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The Gilby Swing Bridge. A Real Piece of Our History

The long-term future of the heritage-listed Gilberton swing bridge remains up in the air, despite recent maintenance work. The bridge which is almost 100 years old is deemed to have rusty joints and to be in need of a major overhaul. The joint owners, the Walkerville Council and Norwood, Payneham and St Peter’s Council will need to make a decision soon on whether to close the bridge, or turn it into an outdoor museum piece.

A property developer built the bridge so St Peters residents could cross the river to access his land sale and catch the Walkerville tram

A property developer built the bridge so St Peters residents could cross the river to access his land sale and catch the Walkerville tram

The bridge has an interesting history. Legend has it the structure was built without approval by a land developer who had some blocks for sale on the other side of the river. He erected the swing bridge so people could get easier access to the land and then donated the finished bridge to Walkerville Council.

It dates back to the time when the Torrens was the popular swimming choice for people and families who lived in and around the city, and in the suburbs through which the river flowed.There were widely recognised swimming areas, swimming holes and even full blown swimming clubs with hundreds of members.

The Gilberton Amateur Swimming Club was one of the biggest and early last century boasted a thousand members, held swimming titles each year and even had lights erected so people could swim at night.

The bridge is now the only remaining remnant of the Swimming Club and an amazing time in the Torrens’ history.

The Torrens was popular as a place to have a swim on a hot summer's day.

The Torrens was popular as a place to have a swim on a hot summer’s day.

Keith Hasler who grew up in Gilbert Street, Gilberton from the 50s to the 70s recalls that Gilberton Swimming Pool “was where we all learned to swim on cold Sunday mornings. As we got older and braver, we would jump off the swing bridge or the adjacent cliffs. He remembers the river water as clear then and that “it ran all the time, even with all the back yard rubbish dumps along the river.

It’s difficult to imagine looking at the water today, but during the 40s and 50s, it was clean enough for the Advertiser to conduct ‘Learn to Swim’ classes along various parts of the river. The photo below shows crowds gathering at the City Bridge, on King William Road to watch divers during the swim school of 1949.

Swimming classes were held regularly along the river until the upgrade of the City Baths in 1949 and then gradually ceased over time. Even up until the mid 70s many people continued to use the Torrens as a regular place to swim but gradually through pollution and algal bloom, the water became unsafe and councils erected signs asking people not to swim.

It is a shame that the only river that passes through the heart of Adelaide remains to this day, in such poor condition.

Through years of neglect and abuse, the river has become little more than a sewer and despite attempts by various bodies and some councils, it seems little can be done to improve its health. To our shame, even the infamous Yarra River in Melbourne is cleaner than the Torrens!

Growing up in Adelaide, do you remember the Gilberton Pool near the swing bridge? Did you swim in the Torrens as a child, and what are your memories of the river?

10 Responses to The Gilby Swing Bridge. A Real Piece of Our History

  1. Aileen dolheguy December 18, 2014 at 6:24 pm #

    Many happy hours spent on or around the Gilby Swing Bridge.
    I do hope they save ti

  2. Rebecca Collogan December 18, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

    Learned how to swim in the torrens,weren’t allowed to go there (the wier ) in the school holidays when mum was at work our big brother would take us swimming there was the neighbourhood hang out for all the locals frm Hindmarsh and thebarton

  3. Selwyn McCormick December 18, 2014 at 8:42 pm #

    Joined the club around the late 50’s, lived on Gepps X and used to bus there almost daily during the school hollidays, loved that place, watched the boys jumping off that bridge and diving from the cliff, there also was a mud pool over the other side of the river, was over a wire fence, probably private land, then after getting all muddy would jump in the river, such fun times, sad kids just dont get to enjoy those things.

  4. Wayne Rosser December 19, 2014 at 2:54 am #

    In the early 1970s I lived in North Adelaide and often swam by the bridge where that crowd is sitting. I even dove off it once. The water was dirty then and the police warned me about swimming there several times. I also swam in the Gilberton Pool once but had to spend considerable time burning dozens of very large leeches from my body after I came out.

  5. danny bocchino December 19, 2014 at 6:53 am #

    So much for urban progressions since 1970’s in regards to the River Torrens.

    Projects like the a) Kangaroo Creek Dam, b) residential urban sprawls (even ‘displacing’ Agon Strawberry Farm in hills), c) O’bahn Busway & d) the old E.W & S Dept’s total ‘re-desgn’ & changed the River Torrens’ corridor/ valley around mid-1980’s. There may be many other ‘man-made’ implementations that contributed to its current sad state of environmental affairs.

    I, too, born & grew up in Felixstow. River Torrens was the area’s ‘natural playground’ for youth. I hold happy & interesting memories of River Torrens during 1960’s & 1970’s.

    Since E.W & S Dept made River Torrens into “Lineal Park” & “Flood Mitigation Control” completed projects of 1980’s, River Torrens equates to total un-natural environment.

    Such is Urban Progressions of Adelaide.

  6. Gerry Huybregts December 20, 2014 at 6:27 am #

    We also lived on Gilbert Street in the 50s and 60s. Learned to swim at the Gilby. Participated in the races on Monday evenings. Never brave (foolish?) enough to jump off the bridge itself. Do remember the black leeches and having to burn them off. Also the occasional ear ache. Most of all I remember the really good times we had there as kids. On a visit to Adelaide this past June, my brothers and I were very happy to be able to walk on the bridge again and to see that the entrance to the Gilberton Amateur Swimming Club was still standing.

  7. Harry Herni December 21, 2014 at 11:45 am #

    From 1953 thru to 1965 I spent most of my summers there while living in Walkerville and have several photos.
    It was the place to be not just for the swimming but also for the social life – 1,000 members, we all sewed a ‘G’ patch on our bathers to get in free which was a different color every year.
    I too learned to swim there.
    It was a fully equipped Olympic sized 50 meter pool with full facilities and swimming races every Monday night. Best place around.

  8. Louisa December 21, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

    I use this bridge every day and am rarely the only one crossing it at the same time, hundreds of people must use this bridge on any given day – have they done a survey to see how much ‘traffic’ there is? The two councils need to get their act together and save this bridge. My understanding is that it is Walkerville council that is dragging its feet on this.

  9. Elaine Clark December 21, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

    They have to save it.

  10. Petronella Berghuis (Nell Bouman) to February 9, 2018 at 4:13 pm #

    I was a member of the Gilberton Amateur Swimming Club from 1962 1964.
    Ern Reddeway was the Coach and we were called Ern Reddeway Tritons.
    I still have a photo of a carnival held there when I was the only swimmer on the platform in the BBB race.
    I was a breastroker and all the others in the water for backstroke.
    Some members then Barry and Geoffrey Duhne Laurie and Perry Brooks June Harley John Dodwell Jan and Keith Stevens Geraldine Beanwell .
    Wish I knew about the reunion.Often wandered what happened to them all.
    We had a terrific camping trip one year to Ramco near the river.

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