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Heritage Pools of Brisbane

I know this seems like an unusual topic for a blog post but when you live in a sub-tropical city, pools and swimming are part of your life. You learn to swim before you start school, and spend endless summers splashing around at the beach and in your friend’s backyard pool. Brisbane has a number of public pools spread across the suburbs. This particular pair of inner city pools of Brisbane are more than just places to swim. They have rich histories, quirky architecture and are full of stories about the city that has grown up around them

Spring Hill Baths – 1886

exterior facade of spring hill baths brisbane
brightly coloured changing cubicle doors in the spring hill baths
Small changing cubicles line the walls of the Spring Hill Baths

The Spring Hill Baths are the oldest surviving swimming baths in the Southern Hemisphere. Built in 1886, they originally had water pumped into and drained out of them every day, from the Brisbane River.

interior os sping hill baths with swimming pool and roof open to the sky
original sign in spring hill baths stating 'men must not loiter on this end of the pool'
An original sign

These baths have it all. History, quaint signage from the era of segregated bathing and a facade that means the building looks more like an old picture house than a swimming pool. As you walk through the entry, you step back in time. Running the length on either side are the original individual changing cubicles. Up narrow stairs, a second level small wooden gallery surrounds the pool. Once enclosed, the roof now opens to the sky, allowing the sun in and the smell of chlorine out. Everything within is bathed in a shade of pale blue as the water reflects from the pool onto the roof and back.

wooden gallery seats surround original changing cubicles and swimming pool at spring hill baths
original sign in spring hill baths stating 'bathers must keep off gallery seats'

It’s like a trip to the Victorian seaside, all contained within one small building on a suburban street.

original mirror in the spring hill baths dating back to 1886
Original mirror circa 1886 – still being used

Spring Hill Bathswww.brisbane.qld.gov.au/spring-hill-baths


Centenary Pool – 1959

curved building overlloks two swimming pools at centenary pool brisbane
sign for centenary pool
This sign is in a sad state, given the fabulous building behind it

Centenary Pool is the biggest pool complex in the inner city. Designed by Brisbane City architect James Birrell, it was built in 1959, at a time when public buildings were more than just functional, they were about lifestyle. As you enter the complex, there are swooping bridges and ramps that are part of the original design and are now handy in making the building accessible. The complex has an Olympic 50 metre pool and an infant’s pool. There is also a magnificent and scary looking diving tower and pool that often features in TV commercials.

1950's diving tower at the centenary pool brisbane

My enduring memory of Centenary Pool is not swimming related but of the Bengal Curry House. In the 1980’s, it hovered above the pools in a cantilevered space age restaurant. With floor to ceiling windows and curved walls, I can only imagine how exotic and of chi chi it must have been in its heyday. Sadly, these days it’s an uninspiring gym.

cantilevered restaurant hovers above the centenary swimming pool
Once upon a time, you could enjoy an excellent Madras Curry here

This place definitely lends itself to lounging with the your towel on the concrete, soaking up the retro vibe. It’s reminiscent of the pool deck in Kylie Minogue’s video ‘Slow’.

Centenary Poolwww.brisbane.qld.gov.au/centenary-pool-spring-hill

The public pools of Brisbane offer everyone access to recreation, fun and a chance to cool off on a steamy January day. For a modest fee, you can relive your childhood, spending the whole day slashing and diving and laughing without a care in the world. Centenary Pool and Spring Hill Baths also afford you the opportunity to enjoy your swim in a degree of style.

4 comments… add one
  • Dr Lyn Riddett October 17, 2019, 9:33 am

    I love this blog – well observed and interesting. Thank you for writing this

    • Fiona Ryan October 30, 2019, 3:49 pm

      You’re welcome. It was a delight to revisit these pools are such a long gap in time.

  • sherry October 17, 2019, 1:34 pm

    i’m trying again – my comment got swallowed up. just saying i missed out on Open House this year due to illness. i often volunteer or at least visit some buildings but sadly not this time. ah well next year. love these baths! the Spring Hill ones are just so full of history. amazing that they have never been knocked down due to the land value. cheers S

    • Fiona Ryan October 30, 2019, 3:48 pm

      Hi. No idea where that comment went! It’s been years since I had been to either pool so it was a great trip down memory lane. The volunteers at Spring Hill Baths were lovely and shared lots of information we would have otherwise not known about. Unfortunately, the BCC employee at the entry was quite put upon by having visitors to the baths. He was rude to the volunteers and to us. The volunteers were quite taken aback. Still, we didn’t let it spoil our day.

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