Diving platforms and springboards ‘a thing of the past’ as suburban pool-users trade fun for fitness

Australia World

Braving a jump off the top diving platform at the local swimming pool, or retreating back down the ladder in shame, has been a rite of passage for many Australian children. 

But it may be a thing of the past.

Casualties of concrete cancer and a shift in pool priorities from fun to fitness have seen diving platforms slowly disappear from suburban swimming pools.

A 1979 photo of a two-tier diving platform packed with people in board shorts and bikinis.

Liverpool’s diving platform, as pictured in 1979, closed in the 1990s.(Supplied: Ray Hely Collection, Liverpool Regional Museum)

“This has sort of happened without us really noticing, and all of a sudden you don’t have any pools with diving boards at all,” said Sydney writer and keen swimmer Therese Spruhan.

Leichhardt’s deepwater pool, in Sydney’s inner west, is set to join a list of closures when the aquatic centre is redeveloped after a last-ditch effort to save it failed this week.

Diving NSW chief executive Gillian Brooker said it would leave just Sydney Olympic Pool in Homebush and Warringah Aquatic Centre in northern Sydney with publicly accessible diving facilities.

“There’s nothing else between Sydney and Wollongong or Sydney to Newcastle,” she said.

“There are some country pools that allow it, but unless it’s an organised activity through your club or state sporting association, I think [casual diving] is a thing of the past, I’m sad to say.”

Ms Spruhan, author of The memory pool: Australian stories of summer, sun and swimming, said the way municipal swimming pools were used had been changing since the 1980s.

A black and white image taken from below of a person diving

Photographer Max Dupain took this image of a diver at the North Sydney pool in the 1930s.(Supplied: Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

“I think in days gone by people just went to the pools to cool off, splash around. There wasn’t as much lap swimming,” she said.

“Now pools are much more, you know, squads and laps, and the lane ropes are up on the 50-metre pools all the time.”

Losing the fun?

Liverpool, Auburn, Granville, North Sydney, Lane Cove and Ryde are among suburbs that have lost their popular diving platforms over the past few decades.

A black and white photo of a boy mid air with the diving board behind him

A diver executes a swallow dive from the tower at the Enfield pool.(Supplied: State Library of New South Wales)

Most recently, Parramatta pool closed in 2017 to make way for a stadium. A new $88 million aquatic centre was set to open this spring but without a diving platform.

ABC Radio Sydney listeners have shared memories of fun, bravery and embarrassment.

A boy with his arms out and legs together mid-air

Diving NSW is worried fewer children will try diving due to a shortage of facilities.(Supplied: Gillian Brooker)

As a teenager, Christopher Lengel plucked up the courage to dive off the tallest platform at North Sydney pool.

“I managed two and got really cocky and on the third one I slapped the back of my thighs on the water because I was showing off to the girls,” he recalled.

“I tried to brave the pain but I couldn’t. I walked like I’d broken both legs back to the concrete bleachers.”

Allison Lawrence loved diving at Liverpool pool, but remembers a time when it went awry.

“After bravely leaping from the top tower at Liverpool pool in the 70s, I was dismayed to realise that the top of my two-piece had ended up under my chin rather than covering my chest, much to the delight of the local lads,” she said.

While mostly a swimmer, Ms Spruhan herself remembers watching boys jump off the diving board at the Northbridge baths.

“They used to have competitions to see who could do the biggest bomb and go as close to the concrete without hitting it,” she said.

A person in the water with a swimming cap and goggles with the ocean behind her

Therese Spruhan believes people in the past went to pools mostly to cool off rather than exercise.(Supplied: Therese Spruhan)

Ms Spruhan, who is a regular at Leichhardt pool, said the diving tower and springboard “just added so much more fun and play”.

“It was interesting to watch kids climb up that ladder and be a bit unsure and then all the other kids are going, ‘You can do it, you can do it,’ and then they leap off the board.”

Bid to save Leichhardt diving pool

Greens MP and Inner West Councillor Kobi Shetty on Tuesday moved to review the decision not to include a deepwater pool in the redevelopment at Leichhardt Aquatic Centre, but it failed.

Unless students attended private schools with diving facilities, she was concerned the move would mean many children would miss out on the chance to have a go.

“I think it’s really important that we have publicly accessible facilities,” Cr Shetty said.

Underwater rugby and polo clubs also campaigned to save the 3.8-metre-depth pool, which they used to train and play in.

While the decision on the deepwater pool appears final, Inner West Council was considering whether a moveable floor at one end of the pool could accommodate some springboard diving.

Ms Brooker said it was very disappointing to lose one of the last remaining options for public diving.

“We lack facilities in Sydney, and we’re very congested at Sydney Olympic Park,” she said.

“I’m really disappointed for the inner west as well, because that was a popular diving facility available to the public.”

While the high platform had been out of action for several years due to concrete cancer, Ms Brooker hoped a 1-metre and 3-metre springboard would be included in the new centre.

The diving platform and springboards at Sydney Olympic Park were used predominantly for training by diving clubs, rather than for casual use.

Diving NSW was also in talks with Blacktown City Council about the potential to include a diving board at a new pool planned for Riverstone.