Officially opened in 1916, Ithaca Pool clocks up 104 years in Brisbane’s swimming history on the 21st of October this year, 2020.
Nestled in Neal Macrossan Park at 14 Caroline St., Ithaca Pool is a far cry from the days of old when it was an excavated hole in the ground. Improved over the years and undergoing a multi-million dollar refurbishment in 2011, the locals are proud to have this inviting escape from Brisbane’s heat in their own backyard.
The recently appointed managers, Paul and Daisy Miller, are passionate to keep the family-friendly vibe alive. When Paul and Daisy heard about the opportunity to run the pool from his dad, it was something that spiked their interest.
Considering Paul had spent his childhood at swimming pools, his older siblings reaching national level in swimming and his sister Gail, part of the Sydney 2000 Olympics Gold medal winning water polo team; Paul is in familiar territory. Although not much of a swimmer himself, he represented Australia in boxing at the Sydney Olympics.
Their story of returning to Brisbane after living in America for nine years is a whole article in itself.
Paul, Daisy and their four children plus a dog, are now well and truly settled. They both agree that the Paddington residents have been incredibly generous, kind and welcoming. In return this young couple are determined to make a positive impact at the pool. Extra shade, attractive sunny spots to bask in the sun, and a coffee machine are a few of the new features. Best of all, the two heated salt water pools run between 28 to 29 degrees and allows the swimming season to run from September to April.
Next to a heritage listed playground, park, dog exercise area, tennis court and a skatepark, this nostalgic corner of Paddington offers something for all.
This is now, but what about then?
In the early years of Brisbane, a dip in the river was primarily for hygiene purposes. Not without peril, the colonials faced the fear of drowning or shark attack. From 1857 shark-proofed floating baths were established by town councils along the river.
One of the benefits of safe bathing was the development of swimming as a sport. Arguably the city’s most popular venue was The Metropolitan Floating Baths. It was also the home of Brisbane’s first swimming club, ‘The Old Brisbane Amateurs.’
To no surprise, the floating baths were at the mercy of tides and adverse weather. They were often damaged by storms or ripped from their moorings during floods. Another issue was the quality of the river water. It was rapidly deteriorating from contamination and the risk of malaria was increasing.
Realising the need for secure and sanitary facilities, James Hipwood, the Mayor of Brisbane, allegedly put forward the idea to build an in-ground pool.
The first was Spring Hill Baths, with the building designed by city engineer Thomas Kirk and constructed for the Corporation of Brisbane by William McCallum Park. Opened in December 1886, the heritage listed Spring Hill Baths remain the oldest operational swimming pool in the southern hemisphere.
Paddington 25 years later
The Paddington Cemetery Act was passed in 1911 by Queensland Parliament, which authorised the government to resume the burial grounds and relocate the remains to another site.
Around this time the locals took advantage of a cleared space on the northern side of the cemetery and fashioned a pool of sorts. It was little more than a rudimentary pit filled with water pumped from the Brisbane River.
In 1914, a new parkland to benefit the local community was proposed for the entire cemetery site. This was named Lang Park, where Suncorp Stadium now stands.
Serendipitously The Department of Public Instruction was investigating the possibility of baths being built in Paddington for the convenience of school children. The department was responsible for the administration of preschool to secondary school education and also technical education from 1876 to 1957.
They had three solid reasons for their request.
- To improve the physique of boys and girls as a result of swimming
- Swimming was a requirement of the military department (important considering it was mid WW1)
- To provide a healthy and invigorating exercise for children
Their proposal gained traction and Ithaca Town Council committed to building a new facility. The project was designed by Mr Black (Engineer of the Ithaca Town Council) and undertaken by council workmen. In 1916, the old swimming spot was replaced by Ithaca Municipal Baths.
As reported in the Brisbane Courier on Monday 23rd of October 1916, it was a grand affair with numerous dignitaries in attendance. The excerpt below provides further details about the pool:
“ITHACA SWIMMING BATHS.
PALM GARDEN SWIMMING POOL OPENED.
“Now, ladies and gentlemen, I have very much pleasure in officially declaring the baths open,” and at those words some 20 or 30 lads clad in blue swimming clothes plunged into the clear, cool water, and the Ithaca Municipal Baths were officially opened to the public.
‘Alderman J. B. Lugg (Mayor of Ithaca) spoke the words at the opening function on Saturday in the presence of a large gathering, which included the Lieutenant Governor (Sir Arthur Morgan), Messrs. J. T. Gllday and W. F. Lloyd, M.M.L.A. and the town aldermen.
‘A distinct acquisition to the district and to the swimmers generally, the new baths are 75ft long with a width of 30ft. and have cost approximately £850. The capacity of the baths, which are built of concrete, is about 72,000 gallons. The water is pumped from the river through the city from Petrie Bight.’”
Champion swimmer Dick Cavil, who was granted a 12 month lease for the pool, entertained the crowd with his professional diving skills. Competitive swimming events took place throughout the afternoon, while the Ithaca Town Band played to the large crowd.
It was a great boon for Paddington, although sometimes not the most desirable place to cool off.
Behind the scenes, to keep the river water suitable for swimming, chlorine was poured into a holding tank and then pumped into the pool.
Raising unpleasant memories for locals from the era, the water was often murky and odorous.
In January 1928, a Letter to the Editor of the Brisbane Courier mentioned the pool was in such terrible condition that they suspected someone had thrown a dead cat or rat into the water.
After recommendations in 1940 by a health committee, City Council installed a water filtration plant as an experiment at Ithaca Baths. The process removed the sediment and made the water fit for public bathing. Fresh town water soon replaced the suspect supply from the polluted Brisbane River.
Moving with the times.
In 1942, the Chairman of the City Council Health Committee announced in the Courier-Mail Brisbane that…”Ithaca municipal swimming pool is to become the show baths of Brisbane.” (The Courier-Mail Brisbane Tue 27 October, 1942, page 2 )
Plans were approved to build new dressing rooms and toilets at an estimated cost of £1800. The article also stated that the galvanised iron fence surrounding the baths be replaced with a wire fence, so people passing could watch swimmers in the pool.
Ithaca Pool 2020
A modern complex, Ithaca Pool has a 25 metre heated outdoor pool, complete with six lanes and a disabled ramp. There is also a heated salt water learn-to-swim pool.
The Department of Public Instruction’s desire to create an active lifestyle amenity for children has successfully evolved over the years to be an asset for everyone.
A unique corner in Paddington, it is the strong community feel and the residents’ dedication to preserve the history of the suburb that makes living in the area so special.
Take some time this summer to grab your cozzie and fringed beach towel, as well as your ice block money, and head to this truly hidden gem.
Research and inspiration:
Paul and Daisy Miller – managers Ithaca Pool
Trove and National Library of Australia – newspaper articles
Official Opening Ceremony Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), Monday 23 October 1916, page 9
Palm Garden Swimming Pool Open Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Monday 23 October 1916, page 4
Letter to the Editor Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Friday 27 January 1928, page 20
Filtration Test at Ithaca Bath Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), Wednesday 28 August 1940, page 5
Show Baths for Ithaca Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), Tuesday 27 October 1942, page 2
Brisbane City Council
- Paddington Cemetery Act
- archivessearch.qld.gov.au/agencies/A32 – The Department of Public Instruction
- https://apps.des.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600313 – Spring Hill Baths
Secret Brisbane – History, People, Places
State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library
State Library of Queensland – Onesearch
‘Hidden gem in Paddington’ is by Terie-Lea Tobin, writer and local resident.