Dive deep and make a big splash by visiting a new exhibition, The Pool: Architecture, Culture and Identity on show throughout the Australian Spring and Summer Season from August 18, 2017 until February 2018, at NGV Australia in Federation Square, Melbourne. Entry is FREE.
Showcasing an eleven metre long pool, the installation will ‘celebrate and explore one of Australia’s greatest cultural symbols’. It is certainly all about informing and reminding us about one of the great iconic symbols that has contributed to the development of our contemporary cultural identity.
“Whether natural or manmade, inland or coastal, pools are undeniably linked to the Australian lifestyle and our national psyche,” Tony Elwood Director of the National Gallery of Victoria said “We encourage visitors to dangle their feet in the water or relax poolside as they reflect on the idea of the pool as a place of cultural exchange, socialising, competition and reminiscence’, he said.
Presented by the Australian Institute of Architects at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale as a catalyst for change, the exhibition has many stories to tell about how the pool met-morphed from a natural rock pool at the seashore, to become an integral aspect of the great Aussie backyard and lifestyle.
Curated by Isabelle Toland and Amelia Holliday from Aileen Sage Architects, together with independent strategist Michelle Tabet, the installation received more than 100,000 visitors when it was on show last year in Venice. The Curators are promising there will be a great deal going on just below the surface.
To tell its stories eight prominent cultural leaders from a variety of fields including literature, science, the arts, sport and music will contribute their own narratives. They will present eight great examples about the myriad meanings and impact of creating a pool in Australian society.
They included well known Aussies Olympic gold medal winning swimmers Ian Thorpe and Shane Gould; environmentalist and 2007 Australian of the Year Tim Flannery; Anna Plunket and Luke Sales fashion designers of Romance Was Born; writer of best-selling book The Slap Christos Tsiolkas; winner of the 2012 Miles Franklin Prize Anna Funder; Indigenous art curator Hetti Perkins and Australian rock musician Paul Kelly.
It was 1924 when the Hungarian-born American competition swimmer Johnny Weissmuller set sixty seven world swimming records before becoming a Hollywood movie star.
Together with American national and regional swimming champion and actor Esther Williams they popularised the pool, especially when she spent five months swimming alongside Johnny, who became an Olympic gold medal winner and the Tarzan of his time.
Just as in Hollywood, between the wars in Australia, swimming pools were built on inner city suburban spaces, although generally confined to posh people living posh suburbs that had glamorous post WWI art deco designed houses.
They had a considered aesthetic, which was all about enhancing the beauty of the property by adding swimming pools with changing pavilions, including showers and they were very desirable, like those seen in the fashionable film High Society (1956) with Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby.
For the new generation after WW II urged on by their admiration for America’s million dollar mermaid Esther Williams, who had one film listed among the 20 highest grossing films 1945-1949, swimming in a pool became the new black.
For two and three decades of prosperity, building a pool in the backyard would become within the purview of a great many more people, especially as prices began to come down.
The backyard by the 60’s in Australian culture was a place where you could gather in safety and security. The inclusion of a pool in a backyard garden came with the growing response to everyone’s expectations of what life would, and should deliver.
As the economy expanded and boom times became a norm in the 70’s and 80’s for the generation they called ‘baby boomers’, the pool industry flourished.
It was about crafting an all-new domestic space where you would be able to gather often with friends and family and throw a shrimp on the barbie, as you enjoyed a much-desired leisurely, uniquely Australian lifestyle.
Building a pool helped young couples form new friendships by providing a platform for expressing social solidarity.
For those who grew up near the sea before having to move into deep suburbia in order to pursue the great Aussie dream, homes from the mid to late 60’s until today, a home with a pool provided a new version of Utopia.
Who ever said life in the suburbs was dull, hasn’t ever really lived in them, although I am the first to admit they could be very isolating, far away from the city. My own parents used to say they had to pack lunch and a thermos and come on a road trip to where I was living in the northern districts of Sydney. Having a pool in the backyard where the family could cool off seemed essential.
If you were able to prosper and build one you were also sending a signal you had reached a pinnacle of prosperity, much like a Pharaoh of the New Kingdom (c1500-1250 BCE) who had pools in their great estates and gardens.
Indeed pools for bathing and swimming have a long history in the cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, Assyria and Egypt with their modern popularity taking off with the establishment of the modern Olympics in 1896, which included swimming competitions.
The NGV would like its pool exhibition to become a place for continuing conversations to take place and stories to be told about their evolution, so I will start a dialogue by recalling my own experience, starting on a much-loved Sydney beach.
Learning to swim from the 30’s to the 70’s was considered the right of every Australian child. During my formative years for me, it was all about strengthening my weaker left side; my left leg, left foot and arm affected by polio.
My father believed absolutely in the therapeutic qualities of swimming in salt water for building good limbs for both racehorses and people.
So its no surprise he and my mother chose to live at the beach and that I swam there very day from when I can remember until I left home to be married.
My father taught children to swim for free in the two pools at the end of Coogee Beach. Lessons were held very early in the morning, long before other people came to the beach on the weekend and every day during school holidays.
He made sure my sisters and I had our Bronze medallions before we were teenagers, so we were all qualified to assist him. There were always huge numbers of children wanting to master the water and the waves. I can still remember how numb I used to be from cold supporting those learning to ‘float’ first, in the tried and true and tried method of teaching swimming he subscribed to.
Thousands of Aussie Kids learned to swim from (Vivian) Roy Trenerry and for his work amongst school children and for starting the Learn To Swim movement the Randwick Council honoured him by naming a reserve for him when he passed.
The Trenerry Reserve on the hill overlooking Coogee Beach, where he taught and lived, is today a favourite place for playing many different ball sports, which is entirely fitting too because he was also a local and respected Rugby referee.
His giving of service to society was an attitude instilled in him by his parents, and one he passed on.
Ah, the good old days with box Brownie’s, boys, boards, balls, bathers and babes at the beach, there was nothing really quite like them. At Coogee Beach during my formative years (50’s) there were man-made pools built into rock ledges.
Coogee was very pristine in those days and there were plenty of places to swim, including when we were swimming competitively. This took place often at the ‘Aquarium’, an art deco designed pool at the north end of the beach. It was where everyone headed when the surf was high and King tides running.
Giles Baths was at one end for the boys, and McIver’s Baths for the girls at the other end, which is where my much older sister was heavily involved in the organisation that managed it.
My girlfriend and I belonged to the Randwick and Coogee Ladies Swimming Club, which swam at McIver’s Baths regularly. It had been carved out of the rocks by both man and nature and was at the south end of the beach.
McIver’s Ladies Baths also had a ‘nude’ sunbaking area screened off by a large paling fence, which was very popular with those seeking an overall tan.
As kids we often used to peak through a few knot holes in the fence only to be shooed away, because quite often the nuns from the Roman Catholic Convent were inside, giving themselves a unique dose of Vitamin B, having shed their old habits.
Wylie’s Baths were further around the headland, half way to Maroubra. Both McIver and Wyllie’s baths were both pounded relentlessly by the giant waves, whipped up during any storms raging. When they crashed relentlessly over McIver’s pools set against the overhanging cliff, it was quite an adventure.
The Pool exhibition at NGV Australia has been brought together with the help and assistance of multiple creative industries, academics, technical and engineering experts and nationally significant cultural commentators and its imagery is very appealing.
It should provide quite a splash. Add it to your Calendar now!
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
Ian Potter Centre,
August 18, 2017 – February 2018
Federation Square, Melbourne