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.
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.