Monday, October 14, 2013

Newcastle’s Canoe Pool

Local Treasures 1233 ABC  -  Newcastle's Canoe Pool                                28 May 2013
Broadcast Notes : Ann Hardy
Announcer : Carol Duncan


Photograph : Bruce "Jimmy" Edward Thomas (1950), in the collection of Simone Sheridan.

Did the Canoe pool at Newcastle really exist, or is it an urban myth? Thanks to many locals who still remember it and the few photographs that exists, we can confidently say that it did exist.  Newcastle’s Canoe Pool was constructed during the Depression years in 1930s by the Newcastle Municipal Council and was located next to Newcastle's Ocean baths, in the circular wading pool. The pool was also known as the ‘Young Mariner's Pool’, or ‘Map of the World’ pool.  The special features included a large map of the world with continents made of concrete raised to the water line. The pool still exists but the map of the world is no longer there.
It is fortunate that a coloured photograph of the pool has survives. In 2007, Newcastle based creative director Simone Sheridan inherited her Great Grandfather's old slides and a very nice vintage camera collection. The photographer was Bruce Edward Thomas, fondly known as Jimmy. Jimmy was a dentist where he lived in Short Street in Mudgee. However he did spend a few years in the Hunter.
The photograph was taken in 1950 when Jimmy was stationed at Greta as a dentist in the Australian Army. He took photos as a hobby and according to his family he photographed everything. Simone advised "It's not easy to know where the photo came into his journeys, as I only discovered them in 2007 that is when I found it in his slides. Maybe it would have been lost, if I hadn't of been living here studying find art, to recognise it as Newcastle."
The original slides were kept in great condition on a steel box, which he locked in an old dentistry closet. For this reason the reproduction of the colours have remained strong as if the photograph was taken yesterday.  ‘Jimmy’ Thomas passed away in 1974 aged 62.
This colour photograph of the Canoe Pool is significant because it is the only colour image that had come to light of the pool. As shown the various colours of the continents and countries are easily identifiable.  The continents were painted various colours, and Commonwealth countries coloured a distinctive pink. Children for decades enjoyed the pool, pretending they were mariners navigating their way around the world and between the continents. This make believe water wonderland provided much enjoyment during a period a time when there was much hardship.
The following letter to the Argus sums up beautifully the fun one youngster had on his holiday to Newcastle. The following letter was written by the child’s father A. Thornton in 1945.
“A child at Newcastle (NSW) can swim right round the world in a matter of seconds. A splendid public swimming – pool has been laid out in the form of a map of the world, the countries being in concrete, while the oceans are filled with sea water. The pool is deep enough for children to swim in in safety, thus getting good fun and exercise and a lesson in geography at the same time.” (Argus).
Another user of the Canoe Pool was Hamilton South resident Warren Hardy who remembers going to the pool as a young boy in the 1940s.  He would catch the tram from Jesmond to the end of Scott Street opposite Newcastle Baths. "The water in the pool wasn't too deep, as a child you could safely wade around the map, or take a surfer plane to float around it. If you didn't have a floating device you could hire one from the beach pavilion."
The pool was a very creative design. Built in the 1930s the Canoe pool may have been a 'work for the dole' project to stimulate employment. The larger pool was likely built some years prior to the Canoe Pool’s construction, but who had the idea for this marvellous creation is a mystery. The creation of a map in a public pool was certainly unique and rare, no similar pools are known to have existed in Australia. 
Unfortunately, the pool was damaged after bad storms and heavy seas and gradually disintegrated.  It was sometimes covered by sand and it is thought to have been pulled out after the 1974 cyclone. However thanks to people like ‘Jimmy’ Thomas, whose delightful photograph may inspire others to think creatively in public infrastructure and community engagement projects.

Photograph : Bruce "Jimmy" Edward Thomas (1950), in the collection of Simone Sheridan.

Sources:  Thornton, A. (Letter to Editor) ‘I’m Telling the World’. Saturday 7 July 1945. Argus.

Special thanks to Simone Sheridan for sharing her Great Grandfather’s collection.

Postcards in the collection of Keith Parsons


sover eigninns said...

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Find Handmade said...

This is a great resource to share with friends and family as well as artisan makers. Thanks for taking the time to put this together.

Frank Milburn said...

That's a great colour photo of the Young Mariner's Pool. It's a pity though, that you guys have printed it in reverse. Whoever decided that the pool was laid out that way needs to go and take some sort of "Mariners Course"!