Northcote Swimming Baths
Swimming has always been a popular activity in Northcote and in the early days much of this took place in creeks and waterholes.
There were several plans to make a pool including a failed plan to dam part of the Merri Creek to create a small lake, but the Public Works Department remarked that ‘a lake of sewerage would be a menace to the health of the district’.
In 1916 parents of Wales St School formed a Municipal Baths League and asked Council to buy a site for a swimming pool in what was then known as Bank Street (later renamed Frederick Street).
The land was used for storage for a lengthy period but after years of delay partly due to the First World War and then a worldwide shortage of cement, the swimming baths eventually opened in 1923. The cost of land and building was £5,500.
Council had advertised earlier in the year for the position of ‘Bath Keeper’ or manager for a salary of £5. 5/- per week. The advert said that preference would be given to a returned soldier and that ‘personal canvass of Councillors would be deemed a disqualification’.
It was felt that due to the delays, the pool was out of date as soon as it opened as it was only a simple concrete structure filled with untreated water which had to be changed twice a week. Some thought the pool was behind the times compared to tiled pools with clear chlorinated water being built elsewhere.
However on the 16 December 1923, crowds of enthusiastic locals came along to be welcomed by Mayor Turner, even though the weather was unkind with thunderstorms and heavy rain. The opening day featured life-saving displays, the call for a life-saving club to be formed and an afternoon tea at the Town Hall. The outdoor pool would be open each year for the summer months.
The following year the community were already involved in organised swimming activities with the first annual matches of the Northcote Life-saving and Swimming club, held at the Northcote Baths with a range of competitions and more light-hearted games like a ‘pillow fight’ for boys clinging onto a pole over the water!
In late 1929 the Council built a purifying plant so bathers had purer water for swimming and in 1934, 16 electric floodlights were installed at a height of 17 feet to improve the overall experience.
Many years later, in 1952 the pool was fitted with filtration and Joe Fogg, the swimming instructor said that ‘you couldn’t see a couple of feet below the surface’ before this.
Joseph Fogg, was very popular and well-known in the field of swimming instruction. He worked at Northcote Baths for 40 years offering free swimming lessons, after being disturbed by the number of drownings in the state.
He retired as Baths Manager and Swimming Instructor when the pool closed in April 1969 and was awarded the British Empire Medal for his services towards lifesaving and teaching people to swim.
He had a life-long interest in water safety and said that ‘all that is required of the non-swimmer is the will to learn and be instructed by competent instructors plus of course a swimming costume…
…which allows unhampered freedom of movement.’
After many years of swimming galas, competitions, life-saving events, classes, fun and entertainment, the Northcote Baths closed in April 1969 and a new pool opened at McDonnel Park, Victoria Rd on 20 December 1969.
Find out more about Joseph Fogg here http://heritage.darebinlibraries.vic.gov.au/article/133
Swift, William George (1928). The history of Northcote: from its first settlement to a city. Northcote, Vic: Leader Publishing.
Lemon, Andrew. (1983). The Northcote Side of the River. North Melbourne: Hargreen.
Position of Bath-Keeper. Northcote Leader (Northcote, Vic: 1882 - ) Saturday 8 Dec 1923
Opening of Northcote City Baths. Northcote Leader (Northcote, Vic: 1882 - ) Saturday 22 Dec 1923 p.3
Northcote swimming matches. Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848 - 1957), Monday 7 April 1924, page 9
Northcote Baths. Age (Melbourne, Vic: 1854 - 1954), Thursday 4 April 1929, page 5
Learn to Swim. Northcote Leader (Northcote, Vic: 1882 - ) Friday 5 January 1934 p. 14
Lighting of Northcote Baths. Age (Melbourne, Vic: 1854 - 1954), Friday 21 December 1934, page 14
Well-earned B.E.M. awarded to Mr Fogg. Northcote Leader (Northcote, Vic: 1882 - ) Wednesday 7 January 1970 p. 3
The Old Baths close – and Joe Fogg, 76, retires. Northcote Leader (Northcote, Vic: 1882 - ) Wednesday 9 April 1969 p. 3
All set for a dip. Northcote Leader (Northcote, Vic: 1882 - ) Wednesday 17 December 1969 p. 5