Friday, 4 December 2015

A City of Baths

In December 1930, the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported that Townsville seemed to be “a city of baths”. It was referring to the growing number of public swimming baths that were popping up all over the city.

One of the many public swimming facilities (known as baths) in early Townsville, the concrete basin of the City Baths on The Strand was built around 1910. The building visible in the photo contained dressing sheds and a refreshment kiosk.Photo: Townsville City Libraries.  
In that month alone, swimming baths opened at two separate locations. One was at Picnic Bay on Magnetic Island, while the other was in a more unlikely location – behind Queen’s Road, in Hermit Park.

According to the Bulletin, on Sunday 7 December, “hordes of residents made the trip to Magnetic Island, to see the Mayor open the baths at Picnic Bay”.
Picnic Bay swimming baths in foreground, with jetty in centre of photo, no date.
Photo: Townsville City Libraries.
The Mayor, Alderman W.J. Heatley, described the occasion as “a most eventful day for Picnic Bay,” but more importantly, he believed that: “bathing had been rendered safe from sharks, and an attraction had been created for tourists”.

About a week later, the banks of Ross Creek, above the Queen's Road crossing (known as Sandy Crossing) were packed with people “who had travelled from every suburb in the city to see the new Queen’s Road baths opened”. Up to 3,000 people attended the occasion.

“The portion of Ross Creek which constitutes the new baths is filled up to nine or ten feet by every high tide, and form a natural swimming pool, over a quarter of a mile long and 200 yards wide. There was only one thing that prevented people bathing there with safety, and that was the fact that sharks made a habit of patrolling up and down,” the Bulletin reported.

To combat the shark threat, a group of residents headed by Messrs. Garbutt Bros. (E.T., Jack and Arthur) banded together and formed a working bee, spending all their spare time erecting a substantial wire netting and post fence to ensure a shark proof area between the Queen’s Road bridge and the new barrier.

On the day of the opening, there was a “splendid high tide, with the sun shining brightly, and the people lost no time in taking to the water,” which was soon teeming with hundreds of bathers.

“Lads in their home made canoes paddled about, and a couple of speed boats raced about in whirls of foam and noise on the upper reach,” the Bulletin noted.

Alluding to the depressed economic climate, in a speech made on behalf of the working bee participants, Mr E.T. Garbutt said it was a lesson for the people of Queensland.

“In that working bee were all denominations, and all shades of political opinions pulling together, and if the people of Queensland pulled together and worked as they did, the clouds of depression which were hanging over them would soon disappear,” he said.

In officially opening the baths, Alderman Heatley praised those who had given up their free time so that others could enjoy themselves.

“The baths were free and that was something neither the Council nor the Government could give them; it could only be accomplished by a band of men, getting together, and giving their services free,” the Bulletin reported.

Perhaps spurred on by the success of the Queen’s Road baths, another public swimming enclosure was erected within just months, this time at Rowes Bay. It opened on 7 March 1931, and was another example of the Townsville community working together during difficult economic times.
Flooding at Sandy Crossing, Hermit Park, 1968.
Photo: Townsville City Libraries.

Note: I have not been able to find a photograph of the Sandy Creek swimming baths. If any readers have a photograph in their possession, I'd love to see it.

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