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.