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Adelaide City Baths 1861-1969

Adelaide’s City Baths stood on the western side of King William Street behind Parliament House, from 1861 until 1969 when the Adelaide Swimming Centre (now Adelaide Aquatic Centre) was opened in the northern Parklands. The City Baths were then demolished to make way for the Festival Plaza, part of the Festival Centre complex.

Photo by Frank Hall. The City Baths just before the building was demolished in 1969

Photo by Frank Hall. The City Baths just before the building was demolished in 1969

My memory of this building dates back to the 50s but of course it had a huge history before that. In 1940, an Olympic size swimming pool and high diving facilities were added and it was during the 50s that Olympic swimming coach Harry Gallagher took over the management of the baths and brought with him a young swimming star, Dawn Fraser, who trained for her Olympic campaigns at the Baths. Dawn made many friends while she was in Adelaide and many people can still remember watching her doing laps of the pool with Harry running alongside, stopwatch in hand, yelling out encouragement.

When we featured a City Baths post last year on the ARW Facebook page, Col Penney remembered how he would “catch the train to town, pay the fee for admission and a fee for a locker key, change into my bathers, walk through the foot rinse with water spraying down on the way out to the pool, up to the canteen to buy my one penny ‘bush biscuit’ (twice the size of todays product). And yes I do remember also the viewing windows where I could watch through the thick clear glass, the swimmers diving”. Another poster remembered that you could also buy a dollop of Brylcreem for your hair after swimming.

Drummer Boy Taylor recalls regularly catching the bus there from age 7 until 14. “I went with a group of friends until it closed sadly. It was safe to go places without parents in those days. Learned how to swim there from the bigger kids and I remember coming out of the change rooms and having to step into or walk through a small shallow pool of something to clean your feet (probably disinfectant) . When it closed we waited eagerly for the new modern pool to open in the North Adelaide parklands. When it finally did we were all so disappointed that I think we only ever went 2 or 3 times. Something had been lost forever and the atmosphere was never the same again”.

And another poster Peter Newell remembers paying sixpence to get in, then a further thrupence for a locker key that was refunded in full when you took the key back. “We would jam all our belongings in one locker, then dive down the deep end which was 16 feet deep. People jumping of the top tower always lost their keys due to the flimsy pin attached to your bathers and we would always recover 3 to 4 keys, and claim the cash”.

As more swimming pools appeared in the suburbs, numbers at the City Baths started to drop and by the mid 1960’s that, combined with South Australia’s cultural revolution, saw plans announced to demolish the baths to make way for a home for the arts. That happened in 1969 and many mourned, because, if you ask anyone who spent time any time at all at the City Baths they’ll tell you, there was something about them that’s been impossible to replace.

18 Responses to Adelaide City Baths 1861-1969

  1. Vicky Taylor November 14, 2014 at 8:21 am #

    Wow what great memories! Swam there in it’s last few days in a State Schools swimming carnival, representing Seacombe High

  2. Danny Bocchino November 24, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

    Yeah…I remember the old ‘City Baths’.

    Although from the outside it just looked like another ‘city building’, the public pool area was not covered with a roof. It was incredible.

    I too also was fortunate to visit it at least a few times and swam in it before it was demolished.

    Was it demolished for the Adelaide Festival Theatre Complex?

    • kathleen July 16, 2018 at 10:02 pm #

      Sadly, i believe so. I swam there a few times before it was demolished too. At least we have a picture to remember it!

  3. Robert Heath September 14, 2016 at 7:09 pm #

    I remember going to the city baths with dad as I was only 10 years old. We went there a few times in the mid sixties, and it was a experience for me and I loved it. What a great loss to Adelaide.

  4. George May 12, 2017 at 5:37 am #

    Yes it was a great Olympic size pool in the city centre with diving boards, and high dive platform. Turkish baths (sauna) included.
    Great loss for Adelaide.

  5. George. P. May 12, 2017 at 5:41 am #

    Yes it was a great Olympic size pool in the city centre with diving boards, and high dive platform. Turkish baths (sauna) included.
    Great loss for Adelaide.

  6. Mike Micanopy December 13, 2017 at 1:26 pm #

    From 1966 – 68 we lived in Lower North Adelaide just near the Old Lion (when it was still a working brewery). On hot days we would walk down to the Baths. I seem to remember that there were Turkish baths there as well as the big un-Turkish pool. We were always too scared to jump off the highest board because of a horrifying myth that we heard about some guy who had accidentally belly-flopped off it and split himself open from neck to waist. Hope it wasn’t true !!

    For some reason I remember my first hearing of the song “Sadie The Cleaning Lady”, which occurred at the Baths. Even though I was only 9 or 10, I was hip enough to think “Jeez, what a s*** song”. (I was a Stones fan, after all ….)

  7. Doug Matthews December 28, 2017 at 6:41 pm #

    Loved going to the City Baths. tuppence for a buttered bush biscuit. Learned to swim there.
    Next to it was the South Australian Railways Institute Building, which I went to often as a kid,as my father worked as a draughtsman at the Islington workshops.
    Both went for our wonderful Festival Theatre complex. Good old memories replaced with new ones.

    • Jeff McMahon November 13, 2019 at 5:40 pm #

      Doug, It’s where I met Geoff Garland – I was 14, he was 16. Remained mates until he died this day, 13/11/19. I remember swimming with Dawn Fraser but we were always reminded not to go near the Turkish Baths ( in case there were men of dubious character hanging there). What a place to spend growing up- catch the tram from Prospect terminus ( before they were ripped up!!!) then going through the early teens and suddenly we all grew up – and too bloody quickly.

  8. Bert Bogert June 1, 2018 at 7:38 pm #

    My family and I arrived here in 1960 and son I had picked up enough English to get a job in Myers, which enabled me to go swimming in the bath after work.
    I loved it, I did see several swimmers doing many laps, but never realised that they would become record holders, I was never introduced to any, but there was always a girl being timed and that could well have been Dawn Fraser.
    That was a great time period, when it got colder I got an evening job teaching youngsters to Ice skate in StMoritz in Hindley st. but that’s another story, lol
    Regards Bert

  9. Bert Bogert June 1, 2018 at 7:40 pm #

    My family and I arrived here in 1960 and soon I had picked up enough English to get a job in Myers, which enabled me to go swimming in the bath after work.
    I loved it, I did see several swimmers doing many laps, but never realised that they would become record holders, I was never introduced to any, but there was always a girl being timed and that could well have been Dawn Fraser.
    That was a great time period, when it got colder I got an evening job teaching youngsters to Ice skate in StMoritz in Hindley st. but that’s another story, lol
    Regards Bert

  10. william cotter July 29, 2018 at 8:40 pm #

    Loved the City Baths. Myself and a group of friends would catch the bus from Felixstowe , towels around our shoulders and zinc crème on our noses . Pay for entry and a locker key then jump into the pool from the second tower . Sunburn , red eyes , and Bush biscuits to fill our empty stomachs after a day`s swimming and diving . That was in the late 50`s and it seems strange that we were allowed to come to the city without adult supervision but that was the norm back then [ we were all around 9 or 10 ]. I still visualise the old pool with its tall cement diving tower , glass windows either end and fortune telling machine out the front that cost a penny whenever I pass the Festival Centre and realise they were some of the best days of my life , simple times with great friends . P.S the small tray of bluish purple liquid in the change rooms that you were obliged to step in prior to swimming and showering was Condys Crystals , a disinfectant to prevent the spread of Tinea etc.

  11. Bernice Wuttke September 22, 2018 at 8:10 pm #

    I also have fond memories of the City Baths. I learnt to swim there. The Swimming Instructor could possibly have been Mrs Buckingham. That would probably have been in the 1950’s. I continued attending there up till it was demolished. I can recall all that has been said regarding the locker & key and of course the Bush Biscuit – a must have prior to going home. I only once, having been dared, jumped off the highest diving platform……I was sure I was going to touch the bottom (16′) but didn’t. Definetly a great time had over the years of attending.

  12. Jay Bee May 1, 2020 at 2:22 pm #

    The City Baths was also a home to the Crystal Pool Amateur Swimming Club as well a the North Adelaide ASC for a short time.

    Dawn Fraser was Inducted into the Crystal Pool ASC shortly before or after the Melbourne Olympics? as a life member (As was some years later).

    Harry was still running the place – it must have been after the Melbourne Olympics as Harry had the Olympic rings on his Mercedes sports car with “Olympic Coach” underneath them,

    Dawn was good mates with Dale Krieg, back then, also another S.A. top swimmer. They used to go to Dale’s uncle’s farm out at Gawler and chop down gum trees to build up their shoulder muscles, or so the story was told to we young’uns!

  13. Jay Bee May 1, 2020 at 2:24 pm #

    The City Baths was also a home to the Crystal Pool Amateur Swimming Club as well a the North Adelaide ASC for a short time.

    Dawn Fraser was Inducted into the Crystal Pool ASC shortly before or after the Melbourne Olympics? as a life member (As was I some years later).

    Harry was still running the place – it must have been after the Melbourne Olympics as Harry had the Olympic rings on his Mercedes sports car with “Olympic Coach” underneath them,

    Dawn was good mates with Dale Krieg, back then, also another S.A. top swimmer. They used to go to Dale’s uncle’s farm out at Gawler and chop down gum trees to build up their shoulder muscles, or so the story was told to we young’uns!

  14. Leigh Langdon June 19, 2020 at 4:37 pm #

    The city baths hold great memories for me. As a kid I used to tag along with my older sister who was training there as a diver eventually winning about 4 or 5 state gold medals and then coached me to my first state gold at the age of 11. The old bush biscuits were to die for. Going under the stands to view the swimmers and divers under the water. Trying to find the pennies we threw into the pool.One of the great treats was watching one of the senior divers jump from a diving platform and in entering the water was able to direct a spout of water with great accuracy onto people(lifeguards) walking around the pool.

  15. Scott Caust June 20, 2020 at 11:38 pm #

    I remember as a very young boy my father was a clown diver at the City Baths. I went along on the odd occasion when he was diving at an event and they would do silly things from the top tower before ending up in the pool. It was such a great place and was very sad when they pulled it down.

  16. Rainer L. Strassberger January 24, 2021 at 12:35 pm #

    What an iconic place. I came to the Adelaide City Bath in late 1964 and joined the ‘Crystal Pool ASC’ as a competitor and later coach, before they moved to the Adelaide swimming Center in North Adelaide. The Bannister family ran the pool and Gus managed the Turkish Bath. A small group of us (Ross, John, Rainer) performed of the 10m platform ‘Clown-Diving’ at various school and Bank swimming carnivals. Also met my wife at the pool, who was a member of the synchronised swimming club. Great memories of a fantastic place.

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