A couple of Saturdays ago I ventured back to Northbridge Baths, where I spent a signficant part of my childhood. I arrived around 8am in time to experience the joys of the Saturday morning swimming club. From the late 1960s to the very early 80s I was a member of the swimming club. Every Saturday morning from October to the end of March, my sister and I would pick up our friends, the Hall girls, and run down the hill just in time to sign on for the morning’s races. Located at the bottom of steep, winding Widgiewa Road, these saltwater tidal baths are set in secluded Sailors Bay, a quiet corner of Sydney’s Middle Harbour. Surrounding the pool enclosure are bushland, sailing boats and multi-levelled houses peaking through the trees.
The day I sat and observed the Saturday races, not a lot seemed to have changed since my time at the club. Of course there were many new faces but there were also a few familiar ones too. There was even a competitor from my parents’ generation, who must be well into his 70s but is still diving off those blocks. The atmosphere was the same – full of friendly people, joking, laughing, encouraging, stirring and jibing – all enjoying the camaraderie of their club. There was the mandatory discovery of a possibly poisonous sea creature, which on this occasion was a sting ray. There were also the usual kids who go missing just before they are called for a race, off playing with their friends or checking out the sting ray. The club colours are definitely stronger these days with most members competing in bright red and yellow cossies with Northbridge emblazoned in white across their lower backs. A number of mothers take part, but just like in my day, the races are dominated by the dads, primary-aged-kids and a few grandfathers.
The swimming club is almost as old as the baths. The baths were officially opened on 8 November 1924. The Northbridge Amateur Swimming Club was formed just over two months later on 15 January 1925. At only 25 feet wide and 33 feet long, the original baths, which were called Sailors Bay Baths, were much smaller than the current complex. Over the years the baths have undergone many changes and additions. Between 1935 and 1937, the area of the baths was extended to provide a 55-yard racing course and additional changeroom accommodation. Thirty years later, the 55-yard racing area was updated to a 50-metre competitive section with fibreglass starting blocks, which is where races are held today.
During the mid-1970s, a favourite game among my friends was to dare each other to dive under the starting blocks and come up the other side. I was always a bit fearful I would get stuck among the moss and slime that covered the bottom of the blocks and so was reluctant to attempt the dare. I would duck-dive to the bottom but never went any further – afraid of where I might end up – maybe in a completely different world. I was happier diving off those blocks at the Saturday morning swimming races just like everyone seemed to be the day I dropped in on the Northbridge Amateur Swimming Club.