Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Meet the music man of Manuka Pool

It's a special place - Manuka Pool - not just because it was the first pool in the nation's capital or that it's art deco in style. It's because of the people connected to it - the people who love and care for this inner-Canberra icon. And the main man who loves and cares for this pool is John Taverner, affectionately known as Tav.

Like his parents before him, Tav is the manager of Manuka Pool. He's not just any manager; he's the heart and soul of this 78-year-old aquatic place. Tav says his pool has a special karma, which he links back to the billabong which flowed through the land on which the pool was built. The local Kooris gathered and bathed at the billabong and Tav believes their spirit lives on today and protects the people at the man-made swimming hole.

And Tav would know. He's spent most of his life there. His parents' Owen and Lesley ran the centre from 1947 to 1999. Growing up his backyard was the pool, and as a little boy was known to ride his tricycle off the diving board into the 30-metre pool. In the garden area near the children's wading pool, Tav has erected a plaque and planted an Arizona pine in honour of his parents' love and dedication in running Manuka Swimming Pool for 50 summers.

These days Tav has put his own style on this 'cool' pool where music is a part of the atmosphere of the place. Years ago when a local boys' school played a lively Cold Chisel number at the opening of their swimming carnival, Tav realised the power music could have to change the mood of the pool.

"The boys went wild, dancing, jumping in the water and throwing bags and hats in," says Tav. "Since then I've been playing music over the PA. If people need calming down on a hot afternoon I'll put something soothing on. Other times I'll change the tune to add some vitality to the place."

With his eclectic taste in music and extensive CD collection, you are bound to hear something new and different at Manuka Pool. The hot summer's afternoon we were there, chilled Mexican music serenaded around the space. As dusk approached, the Cuban sound of the Buena Vista Social Club took over. The next morning lap swimmers stroked to the dulcet tones of Van ''the man'' Morrison.

While music may not have been a feature at Manuka Pool when it was first opened on 26 January 1931, it was certainly a popular place among young people and families, public servants and parliamentarians. Designed by the government's principal architect E H Henderson and built by 'sustenance' or unemployed workers, during its early days the pool was the scene of many romantic beginnings.  Today, locals have a strong affection for the place, especially its regular morning swimmers, "The Coneheads". Like the Aboriginals before them, the ''Coneheads" gather each day at the watery space to bathe, talk and make friends. As 88-year-old ''Conehead" Don says: "When you strike a place as good as this why go anywhere else. It's a hidden treasure!"

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The pool in the park at Petersham

Life seems to slow down a pace or two when you enter Petersham Park Pool or rather, Fanny Durack Aquatic Centre, as it was renamed in 1999. Very popular with families with young children, the 48-year-old complex includes a 33-metre pool and a children's wading pool. No one swims particularly fast at this inner west pool but they enjoy diving in and doing a few leisurely laps.

The relaxed mood of the place reflects its location within the grounds of the 123-year-old Petersham Park and oval, where in 1926 18-year-old Don Bradman scored 110 in his first appearance in grade cricket. Some of the old-world charm of the park with its picket fence, bandstand and avenue of trees carries through to the pool. But the pool also has a touch of inner city grunge. On one side old camphor laurel trees overlook the pool; on the other side, the outlook is the backs of ageing terrace houses, one decorated in Buddhist flags.

If Sarah "Fanny" Durack was alive today Petersham Pool would have been her local. She lived up the hill from the pool in Douglas Street, Stanmore. It was her local connection, and that it was considered a scandal that no pool in Australia had been named after the first Australian woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming, that Marrickville Council renamed the pool in her honour.

As well as being a record-breaking swimmer, Fanny Durack was one of a number of early 20th century swimmers who developed the Australian crawl stroke, now known as freestyle. Fanny and team-mate Mina Wylie (of Wylie's Baths fame) almost didn't make it to the 1910 Stockholm Olympics as at that time swimming in NSW was strictly segregated. Rose Scott, President of the NSW Ladies Amateur Swimming Association (NSWLASA) said it was immodest for them to appear among men in attire so scant that they would be embarrassed to wear it in their own homes. Fortunately a public outcry and a change of heart among members of the NSWLASA allowed both Fanny and Mina to compete. When Fanny returned victorious from Stockholm she commented that, "the objections to members of both sexes swimming together exists only in this section of the earth, and is strained prudery".

A champion of women's rights, Fanny was at loggerheads with swimming officials at different times in her six-year swimming career in which she held 12 world records. After retiring from the sport in 1918 due to appendicitis, Fanny took up coaching. She would have been very at home at the pool in the park at Petersham. No doubt she could have taught the laid-back swimmers who frequent this pool a technique or two.

Plans are before Marrickville Council to upgrade Fanny Durack Aquatic Centre to replace the 33-metre pool with a 25-metre pool, add a 15-metre program pool, refurbish the foyer and changing rooms and add a new deck and cafe. Stayed tuned.