Memory laps: A very ’60s summer by the pool

Mar 11, 2023
Source: Getty

As some of you head towards the end of your swimming pool season and are looking for the winterising chemicals and pool covers, take a minute to remember the swimming pools large and small that have been the backdrop for the warmer parts of your life.

Our first pool was a 4-foot by 6-foot canvas and pipe creation. Mum and Dad bought it from Patterson’s furniture store, but they were also available at Walton’s and Myers. The moulded pipes are slotted together to form a cradle for the canvas lining. Dad set it up in our backyard in Frankston, and even though it had a maximum depth of a foot, my sister and I and the two kids next door felt like we’d been transported to a resort. The four of us would splash so much in the confined space that Dad had to top it up with the hose every five minutes.

Moving to Queensland the following year, we upgraded to an 8-foot circular above-ground pool. With a depth of just over two feet, we could be fully submerged, which opened the door for a whole new range of games, such as diving for objects from the bottom or playing Marco Polo. We couldn’t do laps, but the best activity by far was currents. Walking or swimming round and round the edge of the pool created a vortex of water.

Once maximum water flow was achieved, you could either choose to relax and drift around with the current or start moving back against the current to simulate swimming in rapids. Too much sloshing from this activity earned a reprimand and a lecture about the cost of water. These early above-ground pools lacked filtration and chlorine, and after a few days, they resembled a pond, complete with strands of green slime and even a few opportunistic toads.

Public pools offered a step up in size, as most families in the 1960s weren’t able to afford the upgrade to a pool size that allowed actual swimming. My uncle in Melbourne had one, but with the city’s notorious summer droughts, he often had to top it up with bore water, which gave the water a tingling feeling and a slight odour of rotten eggs.

The start of the public swimming pool season usually kicked off with a day of free entry, and every kid within walking distance usually turned up to christen the newly filled pool. Forget swimming, it was standing room only in what can only be described as human soup.

I’m sure many of the young swimmers didn’t want to lose their place or miss swimming time, so a trip to the toilet wasn’t considered a priority. The primitive filtration systems were stretched to their limit, and stinging chlorinated eyeballs, a case of gastro, or an ear infection were badges of honour to prove you’d been part of the annual aquatic event.

There were a few upmarket pools open to the public. In Brisbane, one was the Oasis Gardens which had eight acres of immaculately curated lawns and gardens that surrounded the three large swimming pools, a children’s wading pool, a playground, and a miniature zoo of native birds and animals.

The Oasis was the place for a summer cool-off in style through the 60s and 70s, when the alternative of a road trip to the beach usually meant hours stuck in traffic. There were strict dress code rules at these private pools that were open to the public.

These were backed up by large warning signs and the threat of expulsion from the aquatic paradise. I seem to remember that you couldn’t roam around after your swim in your togs and that you needed to go to the changing room before you could look at the koalas and native birds.

I think thongs (both the foot and groin varieties) were also a no-no. There were also reception rooms for weddings. We were married there in the early eighties, but any chance of a poolside reception was scarpered by developers who had already grabbed the valuable land of the pool areas for new housing.

In the early seventies, Mum and Dad took the plunge and installed an in-ground pool. It was one of the new-fangled fibreglass models and came with a hydrostatic valve at its deepest point. This innovation was to prevent the whole thing from popping out of the ground during heavy rain. We never had a pop-out pool disaster, but on a few occasions, muddy rainwater leaked in from the valve, giving the pool the appearance of an outback dam.

Many teenage summers were spent in that pool. We’d swim for a while and then sprawl out on the concrete surround until we were cooked, then roll back into the cooling water. One year, I spent my weekly Bio-Clear pimple cream budget on instant suntan cream instead, and after a day of sunbathing, I resembled a pimply Oompa Loompa.

Later, once we had a home of our own, we decided to install a pool. As we had the dreaded reactive soil that parts of Brisbane are famous for, we decided on an above-ground pool. It was large enough to do mini laps but still small and circular enough to play the ‘current’ game. It provided us with a cool respite in the summer months for 15 years. Towards the end of its life, water restrictions meant we had to top up the pool with rainwater redirected from our roof.

This was fine for a few days until the algae spores that built up on our roof washed into the pool, which then turned it a luminous green overnight. The neighbourhood toads must have thought we’d gone all environmental by presenting them with a pond. They showed their appreciation by depositing hundreds of toad spawn into the water, and before long tadpoles and then toads were everywhere. By this time the lining started to show its age, and we discovered that, with inflation, the cost of a replacement liner was as much as the initial pool installation.

Turning the area into a mini-orchard was the alternative we chose. I gradually siphoned the water out of the pool so we could dismantle it, but this seemed to be taking forever, and my impatience took over.

This impatience had two consequences. Firstly, when I decided to bend the sheet metal sides of the pool down to let the water out, I underestimated how much water was left, causing a mini tsunami across my lawn and under the fence into the courtyard of my next-door neighbour. Fortunately, heavy rain that night disguised the unexpected sogginess of their patio.

The second consequence concerned the water itself. Even though it hadn’t been dosed with chlorine for a while, there must have been a substantial amount of residual chemicals left in the water, because my grass turned a motley brown overnight.

Of course, what most pool owners don’t freely discuss when they talk about having their own pseudo-backyard resort is the ongoing cost and effort of maintaining this luxury. Yep, cooling off and having fun in your pool is great, but this pales in comparison to the joy of vacuuming, leaf scooping, filter cleaning, water testing, replacing diatomaceous earth, and, best of all, maxing out your credit card at the local pool supplies shop. The guy behind the counter there seemed to be the happiest guy on the planet all year round.

Any wonder that pool servicing companies boomed in the eighties and nineties. It still costs money, but it was a way of avoiding the monotony of guiding the wimpy vacuum at the end of the pole around and around the bottom of the pool to catch elusive dust bunnies or those funny little oarsman beetles (I’m sure there is a more scientific name) as they scoot just out of reach of the suction.

It’s been close to 15 years since the demise of our pool, but every now and then, particularly on the hot summer days and nights we’ve been having lately, I daydream about lounging in my own pool once again. Perhaps even one of those smaller, concrete septic tank-type models that are all the rage now.

But then again, a cold shower or bath is nice too after a hot day, and the only maintenance is the occasional bit of elbow grease and a tin of Ajax.


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