When it comes to sidney pools, it isn’t just the water that is important – it is the shared memories, social interaction and community spirit that make them so special. From rock and ocean pools to the artificial ones that have shaped our city, this week’s fire at the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Centre in Sydney has reminded us of the importance of these public spaces.
The facility was evacuated and ventilated following the fire, which is being treated as suspicious. The incident has caused 10 people to experience symptoms including burning eyes, headaches and breathing difficulties. Fire and Rescue NSW have determined that two chemicals – one related to pool chlorination, the other to cleaning – were accidentally mixed together and have advised people to seek medical help if they feel unwell.
There are still many questions being asked about the incident, including why the emergency response wasn’t quicker. While the fire was contained within an hour, it took about three hours to clean up the water and debris. A water safety expert says that although this fire was an unfortunate event, it shouldn’t deter the community from visiting their local swimming pools.
The pool is a place of memory and identity, whether it be for a family day out, or a summer spent in the sun. The stories told are incredibly varied, but they all share themes of community, friendship and fun. Many people also remember the social freedom of swimming, which allowed them to be away from parents, escape from the pressures of work and school, and mingle with friends.
While some are nostalgic for the days when their favourite sidney pools were full of life, others are noticing that these places have been disappearing fast. In Sydney, for example, Leichhardt’s deepwater pool is set to close when its redevelopment begins next year and, once it does, the only two publicly accessible diving pools left in the city are at Sydney Olympic Pool in Homebush and Warringah Aquatic Centre in northern Sydney.
Despite this, many people are still calling on government to invest in community swimming and leisure facilities. The City of Blacktown is calling for councils to be able to use their pool levy for more than just water parks, and Royal Lifesaving Society NSW chief executive Michael Ilinsky said that it was important for governments to start building new pools in fast-growing areas now.
This year’s Australian exhibition at the Venice Biennale, The Pool, currently installed at the NGV Australia, brilliantly evokes our cultural connection with swimming pools. It aims to ‘bottle up’ the smells, sounds, touch and feel of these sites and recreate them in a gallery setting. The idea is to celebrate our country’s unique history and legacy of these iconic spaces. The story of our cities, beaches and swimming pools is one that will be with us for a long time to come. Let’s hope that governments keep up their investment in our national treasure.