Sunday, 18 May 2008

Swimming Under The Bridge

I think this pool says a lot about the place of swimming in the Australian psyche. Here is it, right under Sydney Harbour Bridge, next door neighbour to Luna Park. I can't think of another place in the world where a swimming pool occupies such a prime piece of real estate. Maybe Monaco, which I will see shortly, thanks to Jilly! And not only is there no question of its continued survival, in 2001 a redevelopment was completed, feturing a new indoor 25m pool , splash pool, child care facilities, a renovated cafe and restaurant, gymnasium, picnic areas, solar heating and hot water heat pumps.

The pool was originally built in 1936 on a site where much of the construction work for the Sydney Harbour Bridge had been carried out. The Bridge opened in 1932. 86 world records have been set at the pool by such swimming greats as Dawn Fraser, Jon and Ilsa Konrads, Murray Rose, Lorraine Crapp, Frank O'Neill, Judy Joy Davies, John Devitt, Shane Gould and Michelle Ford.

I also keep a Swimming Blog, because I love swimming. I was delighted to see another swimmer share his love in this weekend's This Life contributor column in The Weekend Australian newspaper. Rick Kane, I don't know who you are, but you captured my thoughts beautifully. The only differences are that I usually DO score a lane to myself, as I use a gym, and the bulk of people are into the sweaty, running shoes stuff; I swim 60 laps about 4 times a week (80 if I'm on holidays); and my magic number is 23 - the lap when, having let the mind go blank other than the repetitive mantra of lap-counting, most of the world's problems and complex work-related issues are solved. Swimming to me is meditation, transcendence, sensuality (the water feels like a silk scarf running over my body).

Here's Rick Kane's piece entitled This (Lapping) Life from the The Weekend Australian May 17-18 2008:
"Swimming laps is all about numbers. For starters, I’m 44 and I go swimming at 6am (ouch). The first time I ventured to the pool (I mean leisure centre) at that early hour, I thought I would be bothering the guy who had drawn the short straw to open up.
I imagined a pot-bellied, sleepy-eyed grump wheezing on a fag, clutching a coffee, mumbling something like, “Mate, give us a sec, I’ll crank up the generators and then she’ll be right.” I was wrong.
At 6am your local leisure centre is going off. People turn up in droves. There’s a queue t. In June, with temperatures hovering at 5C, there may be 40 or more people of all ages (well, over 35), queuing to get in there and get on a walking machine, or spin cycle or bench press, or whatever it is you do for exercise. In my case, it’s to go swimming.
I love swimming. You’ve got to love an activity that has a stroke called butterfly that involves the most ungainly actions. There are five lanes allocated for laps. Every swimmer hopes for a lane to themselves and every swimmer is disappointed. I swim 2km, three times a week. As I swim in a 25m pool, I swim 80 laps ach session, but who’s counting? I am.
My convoluted counting process involves calling ach lap a quarter (as in time: 1:15, 1:30, 1:45, lap 2, and so on). And, yes, I’ve even counted the amount of strokes it takes for each lap (about 40), swimming laps is taxing, invigorating and fun. It is also as boring as watching someone who is boring.
The repetition may suggest a mundane activity, but for me swimming is pretty close to transcendence. Gliding through cool water can free the body and has the potential to free the mind. While swimming laps, I try not so much to solve everyday problems but move through them. Counting laps maintains a rhythm (as does the stroke), but water is the melody, allowing you to free-form freestyle. Everything else is of little moment.
The light at that time of day, just as the sun is rising, is striking. It produces hazy shades ad textures across the pool. Underwater, where a swimmer is mainly looking, these shades reflect patterns and beats across the tiles that move and distort as the swimmer pushes through the water.
And away the mind goes, maybe to a daughter’s smile, having been told her class project is excellent, or the scent of a bakery from a half-forgotten holiday, or to the woman swimming laps in the next lane. Swimming gives you space to open up the value of a reflection. It is the languorous dance of the solitary. Swimming is sensual and water a sweeping beauty.
I push myself. But I have terrible rhythm and I swear it is the reason I can’t push myself harder. There is, well, um, another reason for not pushing myself harder. Hey, I put in a lot of effort swimming 2km, or, wait for it, 3200 freestyle arm strokes. I swim non-stop. When I finish, I’m huffing and puffing. But then I go to wipe sweat from my brow and all I’m wiping is excess chlorinated water.
For all the effort Thorpie and I exert, there is no freakin’ sweat to show the world that we work damn hard. That just doesn’t add up. Still, I keep at it, with the numinous thoughts and the numbers swimming around in my head. "

Below: the 2001 indoor pool, sitting up the hill above the existing outdoor 50m pool.


  1. And it was used for the 1938 Empire Games?

  2. And it was used for the 1938 Empire Games?

  3. Used to study in North Sydney for a while, back then Luna Park was closed down and this New swimming pool wasn't open, I think. Well really love to see pictures from Sydney again. Cheers!

  4. Yes, Harry, you're right about that.

    You may be pleased to know that Luna Park is open again !

  5. There is another swimming pool almost under the Bridge and close to this one: at the terrace of the Park Hyatt Hotel. But it's a small one...
    Large, only the steak and kidney pie: typically British... ;))

  6. Wow! I did'nt know this swimming pool, spectacular view! sure next time I'll come in Sydney I'll try it.
    Thank for your visits and comments.

  7. Lovely group of images. That pool is beautifully maintained. Obviously swimming is important to your community!