Art & Design


Taking A Dip In The Past

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By the mid-nineteenth Melbourne had become big enough to have its very own polluted waterway – the Yarra River. In an effort to stop locals from swimming (and drinking) those sullied waters and stem an outbreak of typhoid fever the Melbourne City Baths were opened in 1860.

Whilst initially popular, lack regular maintenance saw the baths close in 1899 after health inspectors discovered a layer of “unwholesome scum” on the surface of the water. They remained closed (and presumably, Melbournians went back to swimming and drinking from the Yarra) until architect J J Clark, who also designed Treasury Place won a competition to re-design the dilapidated space. The new Edwardian baroque building boasted separate male and female entrances, two swimming pools, slipper baths, Turkish and vapour baths plus a Jewish ceremonial bath.

Things really took up when mixed bathing was introduced in 1947, and attendance at the pools skyrocketed. Interest reached an all time high several years later following Australia’s success at the pools in the 1956 Olympics.

By the 1970’s the baths had fallen into disrepair again, and were only saved when the Builders Labourers Federation designated the site a “worker’s pool”, and in the 1980’s the baths finally underwent a $4 million overhaul to bring facilities up to scratch.

These days the heritage-listed baths still has the longest pool in the CBD (30m) plus a range of aquatic and gym facilities.  The baths make regular appearances on TV shows and tourist maps, and the male and female entrances still proudly stand out front.

Melbourne City Baths
420 Swanson St, Melbourne
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