After an absence of more than 20 years, I recently returned to North Sydney Olympic Swimming Pool. I spent a lot of time at this pool during my high school years and into my 20s so my visit was a trip down memory lane. While there have been a number of additions in the past decade, including a 25-metre indoor pool, a gym and two restaurants, much of the rest of the complex hasn’t changed.
The imposing grandstand where we sat for our school swimming carnivals is still there, as is the art deco plasterwork shells, dolphins, birds and frogs, which adorn the wall closet to the harbour. There’s a new entrance to the pool, but the cavernous stairs that used to lead down to the turnstiles remain. The smell of the Ladies Change Rooms transported me back to my school days, and like a flashback in a film, I was surrounded by a room of giggling schoolgirls self-consciously undressing for a swim.
When North Sydney Pool was opened in 1936 it was hailed as ‘the wonder pool of Australasia’ because of the high standard of its facilities and the sophistication of its modern filtration system. It was built in the Stripped Classical Functionalist style with an emphasis on symmetry and a few touches of art deco. Treated and filtered sea water was pumped from the harbour to fill the pool. At the opening on 4 April, North Sydney Alderman CC Faulkner waxed lyrically about the quality of the water exclaiming:
“Imagine the most perfect sapphire in the world – colossal in dimensions, blue, with a radiance that dazzles yet soothes; that is what the water in the Olympic pool is like.”
In the early days of the pool, locals were encouraged to swim in the pool daily for their health’s sake as “there is a luxurious warmth about the pool water, a softness that caresses and invigorates, that stimulates and is health-giving.”
As well as its distinctive design and spectacular location next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Luna Park, North Sydney Pool is famous as being the pool where 86 world records were set. It was the venue for the Third British Empire Games in 1938 and many NSW and Australian Championships. Between 1956 and 1978, the likes of Dawn Fraser, Jon and Isla Konrads, Lorraine Crapp, John Devitt, Shane Gould, Stephen Holland, Jenny Turrall and Michelle Ford set world records in the waters of this Australian icon.