Day 10: Bath time

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Spring Hill baths BrismaniaTHE Spring Hill Baths have a great story to tell.

The oldest in the southern hemisphere, they still evoke a feeling of Victorian times, with their little change cubicles (modesty had to be preserved) down each side of the pool, one side for women and the other for men.

The change room doors are brightly coloured like English seaside beach houses and it’s only a step out of the door and into the pool.

A set of steps at the entrance leads up to the grandstand seating. The roof over the pool is open to the sky but there’s no risk of spectators getting wet as the rest is covered.

The story goes that the Mayor of Brisbane, James Hipwood, and his council decided to build the baths (pool) as people were swimming in the Brisbane River which was becoming polluted and there was a risk of malaria.

Spring Hill baths BrismaniaFunnily enough, when they opened, only men were allowed to use them so I guess it was okay for women to risk getting sick.

The baths opened in Arthur Street in 1886. They didn’t move but the street name changed and they can now be found in Torrington Street, just off Boundary Street.

It was reported at the time: “The frontage, which is two-storeyed, will serve as the quarters of the custodian of the baths and the bathing room, which is immediately at the area, is a fine well-ventilated space. The swimming pool is 80ft in length and 30ft in width, 7ft in depth at the end nearest the entrance and 3ft6in at the other end. Round it are 60 dressing rooms and there are three shower baths. The water is pumped from the river at Victoria Bridge and is carried off by an 18in pipe, which empties the pool in 15 minutes.

“His Worship the Mayor appeared in regulation bathing costume at 8pm and was loudly cheered as he stepped briskly along the springboard and took a “header” into the bath.”

Spring Hill baths BrismaniaThe pool emptying in 15 minutes was important because the pool was drained each night into the local Spring Hill Hollow drain and refilled from holding tanks, which have since been boarded over.

This quirky little routine from the early days of the colony continued until 1961 when a filtration system was finally installed.

A year after they opened, women were allowed in for a swim at separate, designated times but it wasn’t until 1928 that mixed swimming was allowed, although unofficially it had been going on since 1910.

Scenes from the 2003 film “Swimming Upstream” starring Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis, were filmed at the Spring Hill baths. The film tells the true story of the swimmer Tony Fingleton who came from adversity to win silver at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games.