Over the last 60 years public swimming pools have become an established fixture in local government areas. They are strongly supported and utilised by the community, schools and local swimming clubs and as a result have produced many Australian Olympic swimming champions and provided communities with a popular venue for recreation and exercise.
It was Australia’s swimming success at the Olympics in the 1920s and 1930s which encouraged more people to take up the sport of swimming. The first Olympic pool in Sydney was built at Enfield in 1933. Australia’s exceptional showing at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics coupled with advancements in filtration, waterproofing, and reinforced concrete saw more Olympic standard pools appearing across Sydney.
Parramatta City Council rode this tide of community enthusiasm, opening it’s own Olympic pool for the district in 1959. Parramatta has a swimming tradition that predates the Olympic pool utilising both man made and natural swimming pools. The earliest man made facilities in Parramatta were the Centennial Baths, constructed in 1888 at the site of the current Riverside Theatres at the northern end of the Lennox Bridge. The baths over time became outdated and in need of replacement and they eventually closed in 1933. As a result people began using other swimming venues. These included ‘Little Coogee’, the former bathing place on the river in Parramatta Park and Lake Parramatta which Parramatta Council opened to swimming in 1930 with lifesavers stationed there.
The opening of Granville Pool in 1936 provided the district with its first modern venue for swimming. The Granville pool was the fourth Olympic pool to be built in Sydney. This pool came under the control of Parramatta Council in 1948. By the 1950s Granville pool was hopelessly overcrowded with Parramatta Lake by this time closed to swimming and Little Coogee no longer a desirable location for swimming.
In 1954 Alderman E A Mobbs suggested the City Council determine the level of public interest in the construction of an Olympic pool in Parramatta. This suggestion was adopted by the Council and in 1956 a public meeting held to discuss the proposal voted in its favour.
A Committee was subsequently elected to raise funds with The Parramatta Chamber of Commerce and the Parramatta City Amateur Swimming Club were very much involved in the creation of the funding committee and fund raising activities. The Swimming Club organised various events, including swimming carnivals at Granville pool with proceeds going towards the construction of the pool. Donations were received from local businesses and individuals. Art Union raffles were held as well as a Queen Competition. There was genuine public interest in the project. By 1957 £6000 was raised by the citizens pool committee with a commitment to raise £20,000. The remainder of the funds came from a loan raised by Council
The Fund Raising Committee was initially called the Parramatta District Community Olympic Pool Appeal Fund. Then in June 1956 Parramatta Council resolved a motion;
That the Council approve of the name of the Committee being changed to the Parramatta War Memorial Swimming Centre Appeal Fund and that when completed the structure be dedicated as a memorial to the memory of those who gave their lives in the 1939-1945 war and the revenue derived (if any) there from shall be used in the general maintenance and upkeep of the structure”. (Council Minute 25 June 1956)
In 1956 the site in Parramatta Park was chosen for the new swimming pool. Negotiations with the Trust resulted in an agreement in July 1957, whereby the Council obtained a 50 year lease of six acres of the Park.
Other councils at this time, including Penrith and Hornsby, were also interested in building olympic pools. Hornsby Council in 1957 on several occassions requested Parramatta Council contribute to the cost of a pool they were building, arguing that since the pool was in Epping many of the patrons would be coming from Parramatta LGA. They also were planning to call their pool “The War Memorial Swimming Pool”. However, Parramatta Council was stretched already building its own pool and were unable to contribute to the Hornsby project as well.
While the committee was working on the financial aspects, the Council appointed the firm of architects, Figgis and Jefferson, to draw preliminary plans and produce cost estimates for the different stages of the proposed Swimming Centre. Work began on construction in May 1958. The design was intended to provide a service to a cross-section of the community, from toddler to experienced swimmer, as well as catering for a wide area beyond Parramatta.
The first stage was opened by Mayor Mobbs on 24 October 1959. Five thousand people turned up to the opening. This first stage cost £140,000. A teaching pool and wading pool were completed in late 1960 and opened by Olympic swimming champion John Devitt, winner of the 100 metres at the Rome Olympics.
Over the years the Parramatta War Memorial Swimming Centre has grown and recently, in 2009, ten million dollars was spent on a major facelift which included a new ten lane 50 metre pool, new grandstand, shade structures, security fencing and refurbished building entry, change rooms, kiosk and program room.
Wells, Kathry. Australia’s Swimming Success and Swimming Pools. 2009. http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/australias-swimming-success-pools
Parramatta City Council Archives. File 52/2 Parramatta City War Memorial Swimming Pool