We really are the Oldest Swimming Club in Australia
"The Balmain Swimming Club was founded in 1884 shortly after the baths were opened. When it celebrated its centenary, it was the first club to do so. The club is also thought to be the first swimming association in Australia and many of its members have achieved distinction in swimming, water polo, diving and life-saving." NSW State Heritage Register (Walker 1991)
Newspaper Articles from National Library of Australia's Trove
Trophy Cabinet names – you will find the descendants of these families in Balmain Swim Club, Balmain Water Polo Club (we are the same club!) and Balmain Rowing Club (It is worth looking at the Balmain Rowing Club History Archive) – all located on Balmain's White Horse Point. The links below are just searches (until we publish our history archives). This is a work in progress – some searches work, others do not. Definitely look at Wally Pont.
Dawn Fraser Swimming Pool – From the NSW State Heritage Register
Dawn Fraser Swimming Pool
Elkington Park Baths, Balmain Baths, Corporation Baths, Whitehorse Point Baths
Statement of Significance
The pool is a complete swimming complex extending back to the turn-of-the century. It is an excellent example of pool architecture no longer practiced and a well known Sydney landmark set in an attractive harbourside location which has become a feature of the pool. It is representative of the development of a harbourside recreational and social facility and is associated with prominent swimming identities and world champions. It provides evidence of the major popularity of swimming as a competitive and recreational sport in Australia. (EJE Landscape 1994) (Walker 1991)
1882 - 1924
An irregular shaped swimming pool, enclosed by a timber structure, supported by timber piles where it is above the harbour. The main swimming area is almost square with the southern side curved to follow the shore. In the south-west corner, a wedge-shaped children's pool has been made to fit in with the existing configuration. The entrance to the baths is marked by a squat tower, which separates two timber buildings following the curve of the foreshore and contain the changing rooms for men and women and the swimming pool office. The buildings on the harbour side house the Balmain Swimming Club including club change rooms and there is also a tiered stand for spectators. The room in the tower houses the archives of the swimming club, which go back to 1884 and also served as a club meeting rooms. The pool itself is surrounded by a timber deck used for access, watching swimming races and sunbaking. At low tides there is a small sandy beach alongside the entrance.
Nearby the baths, in Elkington Park, is a brick cottage for the manager of the baths (Walker 1991).
Modifications & Dates
1882 - original pool constructed
1904 - enlarged and manager's cottage built
1924 - enlarged
1956,1957, 1959 - repairs and alterations carried out
1961 - seating gallery installed
1962 - stone wall constructed around children's pool
Historical Notes or Provenance
Balmain Council acquired land at White Horse Point for public baths in 1880. A tender by James Reynolds was accepted in 1881 and the baths were in use by January 1882. They were open to men during daylight hours and at limited times for women. (EJE Landscape 1994)
The Balmain Swimming Club was founded in 1884 shortly after the baths were opened. When it celebrated its centenary, it was the first club to do so. The club is also thought to be the first swimming association in Australia and many of its members have achieved distinction in swimming, water polo, diving and life-saving. (Walker 1991)
In 1902 the original 1882 enclosure was replaced with one giving a width of 60 yards owing to pressure from the Club. A two storey changing and viewing pavilion (south) was added as well as two boardwalks extending out from the shore and one diagonal boardwalk. In 1904 a cottage was built in Elkington Park for the manager of the baths.
In 1924 the baths and structures were enlarged. Other main alterations were a north facing changing pavilion and grandstand, two springboards and a tower, a two storey entry pavilion in the south pavilion, changing boxes on the west and east boardwalks, and the Western Shed. Swimmers who used the baths included Tony Fenech, Frank Jordan and Dawn Fraser (EJE Landscape, 1994).
Dawn Fraser recalls meeting her mentor, coach and friend Harry Gallagher. She was 11 at the time (1948, maybe earli 1949) and training at the Elkington Park Baths. Her cousin used to coach her ta that stage, but when the nearby Drummoyne Pool was closed for refurbishment and the coach there brough his squad over to train at the Elkington Park Baths, the lanes suddenly became uncomfortably crowded...Four Olympic gold medals and 41 world records might be the quantifiable outcome of their partnership but Fraser, who drove from her current home on the Sunshine Coast to visit Gallagher only hours before his death, counts the benefits in ways that can't be worn around her neck or come with an embossed certificate attesting to her swimming brilliance...She raced a boy the first day at training with her new coach. Eventually they finished in dead-heat. His name was John Henricks. He would go on to win two gold medals at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Now in his 80s, he remains a firm friend. Gallagher's coaching CV is almost without equal in a country that has produced some of the greatest coaches ever to prowl a pool deck. His swimmers won 14 Olympic gold (medal)s. They broke 53 world records, including the 100m free-style record, which had been the property of Holland's Willy denOuden for 22 years. The Dutchwoman first broke it with a time of 66 seconds. Fraser set a record of 58.9 seconds. Not only had she become the first woman to swim 100m in under a minute, she was first to go under the 59 second barrier...Swimming Australia (only) recognised Gallagher as a life member last October...Thankfully this was in time...Australian swimming tends to treasure its legends but it let itself down badly in the case of Gallagher (Smith, 2021).
Repairs and alterations were carried out in 1956, 1957, 1959; a seating gallery was installed in 1961 and a stone wall was built around the children's pool in 1962. (EJE Landscape 1994)
In 1964 the pool was renamed in honour of Dawn Fraser, local resident and Olympic Swimming Champion at three consecutive Olympic Games. Dawn Fraser learnt to swim at the baths and swam with the Leichhardt-Balmain League of Swimmers from age 8 to 13. She then had two seasons with the Balmain Ladies Club and won two New South Wales Championships. (Walker 1991)
In 1983 the complex was refurbished and at this time much of the fabric of the building was replaced, the lattice was rebuilt and reinstated and the exterior cladding around the edge of the baths above the water was changed from corrugated iron to timber. (Walker 1991).
From 2018-2021 restoration works were undertaken at Dawn Fraser Baths.
It is the most complete swimming complex extending back to the turn-of-the century. It is associated with Dawn Fraser a local resident and Olympic Swimming Champion at three consecutive Olympic games. (EJE Landscape 1994)
It is an excellent example of pool architecture no longer practiced and a well known Sydney landmark set in an attractive harbourside location which has become a feature of the pool. (EJE Architecture 1994)
It is socially significant as a local recrational landmark and the home of the Balmain Swimming Club - probably the oldest swimming club in Australia. It provides evidence of the major popularity of swimming as a competitive and recreational sport in Australia. (Walker 1991)
One of the few remaining tidal public pools in Sydney Harbour and the only one to retain its over-water-enclosure. (Walker 1991)