Provided by E. John Wade and Bob Metcalfe of Port Macquarie RSL sub-Branch, 2004:
The memorial is an Olympic swimming pool with associated buildings, dedicated to those men and women who served in the First and Second World Wars. Also known as Port Macquarie Memorial Baths, construction cost $120,000 with the majority of funds provided by local sources and additional grant monies from the NSW State Government. The President of the local RSL sub-Branch dedicated the pool and buildings on 1 October 1966.
Provided by Michael Dodkin, 2020. Researched and written by Rex Toomey of Port Macquarie & Districts Family History Society:
On 24 August 1888, Port Macquarie’s first mayor James McInherney (1887–89) held a public meeting at the Royal Hotel to consider the advisability of erecting a public swimming baths. As expected, there was considerable enthusiasm for the baths and a committee was formed to investigate a suitable site. There were even letters to the editor supporting the proposal. Unfortunately, no progress was made despite numerous attempts to pursue the idea.
After the First World War, various attempts were made to progress the baths again. In the meantime, the people of Port Macquarie made use of the local river, as can be seen in image 3 above. This photograph was taken in the early 1930s at the wharf near Town Green at the time.
In 1934, the Port Macquarie Surf Life Saving Club was crowing its success at a Wauchope swimming carnival, which they felt was made more special because Port Macquarie had no baths for training.
It was not until late 1944, towards the end of the Second World War, that the need for a swimming baths was raised once again in council. However, one alderman said it would not be "fair to the lads away fighting to build baths now and let those here exempted as vegetable growers, etc., get the benefit" (The Port Macquarie News and Hastings River Advocate, 23 December 1944).
By the 1950s, the council had managed to get a fenced area for swimming erected in the river at the end of Horton Street, which is shown in image 4 above. However, the fence was regularly washed away by floods and had to be maintained and replaced.
Real progress towards a swimming baths began in 1955 with the formation of a ‘Baths Committee’, in conjunction with the local 'Carnival of the Pines' annual festival. Over the next eight years, various sites for the baths were suggested, including in Kooloonbung Creek, or an elevated saltwater baths near the southern rock wall. However, a decision to build the baths behind the break wall was abandoned, after a referendum in December 1963 voted two-to-one against the idea. The feelings and frustrations of most residents at the time were summed up in this rhyme by a 'local wag', published in the Port Macquarie News on 24 December 1963:
‘Twas Christmas day on Flynn’s Beach,
The surf was cool and clear,
A councillor making a speech
Used promising words of good cheer.
Then up spake a little Nipper,
‘Twas plain he was no fool;
We don’t want your Christmas pudding,
You can build us a swimming pool.
The current Gordon Street site, then called Bridge Street, was decided upon shortly after the referendum. Most agreed it was the best location, despite being the site of the old brick works.
Prior to the opening of the pool, the Port Macquarie Rotary Club organised a scheme to raise money to help pay for the amenities block. Local people, businesses and organisations were encouraged to purchase a ceramic tile on which their names would be inscribed. The plan was to affix the tiles to the inside walls facing the pool; however, the location was changed to the external front wall near the entrance. This resulted in another controversy, because the council was concerned the tiles would be a target for vandals. In addition, the RSL sub-Branch opposed this location because it felt the tiles would desecrate a dedicated memorial with an ‘advertising gimmick’.
Despite these issues, the Port Macquarie War Memorial Olympic Swimming Pool was officially opened on Saturday, 1 October 1966, by the Minister for Public Works Hon. Davis Hughes. Minister Hughes was assisted by Mr Jack Steep, the president of the local sub-Branch of the RSL. The event was covered in the Port Macquarie News on 6 October 1966. The article reported:
The Minister said "these baths are magnificent" and a credit to the people; it was a moving moment, indeed, when Mr. Steep unveiled the plaque to commemorate the baths as a war memorial, and I can't think of a memorial more appropriate and practical.
Image 5 above, from the souvenir program issued on the day, shows Miss Macquarie seated on one of the pool's starting blocks, with the entrance building in the background.
By June 1967, all groups had agreed to the tiles being placed on the external front wall, and within a few days, all 493 tiles were in place.
In 2018, the names on the tiles were the subject of the book Tile Tales, by the Port Macquarie & Districts Family History Society. It contains over 350 individual stories written about locals, encapsulating the social history of Port Macquarie at the time.
PORT MACQUARIE MUNICIPAL COUNCIL
To commemorate the official opening of
PORT MACQUARIE MEMORIAL BATHS
THE HONOURABLE W. DAVIS-HUGHES M.L.A.
N.S.W. Minister for Public Works
1 October 1966
W. G. Alcock (Town Clerk)
A. L. Crisp (Mayor)