Heritage Nomination – Wodonga Olympic Pool – March 2012 History The following overview of the history of the Wodonga Olympic Pool is provided by written records of the Wodonga Historical Society as well as oral interviews with Wodonga residents. In February 1955, a well-attended public meeting of the Wodonga Shire appointed a Construction Committee to oversee the design and construction of a pool for Wodonga citizens. Up until this time, the swimming place for Wodonga residents was the Wodonga Creek, a tributary of the Murray River that forms the boundary between New South Wales and Victoria. Wodonga Creek had been gazetted as Wodonga’s Swimming Pool in 1937, along with regulations for bathing costumes. There is recorded activity of the Wodonga Swimming Club in the Wodonga Creek as early as 1934. The drive to build an artificial pool came in part from Wodonga families who were concerned about the near drownings in the Wodonga Creek, and who also wanted an alternative to travelling over the border to the near-by town of Albury. The location of Stanley St, in the heart of Wodonga, was chosen as the site for the pool. This was a mere two blocks from the central shopping and business street, High St, and opposite the Wodonga saleyards (Wodonga had been an important livestock selling marketplace since the 1850s). A massive area of land – approximately 10,000 square metres – was allocated for the site. Also constructed on the eastern side of the pool was a kindergarten and baby health centre. Between the pool complex and the kindergarten and baby health centre is a small lane – Richardson Lane – which connects Stanley St and Richardson Park. In the 1980s, 41 low-cost accommodation units for elderly people were constructed by the Victorian government in Boronia Place on council land on the opposite side of Stanley Street. The acquisition of the land for the pool is an important historical feature in itself, although the facts are difficult to establish. Some elderly people are under the impression that the land for the pool was donated. According to Mrs Jean Whitla of the Wodonga Historical Society, the Council land was set aside for Sport and Recreation use for the community, in a hard-won campaign by the late Mr Bob Richardson. The neighbouring public reserve – Richardson Park –borders the pool at its north-eastern corner. It has not been possible to verify the original bequest of the site or any deeds of covenant because the certificate of title and plan were re-registered by the Wodonga City Council in 2011 – see attached Plan PS641640L.
The Wodonga Pool opened in 1959 after four years of construction. The building was substantially assisted by volunteer labour and materials and fundraising from the community. Those involved included individuals, businesses, and service clubs such as APEX. The army, which had been present in Wodonga since its establishment of a camp at Bonegilla in 1940, also provided significant help through the provision of heavy machinery. There were regular working bees on the site. The total cost of the pool was £37,000, a comparatively low-cost for contemporary full-sized Olympic Pools. Local government loans of at least £25,000 had been obtained by the people of Wodonga for the pool and were repaid through pool profits and other community fund-raising. The construction comprised a modernist entrance pavilion, kiosk, office and bedsit, 55 yard Olympic pool with 8 lanes and winged sides and a separate octagonal toddler wading pool (of approximately 15m length), and unique air- and sun-drying changing rooms with wooden doors. The complex was designed by Shire Engineer GDW Pain, who was Wodonga’s Engineer from 1958 to 1965. (Mr Pain also had the water reservoir constructed, completed Wodonga’s first town plan and was associated with the construction of the Pollard Archway that was officially opened by Princess Alexandra in 1959). The 20m ‘non-swimmers’ or ‘learners’ pool was added in the early 1970s, followed by the waterslide and separate waterslide pool in the 1980s. The two wings at the shallow end of the main pool provide under-water gradated stairs for entry for the aged or disabled, while vertical steel framed steps were installed for abled-body entry in the middle and deeper end. The main pool graduates from 1m to 3m along its 55 yard length, with adequate depth for diving boards, which were a dominant feature at the pool until they were removed last decade. The non-swimmers pool graduates from approx. 0.8m to 1m, and the toddlers pool ranges from approx. 0.4m to 0.5m in depth. The tiling on all three pools was designed and installed locally, after some colourful events. An early appeal to completely tile the wading pool with non-skid tiles was launched by the Member for Benambra the Hon TW Mitchell being thrown fully clothed into the deep end by Mr Bob Wiltshire for a wager of £50. A local contractor, Mr N O’Neill, expected to do the tiling for £725, with nearly half of the account in hand. The tiling design of both the main and wading pool feature sand coloured speckled tessellated non-slip tiling, with the wading pool having additional sea life feature tiles under the water level, to engage the children’s interest. The non-swimmers pool has a classic 1960’s tile pattern – a perpendicular tile tessellation in neutral colours mimicking sand or rocks, which are repeated in the internal tile tessellation in blue. The same contrast occurs in the internal tiling of the main and toddlers pools, where the sand coloured surface tiles contrast with light blue internal tiles, apparently to resemble the sea and the beach for these inland residents. 2
The grounds of the Pool were also resourced by the community. The luscious green turf was obtained early in the Pool’s existence by Pool Manager Mr Emery, who procured it from the old Wodonga Stock route, to solve the problem of children bringing dirt into the pools. Planted trees include golden elms, palomas and a beech which provide ample shade as well as accommodating bird life for species including plovers, willie wagtails, blue faced honey eaters, currawongs, crows and galahs. How residents would travel to the pool was also subject to local design. An approx. 38 m long bespoke bike rack was built along the entire front boundary of the Pool to hold 73 bicycles. According to multiple elderly users, the bike rack was consistently packed and overspilling with bicycles in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, until the 1990’s when bicycle use dropped off. The pool and surrounding grounds are immense by any standard. Current employees at the pool estimate that the pool and grounds has capacity for over 1000 patrons. The pool has been frequently used for school and club swimming and water polo carnivals with participants as far afield as Melbourne, and surrounding regional towns. When the 1m and 3m diving boards were in place diving competitions were included in school swimming carnivals, with some local successful divers making the Melbourne state finals. The diving boards were removed in the 1990s, as were the small slides that featured on each side of the pool. The attractive BBQ facilities, popular waterslide, change-rooms and former playground equipment (withdrawn by the Council but replaceable) have made the pool greatly popular for generations. The lawns are still as pristine and extensive as when they were laid by the Pool Supervisor Mr Emery. The pool has been popular with both young and old citizens and earlier this year one elderly Wodonga resident recorded his 100,000th lap. In 2005, the Wodonga Council sought to relocate the Wodonga Pool to local park Willow Park, in order to sell the land. The Council commissioned a report by SGL Limited. Citizens’ reactions to the report questioned many of its assumptions. After much community opposition, the Council abandoned the proposal for Willow Park. However, a new proposal was put forward to build an aquatic facility in a proposed housing estate to be privately developed on the outskirts of Wodonga called Whitebox Rise. By a slim majority, the Council voted to decommission the Wodonga Pool and build a new facility in Whitebox Rise. The Wodonga Olympic Pool land is currently for sale for an undisclosed sum and is listed (anonymously – the street address and name of the site is not disclosed) on the website at http://www.realcommercial.com.au/property-land+developmentvic-wodonga-500007831. Its last day of opening is Saturday 31 March, 2012.