Hobart’s abandoned aquatic house

There’s something desolate about abandoned swimming pools. All the life has gone from them; they’re quiet, empty and still.All the life has long gone from the Dr Plaister Aquatic House in Hobart. Originally called the Hobart Tepid Baths, the 72-year-old art-deco complex has been boarded up and closed for nearly 10 years. The former Hobart icon lies derelict and abandoned. Instead of water, its pools are filled with graffiti, rubbish, murky puddles and discarded kickboards. Its windows are smashed; barbed wire fences keep visitors out. 

The closure of the Department of Education’s swimming program at the pool seems to have marked the end of the Dr Plaister Aquatic Centre. The 1997 opening of the Hobart Aquatic Centre where swimmers could ”escape to a sub-tropical day even during Hobart’s coldest months’ probably added to its demise.
 
When the Governor of Tasmania, Sir Ernest Clark officially opened the Hobart Tepid Baths on 10 November 1938 they were described as an adornment and a blessing to the city. The heated centre allowed locals to swim all year round, and it was hoped a compulsory swimming program for Tasmanian children would follow. 
 
While the baths went into liquidation soon after they were opened, the Department of Education’s purchase of the pool in 1948 was the making of the place.  As well as persuading the Department to buy the pool, Doug Plaister, a leading local swimmer and water safety educator convinced the education authorities to introduce a swimming program to the school curriculum. This was the start of the Learn-to-Swim program which was subsequently introduced to schools across Australia.
 
By the late 1940s the complex now known as Amateur House, had become the centre for swimming in Tasmania. Over the years thousands of children learnt to swim at the 55-yard pool. 
 
When a group of art interventionists took over the pool for One Night Only in March 2009, reviewer Bec Tudor said the opportunity to lawfully enter 212 Collins Street was a big drawcard. “Whether intrigued by the idea of an outdoor pool in Hobart, curious about what lay behind the boarded-up facade, or a survivor of its infamous stick-wielding swim instructor, everybody knows this site and seems to hold a personal stake in it,” Bec said.
 
Who knows who the ‘stick-wielding instructor’ was? One name that is synonymous with the place is Doug Plaister. The Mayor of Hobart from 1976 to 1984, Doug Plaister ran the swimming program at the pool and lived on site for a period of time. In 1991 the complex was renamed Dr Plaister Aquatic House in his honour.
 

While many Hobartians hoped the site would be restored to its former glory, its days as a swimming centre are over.  In the coming months it will be redeveloped into a four-level office and apartment complex.  The facade of the Eric Round-designed building with its distinctive brickwork, is the only part that will be retained.  When the bulldozers finally move in, it will be the end of an era for this Hobart institution. 

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  • Yes it’s a shame it had to close. There was a heritage assessment of the site but it was found that the retention of the pools and much of the internal layout was not feasible for future use. As a result only the Collins Street facade would be retained. Did you learn to swim at the pool?

  • As a photography student, I’m wondering if there was a way to enter the building and take some photos?

    Would be a brilliant opportunity and I would be sorely disappointed if there wasn’t.

    Kind regards,
    -Claire

  • Claire,

    This is a fantastic place for photography, in fact I was there today (and also learnt to swim here 1990-1993).

    the main entrance onto collins street has broken glass, with a fire-escape handle on the inside. no problem getting in. give it a try. take a friend, as this also seems to be a shelter for the homeless. Also watch out for the decking on the far side (Hobart Rivulet) as this is very unstable.

  • Claire and others as an office worker nearby, I wouldn’t recommend entering the baths. As said there are a number of people who stay at the baths.

    Through the years we have witnessed, fights, falls in the rivulet, people throwing bottles at our walls and being abused, oh and people set our building on fire. Enter at your own risk. The site is privately owned and the current owners have not secured it and by doing so is probably their intention in order to get through their planning.

  • Great article, thank you for the information. There’s barely anything online about the baths at all. The place seems to have a lot of history. I used some of it in the description of a video/timelapse we did of the pool and linked back here. Hope it’s alright.

    The video is here if you’d like to check it out 🙂

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkrNX9WQgJk

  • Claire, are you still interested in having a look around inside? Will come back to see if there’s a response down the track.

  • Hi Claire, you might have some luck if you contact the Heritage Council in Hobart or Hobart City Council. I was hoping to have a look inside when I was in Hobart last year but instead had to hold the camera high over the barbed wire fence. Good luck Therese

  • Hey Dude Crush – that’s fine re the video – I will enjoy having a look. Like a lot of swimming pools théy are full of history but not much has ever been documented. Cheers Therese

  • Like Claire, I’m doing photography (at Uni) and trying to find abandoned areas for my major piece this year.

    Did anyone find out if permission was necessary to get in? I really want to see the inside for myself. Could someone please let me know via email?

    Damo
    (peckthechoc@hotmail.com)

  • The problem with swimming pols and many other ammenities is that as soon as the accountants, in the grey suits, have a look at the prof. & loss accounts of a pool, they’ll strike it off.

    They know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

  • Thanks Damo, The end of an era. I will be in Hobart before Christmas so hopefully will have a chance to have one more look before the developers move in. Thanks for keeping me posted.

  • Living in Tassie, on Collins Street… I have actually always wondered WHO owned this property?

    As far as I know, and I walk past the Aquatic House every day to work, there will be some time before they begin demolition and construction.

    • Thanks for your comment. I am not sure who owns the property either but from information I have from a couple of years ago a local consortium was seeking to redevelop the site. A couple of months ago I heard that the redevelopment was about to start but appears not. Will see if I can find out more!

  • Therese, a group of people including the guy who owns Da Angelo in Battery Point own the property and a construction company are involved. The reason for the slow start is that they need to sell the apartments to raise money to start construction. Pity its going to be 6 – 7 storey building taking up the majority of the pool site. Its so NOT in keeping with the surrounds.

    • Thanks for letting me know about that. Yes, shame about the height of the building. Was in Hobart just before Xmas so visited the site and took some photos which I will put up on my blog soon. Thanks again. Therese

    • The pool still there nothing done to it. Its a danger to many teens who sneek in there. The buildings are being used as a sqart. Many teens go there to use drugs. Something does need to be done to the site before someone dies there.

  • I swam competitively in the Tepid Pool up until we moved to the new Olympic Swimming Pool but continued with Royal Lifesaving Society training under the guidance of Doug Plaister in the Tepid Pool. I noted that you have the pool length of 55yds but this is not correct. The pool was around 37yds making 3 laps up to the competitive length of 110yds. For the 55yd swim, mainly the Under14s, was identified by a rope over the centre of the pool.

    • Thanks for your comment Ian. I will correct the length of the pool. When we were in Hobart last December the pool had been demolished and apartments were in the process of being built in its place. Only the facade of the original tepid baths which became the Douglas Plaister Aquatic House survived. End of an era!

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