I’ve been quiet on Swimming Pool Stories lately because I have been busy writing a book called The Memory Pool: Australian stories of summer, sun and swimming published by NewSouth Publishing.
It will be in the book stores from 1 November but you can pre-order now at Booktopia, Dymocks, Angus & Robertson, Better Read Than Dead, Readings and Abbey’s Books. It features 28 stories I wrote after interviewing well-known and not-so-famous Australians about a pool that was important to them when they were a child.
My first interview was with actor, writer and director Leah Purcell who spoke to me about long summer days in the 1970s and 80s at the Murgon Jubilee Pool in south-west Queensland.
The pool was the big meeting ground, the safe place in Murgon where all the white kids, us kids from the five blackfella families in town, and the kids from Cherbourg – which used to be the Barambah Aboriginal Mission – all congregated.
Other legends in the book include Bryan Brown, Shane Gould, Merrick Watts, Trent Dalton, Priya Cooper, Daniel Kowalski and Laurie Lawrence as well as wonderful stories from other Australians across the country and from a range of different aquatic settings – chlorine, sea, bay, river and backyard.
Actor Bryan Brown recalls the Bankstown Baths in western Sydney as a place of enormous life and where he learnt about life. For comedian Merrick Watts, the Alma Olympic Pool in South Broken Hill was the greatest place on earth when he was a kid.
Award-winning journalist and author Trent Dalton remembers the Sandgate swimming pool in Brisbane’s north as a sanctuary and refuge away from his sometimes difficult home life.
I didn’t go to church as a kid but that was my church – my sacred space – a pilgrimage to Sandgate swimming pool. That’s where I was always going as a kid.
For champions like Shane Gould, Daniel Kowalski and Priya Cooper, the pool was not only where they spent many hours training, it was where they fulfilled their dream of representing Australia.
Shane Gould on the Carlile Pool in Sydney’s Pymble: ‘I spent a lot of time in that pool – probably more than 25 hours a week – swimming four miles in the morning and about three in the afternoon. I had a relationship with the building, the water, the steam and the fog and the different dynamics according to who was there and what was going on. I had a sense of place there and I felt comfortable, at home, safe and relaxed. But the pool didn’t shape my success. It was what I did in that space – the hard work – that led to me being the only person, male or female to hold every world freestyle record from 100 metres to 1500 metres and the 200-metres individual medley simultaneously, in 1971 and 1972.’
The earliest recollection is from 97-year-old Merv Knowles who was at the official opening of Canberra’s first swimming pool at Manuka on 26 January 1931. ‘I was eight and I remember it as a great day as we finally had somewhere good to swim.’
On South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula, Linda Kennedy spent five years swimming at a rock pool her family called the Hollywood Pool in the late 1960s and early 70s.
‘When we finally reached the Hollywood Pool it felt like we were on the edge of the earth and we were the last people left on the planet. The fact that nobody else ever came there made it our secret place.’
Another beautiful sea pool story in the book is from artist and writer Lizzie Buckmaster Dove who remembers one week at the Blue Pool at Bermagui when she was almost 12.
‘When I saw the Blue Pool, I felt I was in-between the land and the sea. It was magical, like I’d stepped through the wardrobe in Narnia into this lucid, liminal watery world. That sense of the infinity of the ocean was just completely mesmerising and beside it was this pool, part-natural, part man-made, just waiting for me. That was the start of my love affair with the Blue Pool, but I didn’t tell my mother or brother or anyone about the impact it had on me – that it made me feel like anything was possible. It was my secret.’
In Perth in the late 1950s and 60s, Kim Mettam discovered the underwater beauty at Mettam’s Pool, an ocean pool created by his grandfather in the years after he returned from World War I.
‘Once you put your face mask on a fairyland of wonderful sights opened up and everything seemed magnified and amplified. There were dazzling contrasting colours among the different marine life – the vivid colours of the coral and schools of swordfish, garfish and mullet, though I avoided the blowfish as they weren’t very attractive.’
I’ve also written about my own childhood pool at Northbridge Baths in Sydney’s Middle Harbour; the swimming club, the Redskins, Whizz Fizz and Paddle Pops and being there with my family when the glorious king tide flowed in.
I loved writing the book and it was a privilege listening to so many beautiful recollections about pools on the Western Australian and NSW coasts, on Melbourne’s Port Philip Bay, in suburban streets in Darwin, western Sydney, Hobart, in bohemian Fitzroy, inner city Brisbane, outback NSW, south-west Queensland, beachside Adelaide, on the bottom edge of South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula and by the dark waters of Launceston’s Cataract Gorge.
Many memories brought a tear to my eye and I have to agree with my editor when she said, ‘There’s a lot of love in this book!’ Thanks for supporting Swimming Pool Stories over the years and I hope you enjoy diving into The Memory Pool!