Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Swimming with seahorses at Watson's Bay Baths

Seahorses like hanging out at Watson's Bay Baths.  Their natural home is seagrass but over the years they have taken a liking to the pool's shark nets. Scuba diver Dave Thomas says they prefer them because it gets them off the ground and away from predators.

"And they can't chase things down, so they rely on food coming to them. They love hanging in the nets while things go past," he said in an article in The Sydney Morning Herald

Photo from Underwater Australasia
In 2010 Mr Thomas was involved in temporarily removing the colony of White's seahorses from the nets while the baths were rebuilt. During the construction phase the seahorses, which were named after John White, surgeon-general to the First Fleet, were put on seagrasses. When the work was finished they gravitated back to the new nets that were designed with the seahorses in mind.

Visiting the baths last week I found that the seahorses have a very nice new home with one of the best views in Sydney.  While Watsons Bay was established as a fishing village way back in 1788, the baths had a later beginning. Their life began in 1905 when Vaucluse Council built a shark-proof enclosure to allow safe bathing. Over the years the pool has undergone a number of repairs and upgrades with major work carried out in 1927, 1965, 1975, and most recently in 2010. 

The latest renovation includes a new Olympic-size swimming area with two floating turning boards or sunbathing pontoons, wider new boardwalks and improved seating. The focus of the new, improved pool is on entering the water via ladders and ramps in the deep end so that there is a reduced need to walk over the seagrass in the shallow area. 

Other features include a deep water access ramp for wheelchairs, which is said to be a first for a tidal harbour pool in Australia. Two fully immersible wheelchairs are also available for public use.

If you tire of exploring this expansive salt water space, you can retreat to one of the seats near the entry which are shaded by the shapely trees above. In the pool's early days patrons paid admission of two pence a swim or one shilling a week. Today the pool is free; just open the gate and walk in.

Woollahra Council spent more than $2 million improving this lovely tidal pool. Money well spent, I would say. I think the seahorses would agree.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Country towns, The Castle and Chewton Pool

Avalon Ocean Baths

When you live on the coast you take having somewhere to swim for granted. There's the beach, ocean pools, the harbour, bay baths or the local chlorine complex. But it's a different story in inland Australia, particularly in the smaller towns. The river or lake may be an option but they are not always safe. Only last week a 15-year-old boy nearly drowned near the Wagga Wagga Beach in the Murrumbidgee River.

Spending Christmas at my sister's Riverina property it was great having a pool to dive into and cool off. But not everyone can have a pool in their backyard or on their farm.  And this is where the municipal pool becomes very important.

Maryborough Pool
Driving from Wagga Wagga to the Victorian goldfields area after Christmas we dropped into a number of outdoor pools in medium-sized and small towns. Most of these were built in the 1950s, 60s and early 1970s. In the NSW towns of Jerilderie, Ariah Park and Finley, the local pool was in an attractive garden setting. While the opening hours were more limited than in the days when these towns were thriving, each pool appeared very well-maintained.

Ariah Park Pool

Travelling into Victoria the future of the outdoor pool did not appear as positive. Instead of the usual October to March summer season, most centres were only open from December to February. Opening hours were also limited and on days when the temperature is below 23 degree C outdoor pools in Victoria are closed. Conversely, if it reaches 32 C, the opening hours are extended. Well, that's the theory but not always the practice as patrons at Melbourne's Coburg Pool discovered recently.

Daylesford Pool
Increasingly it appears that councils in Victoria have replaced or plan to replace outdoor pools with a 25-metre indoor aquatic centre that services a number of towns. One place that has been experiencing this policy is Chewton, a town of about 400 people near Castlemaine in Central Victoria. With plans for a new indoor centre in Castlemaine, in 2009 Mount Alexander Shire Council announced that Chewton’s nearly 20-metre pool and smaller learner pool would be closed.

Well, that was the plan. But they didn't count on the passion and fervour of the local people to try and save their pool. Under the catch-cry of 'only fools close pools', since early 2010, the locals have been campaigning to save their 53-year-old centre. They've held rallies, organised petitions, made submissions to council, run fundraising events including the 'Ugly Man' contest, and set up a tent embassy to prevent the pool’s demolition. After a long battle, the pool finally re-opened on 3 December 2010 with the local community (Chewton Pool Inc) as the new managers.

Speaking at the opening, Bendigo West MP, Maree Edwards congratulated the people of Chewton, in particular key campaigner Rose Darling, for being resolute and unwavering in their commitment to keep the pool open.  Likening the fight to the classic ‘Aussie battler’ movie, The Castle, Ms Edwards said anyone who has grown up in a small town knows the value and importance of its local pool.

"Local pools are not just about swimming - they are often the hub of small towns during the summer period. They are the heart and soul of a community that bring people together and that's what keeps communities strong."

Maryborough Pool

Ms Edwards spoke about growing up in nearby Maryborough where the pool was the place to be each summer day of the school holidays.  Maryborough Pool in the central goldfields area is another pool in Victoria that has fought to remain open.  Back in the mid to late 1990s, local woman, Lauris Weir led a successful campaign to keep the 72-year-old art deco beauty open.  As Lauris says:  "Indoor pools don't take the place of the outdoor pool. They are good for exercise but not for having a real, good, old time."

Chewton Pool
While Chewton Pool has been saved, at least for the next three years, I wonder how many other outdoor pools in Victoria are facing a fragile future?