Flashback Friday | Crowds flock to shire's first Olympic pool and 26 years later to new indoor swim and recreation centre

Children received an extra present when Sutherland Shire’s first Olympic pool opened on Christmas Eve in 1967.

The council announced the pool in Waratah Reserve, Sutherland, would be free for school children for the rest of the school holidays.

The 50-metre long, nine lane pool was “the biggest size of Olympic pool now being built in Australia,” the council said in a full-page ad in the Leader.

The filtration system would see the water “completely purified four to five times a day”.

Opening hours were 2pm to 6pm on Christmas Day and, beyond that, 6am to 10pm daily.

Residents were flocking to the new facility despite many overcast days, the Leader reported in January, 1968.

Within two weeks, there had been more than 2114 adult visits and an estimated 10,000 child visits.

On one cold day, 300 adults and about 3000 children visited the pool.

“A total of 113 men worked long hours for three weeks to enable the pool to be opened before Christmas,’ the report said.

Plans were announced for a huge swimming carnival to be held on February 3, where it was hoped Olympic hopefuls Bill Devenish and Michael Wenden would try to break world records.

The carnival would also include relay events between the four shire surf clubs and a 10-a-side medley relay between swimming clubs in St George and the shire.

The pool cost more than $300,000 and a proposed learners and diving pool were expected to add at least another $100,000 to the cost.

The council was also planning to build a similar but smaller pool at Caringbah in 1968.

Shire president Arthur Gietzelt, who performed the official opening at 12.30pm on Christmas Eve, wrote in his memoirs Sticks and Stones the council had received requests over many years for an Olympic pool.

“In 1960, a referendum about the pool had been put to shire voters, and was rejected because the community’s priority was the sealing of roads, and such pools were seen as a luxury,” he wrote .

“Council didn’t respond on the pool issue till around 1961-62, when we had representations from shire schools for a 50 metre pool, so that they could participate in the Inter-School Swimming Competitions.

“Our students had to travel to the North Sydney Olympic Pool to train.

“It was incongruous to be so deficient at that time, so when a group came to see me about an Olympic Pool, I was responsive.

“I took their request to council, which agreed to my proposal to build one when we had sufficient profits from our Land Projects Committee [council land was being sold for housing, and the proceeds put into public facilities].”

“Council then agreed in 1966 to my proposal to begin constructing a 50 metre pool at Sutherland, and a later one at Caringbah...”

Within 20 years, shire residents were looking for more, leading to the council to develop the indoor swimming and recreation centre that stands today.

Work started in 1991 on the $5.3 million project.

It was opened on Saturday, July 31, 1993, when more than 5000 people took advantage of free admission for the day.

The council said, if Sydney won the 2000 Olympic Games, teams from other countries were expected to train at Sutherland.

The centre was officially named the Eric Hirst Memorial Aquatic and Recreation Centre, with the operating name  Sutherland Leisure Centre.

The late Mr Hirst was the Shire Engineer, and the new facility was largely due to his foresight.