Swimming Pools

Before Brisbane's public swimming pools were built, swimmers used a number of floating baths in the Brisbane River. These baths were subject to tidal variations which often made them unusable.  Brisbane residents, faced with a hot climate, were keen to bathe.  According to Helen Gregory, Brisbane’s first public bath was built by the Brisbane businessman Taylor Winship.  Opened in April 1857,  it was moored close to the river bank near the old convict hospital, now the Brisbane Supreme Court.  It was one shilling for a single bathe or twenty shillings for 3 months. (Brisbane River Story p 125-126).

Brisbane’s first swimming club “The Old Brisbane Amateurs” met at the Metropolitan Floating Baths which were built in 1894 and were at the time at the end of Edward Street in Brisbane.   At one time, the Brisbane River was crowded with a huge number of floating baths and, although these were extremely popular,  there were problems with sanitation and the pools regularly got swept away in floods.  The Redcliffe Baths had problems with jelly fish and once a grey nurse shark broke into the swimming enclosure.


Brisbane’s earliest official public swimming pool were the Spring Hill Baths in Arthur Street.  Built by M. Callum Park and opened 9 December 1886 before 200 spectators they were 80 ft long, 30ft wide and 7ft. deep at the end nearest the entrance, and 3ft. 6in. at the other end!   There were also sixty dressing rooms, and three shower baths. The water was pumped from the river at Victoria Bridge by an 18in. pipe.


The Booroodabin Baths, later the Brisbane Valley Baths was opened in 1896.  When the Valley Baths opened in 1926 suggestions that the old baths be kept open as a ladies only pool was defeated because of the cost of the new pool and the old pool was opened to everyone.   Municipal authorities were responsible for the erection of nearly all Brisbane baths except at Toowong Swimming Club which sold shares and accepted loans and donations to build their pool which was opened in 1909.


Although some private schools built swimming pools, baths became a feature of many state schools.  Junction Park was the first state school in the city to have its own pool and Rangeville School in Toowoomba had the first school pool outside the metropolitan area.  Built In 1914, it was 40 feet long and cost 225 pounds.  Dalby had a pool in 1936 and Blackall and Bowen in 1938-39.

The question of mixed bathing remained a problem in the early years with Davies Park the first Brisbane pool to have mixed bathing in 1924.  Swimming pools eventually became a common feature in holiday destinations and backyards.

The State Library has hundreds of photos of swimming and swimming pools, as well as swimming club records such as Commercial Swimming Club records 1900 – 2008; Queensland Amateur Swimming Association Medal 1909; Elsie Dann Papers containing swimming certificates and newspaper cuttings; Paula Stafford, bikini designer clippings, photographs realia and more.

Karen Hind

Librarian, Queensland Memory


We welcome relevant, respectful comments.
Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.
We also welcome direct feedback via Contact Us.
You may also want to ask our librarians.

I love Centenary Pool and love the image!

Fascinating and great images. My childhood pool memories are of the Oasis Gardens in Sunnybank and there was another pool complex directly across the road from it.

Nice images of different types of pools both modern and ancient.

Karen Hind, Many thanks for this summary page. I have used various leads contained within it in a summary of early swimming and lifesaving training in Brisbane which I am compiling.My interest grew from compiling a book (2011) on the 1896 s.s. 'Pearl' capsizing on 13th February on the Brisbane river, when some 29 people drowned. Many people do not know that also some 60 people were saved, with some being strong swimmers, and some people being revived in and around Stanley street, South Brisbane. (I am also a currently active Royal and Surf lifesaver.)

I am most interested in the Metropolitan baths and the Ithaca baths, and their swimming and life saving clubs over the years, as I am now a patrolling member of both Metropolitan - Caloundra Surf Life Saving Club (Kings Beach) and Ithaca - Caloundra City Life Saving Club (Bulcock Beach), and working on their early histories.I look forward to Helen Gregory's talks in April.

The statement "The Booroodabin Baths, later the Brisbane Valley Baths was opened in 1896. When the Valley Baths opened in 1926 suggestions that the old baths be kept open as a ladies only pool was defeated because of the cost of the new pool and the old pool was opened to everyone. " This accords with my understanding but I have also read elsewhere that the 1925/26 baths were built over the old Booroodabin Baths which seems to me to be contradictory. My belief is that the original baths were built on land which was formalised by gazettal in 1895 as Recreation Reserve 536. I also believe that the 1925/26 Valley baths were built adjacent to the old baths, not "on top of the original baths" as is described in . I wonder if you would care to throw some more light on this for me please.