have put a halt to the pool's closure, at least for the time being, hopes that it would be part of Moreland City Council's recent heritage overlay were dashed in June this year.

Back in the mid-1990s when Premier Jeff Kennett reduced the number of local councils from 210 to 78, a number of municipal pools in Victoria were under threat of closure. One of the most notable was Fitzroy Pool, featured in Helen Garner’s novel Monkey Grip. Fortunately the Friends of Fitzroy Pool rallied to save the more than 100-year-old, inner-city icon, which has flourished ever since. 

Coburg Pool's recent battle to remain viable is not an isolated case, particularly in Victoria. Friends in Wangaratta recently told me they were concerned that the council was letting their outdoor pool deteriorate. While the town has an indoor centre, it is only 25-metres and as they say it’s really important to have an outdoor pool for the kids to go to during summer especially in inland places like ‘Wang’.

So I'd say good luck to the Friends of Coburg Pool in getting council to repair and restore your pool and return it to its former glory. Let's hope the council sees sense and allows the pool to continue its vital recreational and social role in the local community. And good luck to any other local outdoor pools across the nation threatened with closure.

And if you are wondering where Coburg is here are a few interesting facts and figures on the Melbourne suburb. It is eight kilometres north of the CBD in the local government area of the City of Moreland. Its most famous landmark is Pentridge Gaol which was recently redeveloped into housing. Some names you might recognise as hailing from Coburg include Raelene Boyle, Ted Egan, Phil Cleary, Rod Quantock and Angry Anderson.

To see Coburg Pool's starring role in The Slap click here. To find out more about Coburg Pool visit the Save Coburg Olympic Pool website.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

South coast swimming at Gerringong's ocean baths

There were plenty of surfers in wetsuits in the Werri Beach waves last Sunday but only one swimmer in the ocean pool.

The cool, wet weather discouraged most from diving in but as lone swimmer Margaret commented: “It’s warmer in the water than outside.” So after taking a few snaps I joined Margaret in the Werri Beach Ocean Baths, which sits on a wide rock platform at the south end of the beach.

Opened in the late 1930s, it was built to cater for the many campers at Werri Beach and to provide an alternative swimming spot on dangerous surf days. The pool was originally intended to be 165 feet by 75 feet but was reduced to 75 feet by 40 feet to save costs.

As Margaret kick-boarded up and down, she told me that one time when the tide was high and the seas were big the force of the waves picked her up and threw her out of the pool. Our Werri Beach host said the same thing had happened to her nephew during the Christmas king tides.

While waves broke on the nearby rocks last Sunday, the conditions were pretty calm within the pool walls, and it was lovely gazing up at the rolling, green hills in the distance.

Gerringong is blessed with a number of ocean pools. At the north end of the beach is a natural water hole called Campbell’s Hole, which our Werri Beach host says is lovely to flop around in.

The former ladies-only baths at Boat Harbour.

Margaret also recommends the Boat Harbour Baths, south of Werri Beach. Originally a ladies-only baths, she says older people enjoy swimming at the nearly 110-year-old pool as it has better level access than the Werri Beach Baths.

There used to be a men’s-only baths at Boat Harbour but its exposed position caused continual erosion of the pool structure.  It was also prone to clog up with seaweed, which was the excuse the men gave for swimming in the women's pool. The NSW Ocean Baths website (no longer online) records that in 1930 a group of ladies from Nowra were very disappointed when their planned swim was not possible after finding a lot of men in the ladies-only pool.

The remains of the men's pool at Boat Harbour.

“While acknowledging that a man might want to swim with his wife or children, Gerringong aldermen agreed that ‘Gerringong is not a city’ and ‘some of our ladies are a little shy’ and ‘don’t want to plunge in with men’.”

Another incident recorded by the NSW Ocean Baths website was the 100-foot fall into the Gerringong Ladies' Baths in 1942 by a racing greyhound called Socialite after chasing a rabbit on the cliffs above.  The greyhound was expected to recover unlike a baby whale that Margaret informed me beached on the rocks near the pool recently.

Gerringong is about a two-hour drive south of Sydney. For more information visit Kiama Council.