Friday, December 7, 2012

The Moody family is a pool family now!

Those were the triumphant words of Kevin, father of the Moody clan on Wednesday night's final A Moody Christmas on ABC TV.
Photo from
The pool was a long term project of Kevin's which he announced in the first episode of the comedy series set over six consecutive Christmas days.

Photo from
Each year when youngest son Dan returns home from London, the hole is a little deeper and wider until finally Kevin gathers the family in the backyard to announce: "The Moody family is a pool family now!

"No longer will pool people be able to look down on us. No longer are we in the gutter looking up at the swimming pools in the sky," he waxes lyrical until wife Maree says: "Come on love, the oven's on." He cuts the red ribbon and sons' Sean and Dan christen the pool, bombing and diving and displacing water, like typical boys at the local baths.

When I was little I dreamed of having a pool in our backyard. But the only one we ever had was a canvas wading pool that Dad would set up on the buffalo lawn. Our favourite part was filling it with water from the garden hose. We would fight over who got the job like carrying the warm parcel of fish and chips to the car on Friday nights.

Back in the 1960s and 70s when I was growing up backyard pools were considered a luxury. Not today. A 2012 survey by Swimart showed that around 13,000 pools are built in Australian backyards and apartment blocks annually, and that Australia has the highest per capita rate of pool ownership in the world.

While our family wasn't as lucky as the Moody's, we had the next best thing. After years of nagging their parents, our neighbours, the Halls put in a pool. We didn't have to ask if we could have a swim. We just walked around the crescent and jumped in. So thanks Frank and Judy for finally giving in.

Congratulations also to Kevin Moody for having the perseverance to complete his pool. If you missed the very funny A Moody Christmas you can watch it at the ABC-TV website.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Another day in paradise at Balmain's Dawn Fraser Baths

When I was swimming around Cockatoo Island on Sunday morning, the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt was on my mind.

Captain Thunderbolt aka Fred Ward was imprisoned on the island for stealing horses. In 1863 he escaped by swimming the 600 metres or so to shore. He emerged from the water at a place in Balmain that became known as White Horse Point.

Some say the name was inspired by Captain Thunderbolt's girlfriend Mary Ann Bugg, who was waiting for him on a white horse. While the romantics would like this to be true, the name is more likely to have been inspired by the white horses that appear on the Parramatta River when the southerly winds are up. An alternative explanation is a rock resembling a white horse rearing up that used to be prominent on the point.

If Captain Thunderbolt had scrambled ashore 19 years later, he would have noticed a new addition to the point: Balmain's new tidal baths. For the first year of the baths' existence they were named after their location at White Horse Point. In 1883 they were renamed the Elkington Park Baths after the park above, which honours a former Balmain mayor.  Also known as the Corporation Baths, in 1964 they were renamed after local champion Dawn Fraser, who learnt to swim there.

When swimmers gathered at the 130-year-old pool on Sunday for the annual 2.5km Dawny to Cockatoo swim there was a carnival atmosphere similar to the early days. Just like the swimming tournaments of the 1880s and 90s a band was playing as patrons enjoyed the after-swim barbeque and fresh fruit from Harris Farm. 

We were just missing the novelty events that were a feature of the start of the season carnival during the last two decades of the 19th century.  As well as a 'handicap race of 750 yards for all comers', club members could join in events like 'hands-tied behind the back', 'swimming in clothes', 'diving for objects' and 'underwater distance diving'. There was also a 'smokers' race' and the annual duck hunt involving swimmers catching ducks released in the pool.

Renovated and heritage-listed in the 1990s, in recent years the Dawn Fraser Baths have returned to their glory days. They survived many years being surrounded by heavy industry, polluted waters and threats of closure. They have emerged with a new lease of life into an era when the harbour's waters are cleaner than ever;  when art exhibitions and film festivals have replaced ship-building, prisons and industrial schools for girls on nearby Cockatoo Island.

As the Lizards, a group of 50 to almost 80-year-old men, who spend their mornings in retirement at the pool say: "It's the best place in Sydney; it's paradise!"

Dangling my legs over the edge of the wide timber boardwalk and looking up at the vista of jacarandas, towering palms and magnificent fig trees, it's hard not to agree.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The art and soul of the swimming pool

Visiting some of the Art and About exhibitions and installations in Sydney last month got me thinking about art at pools. The motto of Art and About is 'art in unusual places', and from 21 September to 21 October that's what you find in the city's parks, lane ways, streets and malls.


"We try every year to use places we haven't used before," said creative director Gill Minervini in an article in The Sydney Morning Herald. "We're always looking for new spots," she said. 

If Minervini and her team considered pools they would find that art is already a feature at a number of centres. 

By the 50-metre pool at Cook and Phillip Park Aquatic Centre in the city are eight murals by Sydney artist Wendy Sharpe depicting the life of Australian swimmer and performer Annette Kellerman.

The 'bold and sensual' studies tell the story of key events in the life of the 'Diving Venus' including becoming NSW 100 yards freestyle champion in 1902 and competing in the annual Parisian swimming race on the Seine.  Other panels portray her arrest for indecent exposure on a Boston Beach for wearing her self-created one-piece cossies,  her daring and exotic aquatic feats in shows around the world, and her rise to stardom in silent movies like the mythological underwater film Neptune's Daughter.

Swimming a slow backstroke is a relaxing way to view the paintings and take in the life of this trail-blazing Australian, who believed emancipating women from the chains of neck-to-knee swimming costumes was her greatest achievement!

Another pool with an artistic side is Leichhardt Park Aquatic Centre in Sydney's inner west.

In the native garden leading to the entrance are seven glass installations by Bronwyn Bancroft honouring the original indigenous people of the area. 

Called 'Weavings of Light and Life' they represent the land and foreshore, food collection, fishing, song-lines, kinship, a shield protecting lands and family, and water.

The Bundjalung artist said she deliberately chose glass as the medium for the panels so that the sun's rays would interact with the designs throughout the day. The works also connect beautifully with the native plants around them and are a colourful welcome to visitors to the pool.

A few kilometres up the road, a striking blue mosaic welcomes patrons to the Annette Kellerman Aquatic Centre at Enmore Park.

Near the entrance a chrome-plated brass ribbon designed by artist Julia Davis wraps around the building, connecting with the surface of the pool and reflecting the light and movement of the water.

In the foyer area is a glass sculpture inspired by the figure of Marrickville-born Annette Kellerman. Created by local artist Mark Wotherspoon, Silver Screen Mermaid depicts the shapely curves of a mermaid figure.

The almost two-year-old centre also features a remnant of a mosaic from the original Enmore Pool. It's displayed in one of the pool's outdoor areas and shows people of all ages communicating, diving and relaxing around water. It also features greetings in community languages.

The use of vibrant colours, spots and stripes and interesting shapes gives the centre a lively and creative edge that appropriately reflects the artistic spirit of its namesake.

I wonder if next year's Art and About will venture into the aquatic spaces of the public pool?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

High altitude pool spotting in the Snowy Mountains

Staying at Thredbo in the NSW Snowy Mountains in April this year we encountered a potpourri of pools.

On the trek up to Mt Kosciuszko we passed small pools formed among the rocks and melting snow.

Just over two kilometres from the summit we stopped at the glacial Lake Cootapatamba.

The Aborigines named the water hole, kau-oola-patamba, the place where the eagle drank.

Not far from the lake we came across a whale; well, that's what it looked like to us!

On the chairlift heading back to the village we spotted the round pool at the Alpine Lodge.

Trekking up to our apartment we dropped into the Denman (originally Bursill's Lodge), which used to have pool.

Now a restaurant, the Bursill's pool (built in the late 1950s) was a gathering place for a schnapps and swim after a day on the slopes, and was the scene of many parties.

After tackling the Merrits Nature Track (uphill option) we ventured over to the Thredbo Leisure Centre for some high altitude training.

We returned to this AIS-accredited pool the next day as snow flurries were falling.

Heading home we stopped in Jindabyne for a walk by the town's very big pool,  Lake Jindabyne.

Photo from Snowy Valley Resort website.
Finally at East Jindabyne we went in search of the pool in the 2004 movie Somersault starring Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington.

But all we found at the Snowy Valley Resort was a building site and a hotel temporarily closed for business.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Reflecting on pretty patterns at Annette Kellerman Pool

This morning when I swam at the Annette Kellerman Aquatic Centre in Enmore the light was streaming through the large windows above the deep end.

The lime-green on the trim around the windows was reflecting in the water.

Other colours also joined in creating beautiful patterns in the pool.

It was like looking through a kaleidoscope that would have lured the pool's namesake Annette Kellerman to dive in.

Friday, September 21, 2012

At the rock pool by Mona Vale's Bongin Bongin Bay

Mona Vale on Sydney's northern beaches was originally known as Bongin Bongin, says John Ogden in his book Saltwater People of the Broken Bays.

It was renamed in 1858 after the first farm in the area called 'Mona', which means 'high born'. Ogden suggests the owner of the farm, Scotsman Robert Campbell may have named it after the town of Mona Vale in his country of birth. 

One area of Mona Vale still known by its Aboriginal name is the bay just north of the rock pool.

Looking towards Bongin Bongin Bay

Visiting there last Saturday with my friend Fiona, she said when the surf at Mona Vale Beach was too dangerous her family used to swim across Bongin Bongin Bay. When it was too rough in the bay they would retreat to the pool.

The distinctive thing about Mona Vale's main pool and children's wading pool is that they are sited on an exposed rock shelf - not beside a headland or surrounded by large rock formations like most of NSW's 99 other ocean baths. *

Originally a natural rock pool, the main pool was enlarged by unemployed labour in the 1930s.   It is approximately 31 x 18 metres and has a depth of between 1200 mm and 1500 mm. The children's pool is 15 x 10 metres. *

While we were the only ones there around midday last Saturday, Fiona tells me the pool is very popular with the locals. She says at different times in the day you'll find oldies, young men, mothers, all types, swimming their laps, taking the toddlers for a paddle or just relaxing around the edge of this lovely rock pool.  

With the weather cool I ended up not diving in but I will definitely return at another time for a swim.

*This information came from the National Trust of Australia's (NSW) 1994 Survey of Harbourside & Ocean Pools of the Sydney Metropolitan Region prepared by EJE Landscape and historian Christa Ludlow. You can purchase the book from the National Trust. For more information on John Ogden's book, Saltwater People of the Broken Bays: Sydney's Northern Beaches click here.