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Abbotsford Baths

Abbotsford Baths, (Small)

In the early part of the twentieth century there were many swimming pools dotted along the Parramatta River, providing recreation for the community.

The Abbotsford Swimming Baths opened in early 1908 and were described as ‘most up-to-date swimming baths’. An unusual feature of the baths was a 12 metre high diving platform.

The baths quickly became a popular venue for swimming carnivals. The Abbotsford Amateur Swimming Club was formed in December 1907, just prior to the opening of the baths, while other early swimming clubs using the facilities were the Five Dock and District Club and the Western Ladies’ Club.

By the early 1950s Abbotsford Swimming Baths had closed and the Abbotsford 12 foot Flying Squadron clubhouse was built on the site in 1954.

Local club made a big splash


In the early 1950s the Cabarita Ladies’ Amateur Swimming Club had a big impact on Australian women’s swimming.

The club was founded by Lesley Thicknesse who had been a diver at the Empire (now Commonwealth) Games in London in 1934. Her three daughters Janet, Val and Pam along with Lorraine and Thelma Crapp were among the first members of the club. Based at Cabarita Baths (now Cabarita Swimming Centre), six members of the club were part of the Australian team at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne.

In view of the regimens of today’s elite swimmers, it’s interesting to reflect on training 1950s style. Winter calisthenics classes were held on the backyard lawn of the Thicknesse family home. Participants were reminded to ‘bring a rug or small blanket’. However, training was under the guidance of Frank Guthrie, one of the great coaches of the period, who helped Lorraine Crapp achieve enormous success in the pool.

The photograph shows Pat Huntingford and Lorraine Crapp participating in a Cabarita Ladies’ Amateur Swimming Club calisthenics class in 1955.

City of Canada Bay is hosting a family fun day at Bayview Park, Concord on Saturday, 21 March 2015, 12noon – 4pm as part of the Parramatta River Catchment Group – Our Living River initiative, to make the Parramatta swimmable again. Come along, it’s free!

Keeping cool at Drummoyne

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The first swimming baths at Drummoyne were opened in November 1899, close to where the current pool is located. It was a floating timber structure, moored in place by a large punt that allowed the platform to be lowered or raised depending on the tidal flow of the Parramatta River. The baths were reserved for ‘the convenience of ladies’ from 11 am to 3 pm.

In 1904 a permanent structure was built at a cost of £3000. The pool was cut out of solid rock with a concrete wall erected to keep out seawater. It is one of the oldest Council pools in Sydney.

Over the years there have been many alterations and renovations to maintain the standard and quality of the pool. It has been both an enjoyable place for the local community and an important training pool for some of Australia’s best known swimmers, including Dawn Fraser, Jon Henricks and John Konrads.

The photograph shows Drummoyne Pool in 1949.

A dip into the past

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In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there were many tidal swimming pools along the Parramatta River providing welcome relief and recreation on hot days.

In November 1888 bricklayer Samuel Ashton purchased Lots 7 and 8, Section 3 of the Mortlake Estate. Samuel Ashton had emigrated from England with his family, probably in late 1884 or early 1885. He was soon engaged in building a baths, blasted out of sandstone bedrock adjacent to the foreshore. They measured 30 metres by 12 metres. In September 1889 Samuel Ashton advertised to purchase a “Centrifugal PUMP, 3 or 4 in., with 30ft. piping.” (The Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 12 September 1889, p14.) He devised a way to empty and fill the baths with the tides and every fortnight they were emptied out and the sides and bottom scrubbed and whitewashed.

It was previously thought the baths were constructed in 1886, but as Ashton didn’t purchase the land until late in 1888, 1889-1890 is more likely. Certainly they were complete by September 1890 when they were advertised as the “Mortlake Baths”. They are believed to be the first non-tidal enclosed public baths built in metropolitan Sydney. In the early days males and females were strictly segregated. Under no circumstances were men and women allowed to swim together. Bathers were charged threepence admission, which included use of a clean towel.

It is recorded that 21,000 school children attended the baths each week during the swimming season. Although electric pumps had been installed so the baths were not dependant on the tides, competition from larger and more modern swimming pools in the area led to a decline in patronage in the 1930s. Ashton’s Mortlake Baths closed to the public in 1934 (The Sun, Thursday 27 September 1934) and Samuel Ashton died on 22 May 1936. The site was used as Ashton Brothers paint factory and the pool was filled in about 1950. The land remained in the ownership of the Ashton family until 1961.

Making a splash

Cabarita Pool 2 c1923

Cabarita has long been a recreational spot for residents.

In 1923, council provided a shark netted swimming pool at the northern end of Cabarita Park. This was superseded when the Concord-Cabarita Coronation Baths were opened on the 27 November, 1937. In the first month of its operation some 30,000 people made use of the facilities with adults paying three pence and children a penny. It has, of course, since been refurbished and improved to meet the present needs of the community and today is known as the Cabarita Swimming Centre.

City of Canada Bay Museum currently has a display ‘Cabarita, then and now’ which highlights the way the area has changed over the years. The display includes photographs recently donated by Kay Dawson that were taken by her grandfather. The photograph above shows the original pool in 1923.