Giving thanks for the gift of swimming

Mum at Jervis Bay, 1948

On the 23rd anniversary of my mother’s death I’d like to pay tribute to her for passing on the swimming gene to my sister and brother and me. 

Mum in the QEII pool, foreground mid to late 1980s 2
In the QEII pool mid 1980s.

Mum’s love of water started on Maroubra Beach where her father Austin swam every morning before work and where he taught her to body surf.

Mum in the middle with cousin Ann and sister Mary on Maroubra Beach 1
On Maroubra Beach early 1940s with cousin Ann (left) and sister Mary (right).

When the seas were up she and her sister retreated to Mahon Pool on the rock platform north of the beach and on Saturday mornings they had lessons with Miss Wylie at Coogee’s Wylie’s Baths. She swam at McIver’s Ladies Baths and at the Coogee Palace Aquarium Baths which her sister Mary described as a ‘real pool’. When she was a weekly boarder at Kincoppal at Elizabeth Bay she and Mary got up early so they could have a dip before class in the school’s very own tidal pool.

Our pool, says Mum's caption of the tidal pool at Kincoppal Elizabeth Bay, 1948
Our pool, 1948, says Mum’s caption of this photo of the tidal pool at Kincoppal, Elizabeth Bay.

Her love of water continued into adulthood and in a letter she wrote to Dad (who she’d met two months before) from the P&O Arcadia bound for England in 1955 she said, “we have been spending most of our time in and around the swimming pool.”

Mum and friends on the boat going to London, 1955
Fun and games in the pool on P&O Arcadia, December 1955.

When she and Dad married in November 1958 and settled in Northbridge, a northern Sydney suburb surrounded by the salt water of Middle Harbour, she continued the tradition passed on to her by her father. When we were little we had a wading pool in our backyard and Mum led us round the shallows of  Northbridge Baths, the tidal pool down the road from our Californian bungalow home.

Our wading pool, around 1963-64.
Our wading pool, around 1963-64.

She held our hands and encouraged us to blow bubbles and kick and when I was four she enrolled me in my first official swimming lesson. Each year we returned to ‘Learn to Swim’ and extra tuition from Col, the tall, tanned-like leather manager of the baths. Each year my swimming got better and on 26 January 1968, when I was 7 I was awarded a certificate for swimming 30 yards.

My swimming certificate, Therese Spruhan, Jan 26, 1968 - 2

In October that year we joined the Northbridge Swimming Club and for the next 10 years or so spent every Saturday morning competing in the races at the club.

Northbridge Baths, Northbridge Games, 23 March 13 009

Since my first ventures into water, swimming has been a constant, joyful activity that has supported me throughout my life. So thank you Mum for passing on such a simple but beautiful gift that continues to give your three children and your grandchildren immense pleasure today.

Mum at Jervis Bay, 1948
Barby at Jervis Bay, 1948.


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  • Lovely tribute Resey – more about a great lady and mum (and mother-in-law) … and always when you talk about her, I’m sad that I didn’t get to meet her.

  • A beautiful story Therese and I loved looking at the photos. We had one of those backyard pools, a green canvas one, which I adored especially when we were filling it up!

    • Thank you Fifi! Yes ours was green canvas too and our favourite part was filling it up with the garden hose which I think we used to fight over. Sometimes Dad joined us in the tiny pool and had to lie diagonally across the canvas to fit! Enjoy the last few days of your trip!

  • What a lovely story about Barby. I enjoyed the memories of the early days with my dear sister. Aunty Mary x

  • No wonder you’re such a water lover. It’s in the genes. Loved the photos, especially the luxury cruise boat pool shenanigans and the one of your mum on the beach with her cousin and sister.

    • It is Jen. Mum’s dad loved the water especially the surf and apparently used to get up at 6 each day so he could have a dip at Maroubra before he opened his GP surgery which was at the front of their Spanish Mission style house on Anzac Parade. Annette and Mark have passed it on to their kids too!

  • What a terrific story. would you like to attend our first swim of the 2017/18 season later this year? it will bring back a few memories and you could start a race for us perhaps?
    We are all interested in stories such as yours. You may find the people have changed but the baths has not.
    Chris Cahill
    Northbridge Amateuir swimming Club

    • Thank you Chris! Yes that sounds like a great idea. I have returned to the baths and to the swimming club a few times over the years and in 2013 my brother and one of his daughter’s and I (with some other old swimming club friends) took part in the Northbridge 2013 Centenary relay at the baths. I have also written about the baths and the swimming club on other posts on my blog. You can find them by putting Northbridge Baths in search. Hope the rest of the season goes well and hope to see you at the start of the 2017/18 season. Happy swimming, Therese.


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