Configuration: 10 lanes of 50 meters
Melbourne’s first suburb is home to one of its best pools. The Fitzroy Baths, with separate men’s and women’s pools, opened here more than 100 years ago. Today, the former women’s pool is now the kiddie pool and the men’s is a beautiful lap pool. There are wide stands and a nice grassy area for lounging, a gym, and a sauna to help fill your day.
The Fitzroy Pool was the first stop on my final day in Melbourne, last Friday, a properly warm summer day that we made the most of with three different swims. This pool’s community appeal was immediately apparent. From the street-front mural to the bikes parked on deck to the people of all ages swimming, playing, and relaxing,it has legions of devoted followers. Come February, Sunday afternoons featuring free DJ music and barbecue will surely draw even more.
A couple stories give a sense of how beloved this pool is. First, the sign on the deck wall at the deep end:
DANGER DEEP WATER
According to legend, it was painted in the 1950s by a well-intentioned but Italian-language-challenged pool manager to warn English and Italian speakers alike of the perils of the deep end. Alas, he left out the c in acqua, making for a memorable typo that has since been replicated on the bottom of the pool (see top photo) and brought landmark status for the wall. As the Heritage Victoria website gushes, “The sign has historical significance for its associations with the post-war migration program which had such a profound impact on the Victorian community. The sign is indicative of the changing demographics of post-World War Two inner Melbourne when migrants replaced a segment of the population who moved to the outer suburbs. The sign demonstrates one way in which migrants were becoming accepted as part of the community and as such is a rare tangible example of a public acknowledgement of the cultural impact of the mass migration program. The sign is symbolic of the pool as a place where the diverse population of inner Melbourne could mingle on equal terms.” That’s quite an accomplishment for a misspelling!
Today, the lettering is partly obscured by temporary buttresses propping up the wall, which was found to be in danger of collapse in a survey following a fatal collapse of another aged, Melburnian brick wall.
The second story also has to do with wrong-turned-right. In fall 1994, the pool faced sudden closure due to budgetary concerns. After a six-week occupation by community members who literally halted bulldozers, it was triumphantly reopened that December. It’s worth reading the anniversary report of the inspirational Save Our Pool campaign. (Read to the end to see a great photo of the protester-filled pool.) Other communities have since followed suit and mobilized to save their own pools.
That’s all well and good, you’re thinking by now, but what is it like to swim here? Lovely! Clear, lightly salted water. Shimmery tiles in the deep end, matte in the shallow. With two play lanes on either side of the pool, there were still six lanes left for lap swimming, and there were never more than four people in my lane. I basked in the warmth of the midday sun knowing that it would be months before I had another outdoor pool day.
Funnily enough for such a community mainstay, the one thing lacking is a café–the only pool I came across during my entire trip that was deficient in this regard. I guess that when you have strong enough popular support, you don’t need coffee to entice people to come on in.