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.
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.
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?