When Woolloongabba was Wattle Scented

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Wet Spectators and Dodgy Infrastructure...A Queensland Swimming Tradition

The lack of roof at the 2014 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, held in an unseasonably wet August and reports of poor public amenities and technical issues with displaying results has raised questions as to whether the Southport Aquatic Centre which will be host venue for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games swimming and diving competition is up to muster. In the Australian tradition of "she'll be right mate" it will be compared to Brisbane's hosting of the diving competition of the Australian Swimming Titles for 1949, where the Australia's best divers competed......in a quarry.

In what may seem the craziest idea ever a former quarry, and local waterhole, was proposed as the host venue as Brisbane had no diving towers at any of the few public pools. The Queensland Amateur Swimming Association president Joe Emerson set himself the task of wrestling the Australian Swimming Championships from the southern states whom had hosted the event for the last 20 years. The last time the swimming titles were in held in Brisbane was 1925, the host venue was the niftily converted dry docks at South Brisbane. "Lake Emerson" as it was coined by the press of the day was a former Brisbane City Council quarry was gifted to Morningside State School by the council in 1930. The pool was fed a natural spring and due to the lack of public swimming facilities on the south side of Brisbane became an unofficial public pool.

The South Brisbane dry dock was the venue for an Australian amateur swimming championship in 1925.

As expected all hell broke loose. Boycotts were threatened by the Southern states, the venue called unsuitable as it was too deep, full of fish, a former dumping ground for World War Two supplies and munitions (one urban myth had the quarry full of surplus war jeeps from a US military post that was located on Richmond Road). The final decision went to a postal vote of the Australian SwimmingUnion and Brisbane prevailed, the Brisbane Council kicked in 150 pounds with an indemnity noticed attached to build a dive tower ('take that' 30 million dollars to roof the Southport Aquatic Centre); judges would be moored in boats on the water and spectators were dammed to stand around the quarry edge, rain, hail or sunshine.

The dive tower, in all it's scaffold glory.

On Saturday February 28th, 1949 the Australian Swimming Titles dive competition commenced and of course.....it rained. No matter, The Sunday Mail reported a crowd in excess of 5000 people bused, drove, trained and walked to the event despite the wet conditions. There were a number of incidents throughout the day, officials were forced to shout when the public address system failed, a competitor nearly crash dived into a boat of water-born judges, a young boy spectator slid down the steep embankment into the water and a female competitor reported being nibbled by fish.

Spectators take whatever vantage point they could, bare foot and umbrellas on hand.

Excerpt form Sunday Mail, Sunday 27 February 1949.

More than 5000 people were drenched by rain three times at the Morningside pool while the Australian springboard diving championships were being held yesterday. Special buses and more than 300 cars took the spectators to the championships. The first heavy shower fell just before the events were to begin at 2 o'clock. Beach umbrellas, cars, and lorries were rushed at as spectators tried to shelter from the downpour. The afternoon was full of incident. A young boy fell down the side of the quarry, and was fortunate to escape injury. Two of the seven judge. In the junior men's springboard championship, who were going to officiate from a small boat in the pool, had to return to shore because they could not anchor securely. Clive Dyson of Victoria, dived off the springboard, and missed one of the judges in a boat, by inches. Breakdown of the microphone compelled referee Len Warner, of Victoria, to shout to the competitors and judges. Noeline Maclean, who was runner-up in the women's championship, said that she had been 'nibbled at' by small fish. 'The fish did not hurt me, and I would rather dive at Morningside than the Valley Baths,' she said. Olympian Dave Norris, who retained his Australian title, said that it was safer diving at Morningside than at theValley, where the water is only 8ft. deep. Competitors' only complaint was the muddy nature of the ground near the diving board. Many of the men covered their feet when they left the water between dives. They were afraid the mud might make their feet slippery which would be dangerous when they attempted to dive. All used a mat near the diving; tower before they went on to the board. Cars and spectators were lined around the entire perimeter of the quarry and some car-drivers manoeuvred down on to the cut-away portion on the southern side.

Our best guess on the location of the dive tower, where the text "Park" appears on map.

 Looking eastward across Keralgerie Park.

The only diving that happens today at Lake Emerson are those for tennis balls as it is the off-leash dog area in what is now known as Keralgerie Park.  The quarry pool was deemed unsafe in the 1950's after a double drowning incident involving two local boys and was eventually filled. The cut rock of the top of the quarry face is still visible today and the ridge that served as a spectator area is clearly visible, my best guess is the dive tower would have been situated on the south-eastern side of the park. If a crowd of 5000 Queenslander's turn up in 1949  to a rainy, mud soaked, amenity free sporting venue to watch a diving competition despite the alleged shortcomings and roof or no roof, the Southport Aquatic Centre will be quite a spectacle come the Commonwealth Games in 2018.

The quarry face today, covered in vegetation.

Citations and Credits

1948 'HOW THE QUARRY WILL BE 'DRESSED'.', The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), 14 December, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article49927718

1925 The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939), 7 February, p. 28, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page2541722

1948 'Mail vote to shift dive pool.', The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), 19 November, p. 6, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article49908765

1948 'QUARRY IDEAL FOR DIVE.', The Courier-Mail(Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), 23 October, p. 5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article49914929

1949 'Spectators almost as damn as the divers.', Sunday Mail(Brisbane) (Qld. : 1926 - 1954), 27 February, p. 1, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article98290996

1949 The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), 12 January, p. 7, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article49919516

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Original Images The McWhirters Project