Melbourne’s suburbs and beyond provided more possible river and beach swim places. Swimming and outdoor recreation have always been popular in Australia, but access to swimming places is still uneven.
There are several websites devoted to finding places to swim in Australia, which give advice appropriate to Australia and its wildlife on how to stay safe and have fun swimming in the wild.
The Main Yarra Trail forms a green corridor out of the city via the suburbs to the country. We stayed in the Fairfield district, near to the Yarra Bend Park, and jogged, walked and cycled along the trail. One day we took a rowing boat out from the wonderful Fairfield Park boathouse, but the water looked rather murky, so I didn’t go in.
The best swimming holes are in the Upper Yarra, in places like Pound Bend and Laughing Waters, but unfortunately I didn’t make it to any of them. A swimming friend from London, Lorelei, was in Melbourne for the comedy festival, and we planned to meet at one of the river swimming places or lidos, but somehow never managed it.
On one glorious hot day Mike took me for a tour of the city, before stopping for a coffee at St Kilda, where I celebrated being at the seaside by having an ice cream and a lovely paddle. Locals say that it isn’t very clean but it looked wonderful to me. Penny and Anita joined us and we went further south to the much prettier Mornington beach, with its boats, beach huts and cliffs and its clean and gradually shelving sands. I had a lovely long wallow in the shallow waters, looking at the starfish, seaweed, and patterns of the sun on the sand.
Further afield, we stayed in Seymour, 65 miles north of Melbourne, after Mike and Penny’s daughter’s wedding in a refurbished shearing shed out in the country. The farmland was dry and parched at the end of summer. There was still water in the dams – man-made ponds for watering cattle – and I wondered if those could be used as swimming holes.
After a refreshing swim in the motel’s outdoor pool, we went to the day-after-the-wedding breakfast in Goulburn Park, hosted by Mike’s neighbours Tom and Libby. Tom’s family lived in Seymour for many generations and an ancestor of his gave the land to the town for a park. Tom stayed at the Royal Hotel, which two other members of the family, mother and daughter, ran for 61 years.
The Goulburn river which ran beside the park looked a tempting place for a dip, given an opportunity.
Swimming outdoors has always been very popular in Australia, with European settlers and before, and water has always been important as the Wild Swimming Australia website recognises on its homepage: “Wild Swimming Australia would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, of elders past and present, in which our business takes place. … learn more about the significance of water to indigenous Australians.”
Jennifer Hargreaves found evidence that swimming was a popular recreation among young aboriginal women living by rivers and the coast, in her 2013 book, Heroines of Sport: The Politics of Difference and Identity (Routledge, 11 Jan 2013).
Access to swimming pools was a crucial issue in the civil rights movement. I was very struck by the story of the fight to get access for aboriginal children to the pool at Moree, in the 1960s Freedom Ride, told in powerful testimonies by those involved, in documentary film and exhibits in Sydney’s Australian Museum. And, as Tom and Libby knew from the work done by their daughter in remote communities, indigenous people need pools today – and the funding to maintain them – as much as ever, for their health and their safety, as well as for recreation.
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