Communities fight to save their swimming pools

June 24, 2021
Campaiging to save Fawkner's public pool. Photo: Fawkner Residents Association/Facebook

Two communities in Melbourne are fighting to save their outdoor swimming pools — Fawkner in the north and Doveton in the south-east — since discovering their councils want to close them.

Residents are incensed that councils promoted the plan to close the pools as a “repurposing” or “redesigning”.

Fawkner lies within Moreland City Council and Doveton is in the City of Casey.

Save Fawkner Outdoor Pools spokesperson Jenny Chapman told 3AW that the community was excited to be consulted about “redeveloping” the Fawkner Leisure Centre, billed as an “upgrade”.

But, they became alarmed to hear the words “repurposing” and “making hard decisions” bandied around at the focus groups. “It became quite clear that the outdoor pool was at risk of closure.”

“We think [the outdoor pools are] a really important community asset that needs to be maintained,” she said.

Moreland socialist councillor Sue Bolton agrees. She is also furious about the deception. “Trying to paint a pool closure and its replacement with a water feature as a ‘win’ for the community is wrong,” she told Green Left.

“Where are kids meant to learn to swim? Where are people meant to cool off as summers get hotter? Where are teenagers meant to hang out?”

Ten-year-old Thea Chapman spoke to council at its June meeting. “I love the pool. You meet lots of friends and new people at the outdoor pool. It is important to keep it open.”

Doveton residents thought their pool was secure because council had committed to a $24 million upgrade in 2019.

They only became aware of its new plan when a 679-page document, placed on an obscure part of its website, appeared a few days before a vote on closing the pool. The Doveton pool is the area’s only public outdoor pool.

Casey council is under administration, following its sacking early last year for corruption.

Moreland council told focus groups in Fawkner that it would “repurpose” the outdoor pool by replacing it with a water feature. Fawkner is one of the younger suburbs in Moreland, with 27% under the age of 24.

Bolton said that given the rise in the number of people drowning, it is important to keep public pools — where people learn to swim — open. Royal Life Saving Australia (RLSA) said drowning deaths across Australia over the last summer rose by 30% since the previous year.

RLSA also found: a 22% increase in fatal drownings of 15-24 year olds in the state last year; people from metropolitan Melbourne were more likely to be involved in non-fatal and fatal drownings than those from regional Victoria; and 36% of these were from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Public swimming pools were built partly because of the numbers drowning in creeks and rivers. They were places where people could learn to swim.

As pools age, instead of refurbishing or replacing them, many councils opt to close them.

But communities and unions have fought back. In the 1970s, an attempt was made to close the City Baths in Melbourne’s CBD. The Builders’ Labourers Federation slapped a Green Ban on and it was saved.

Thousands occupied the Fitzroy Pool for six weeks in 1994 to force the newly-amalgamated Yarra Council to re-open it.

Residents fought council to re-open the Coburg Olympic Outdoor Pool in 2007-2008. Pascoe Vale residents campaigned in 2017 to stop the council from replacing their pool with a water feature and won.

Communities in Sunshine, North Melbourne, Bendigo, Castlemaine and Berwick have also fought to save their outdoor pools.

At the June Moreland Council meeting, Damir Metric tabled a petition with more than 800 signatures. “My 9-year old daughter put it best when she said, ‘It reminds me of the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood. They say they are making it better, but they are taking away the thing I love the most — the pool,’” he said.

“If the community’s fears are warranted and the ulterior motive of this proposal is to radically reduce the capacity of the outdoor pool from 50 to 25 metres then the metaphor of the wolf in disguise is very fitting. The conduct would be described as ‘deceptive’ and ‘dishonest’ and the process is lacking in integrity and transparency.”

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