Heidelberg Historical Society

Going Swimming

Posted on Tuesday, 21st April 2020 by Janine Rizzetti

*from our Facebook page 8 April 2020)

Alphington Swimming Club c.1921

If you had said that you were going swimming in the Heidelberg District 100 years ago, you wouldn’t be talking about a swimming pool as we know it today. Instead, you’d be heading down to the Yarra River where a number of swimming holes and ‘beaches’ had been formed at Heidelberg, Eaglemont, Ivanhoe, Alphington, Fairfield and Deep Rock near Dight’s Falls.

A number of Swimming Clubs were established in the early 20th century with the Ivanhoe and Alphington Swimming Club forming in March 1906 and Fairfield Swimming Club starting up in the December of the same year. The Ivanhoe Sea Scouts commenced in 1908. Heidelberg Swimming Club, established in 1912, had gone into abeyance during WWI but it recommenced in 1919.

This picture shows the Alphington Swimming Club rooms in 1921. The terracing around the Alphington Swimming hole was also constructed during the 1920s. Swimming Clubs had annual festivals, with special guests giving diving and rescue demonstrations and local swimmers participating in races. Onlookers would crowd the terraces and river banks sloping down to the river.

Heidelberg News 13 March 1920

On 10 April 1920 – one hundred years ago- the Fairfield-Alphington Life Saving Club held its official opening, with Frank Anstey, the local Federal M.P. and John Cain (Snr) the State government M.L.A. in attendance to watch the Middle Park Baths Life Saving Club give a demonstration of life-saving techniques.

The club was formed in the wake of a particularly bad summer for drownings in the river. In September 1919 Senior Scout Harry Pound of the Ivanhoe Sea Scouts rescued another boy near the Sea Scouts Hall near Wilson Reserve. In February 1920 Eileen Furphy, 19 years old, got into difficulties and drowned while trying to save her sister Muriel at Stokes’ Swimming Hole near Rudder Grange in Alphginton. Muriel was rescued by passer-by Harold Lee of Alphington. A few weeks later, H. Johnson “a well developed youth of 15” drowned when he was snagged by his swimming trunks at the same time as the Sea Scouts were holding their swimming carnival at Ivanhoe.

Most of the sheds and beaches at the Yarra swimming holes were swept away by repeated flooding, especially during the 1934 flood, the worst of the 20th century floods. By the 1950s and 1960s the river was increasingly polluted, and municipal swimming pools replaced river swimming as a popular summer past-time – although brave young souls still sometimes braved the brown waters of our Yarra and lived to tell the tale.

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