Local pool dries up

Kim Churchill is the matriarch of a big Tasmanian family, and her castle is the local pool. Impromptu dips would regularly turn into family outings last summer. 

Glenorchy War Memorial Pool from above. Photo: Bastiaan Van Impe

“One of us would go down and take a photo and do a WhatsApp, everyone would see it and within an hour the whole family had gathered down there, so it turned into a picnic,” Ms Churchill said. “I have five children, 11 grandchildren, we could all go and just enjoy ourselves. Last year was the year the pool lit up again, my kids’ friends turned up and said: ‘Ah, this is magic, we forgot about the pool!’” 

The Glenorchy War Memorial Pool is like many outdoor council pools. Built in the 1960s, it bursts with memories of summer holidays, school sports carnivals, and professional competitions with a grandstand giving shade to spectators. Generations of children have experienced a sense of independence for the first time as they approach the kiosk with a handful of change to spend on ice creams, lollies and hot chips.  

But this summer the pool has been empty – drained except for the deep end, which has accumulated murky scum-filled water. A string of bunting has fallen into the dry lanes. Families are not gathering, people are not swimming and the lawns are empty.  

After 60 years of creating memories for the local community, the Glenorchy pool’s rich history may have come to an end. 

A whiteboard at the Glenorchy War Memorial Pool inked from last summer. Photo: Bastiaan Van Impe.


The writing was on the wall for the pool when, in 2020, a controversial decision led to the management changing hands. The Glenorchy City Council took the job away from community-based charity YMCA, which had looked after it for 10 years, and granted management to Victorian company Belgravia Leisure. In 2023, Belgravia reported the pools’ busiest January on record and a Dog Day Out in April raised money for Guide Dogs Tasmania before the pool closed for the season.  

Just four months after, though, things changed. The Council announced the pool would remain closed for the 2023/24 season after Belgravia had alerted Council to possible issues with the facility leaking, and a consultancy report highlighted health and safety risks. 

The problem was, they hadn’t allocated funding for the pool’s redevelopment, according to minutes from a Council meeting in July 2023. They said they had hoped the pool had a few more years left in it to provide time to plan for its future. However, Mayor Bec Thomas said the Council knew the pool had exceeded its service life by about 20 years. 

The pool was built in the 1960s, at which point it was anticipated to have a service life of about 40 years. Thanks to Council’s management, the pool served the community for 60 years, but, like all assets, reached a point where it needed to be redeveloped and replaced” she said.  

Prior to the closure, Council had applied for Federal funding to redevelop the pool. This was followed by another application after the closure.

Neither submission was successful.  

“As a council, we are well-practised in engaging with other tiers of government for funding which we rely on to deliver an array of services and infrastructure,” Cr Thomas said. 

For some, the pool is simply not an urgent priority. Deputy Mayor Sue Hickey has issued statements questioning the need for the Glenorchy pool given it is 15 minutes by car to the Doone Kennedy Hobart Aquatic Centre, despite her 2022 election pitch including a commitment to champion and modernise/improve the facility. 

For locals like Kim Churchill, it’s not good enough. Following the announcement of the continued closure, a group of locals rallied. They call themselves the Save Glenorchy Pool Action Group and Kim is one of the group’s Facebook page administrators. Having never been part of movement like this before, it’s obvious the memories created last summer hold a special place in Kim’s heart. From Kim’s point of view, Council engagement to date can only be described as a “chaos of communication”. 

Cr Thomas wants to reassure community members. 

“MI Global has now been commissioned to explore the future options for the site, including a redeveloped pool facility. The consultant is required by Council to conduct community engagement as part of its exploration before presenting options, and I am confident any person who wishes to be part of that process will have the opportunity to have their say,” she said.  

MI Global has since released dates and times for public consultation sessions. Much like the candidates in the state’s election set for  March 23, Friends of Glenorchy Pool inc. have been letter-dropping and erecting street signage.  

The group is led by president Natalie Larter. Ms Larter started using the pool for exercise and pain management when she moved to the area eight years ago. She now travels to the Doone Kennedy Hobart Aquatic Centre. When not booked out, the facility is often crowded, as Ms Larter discovered on a recent trip. 

“There were four 25-meter lanes left and 16 people swimming in those four lanes. Everyone except for me had a stopwatch. I’m not there to be fast … I just got pushed up and down the lanes,” she said.  

Glenorchy isn’t the only Australian community on the brink of losing their pool. A quick search on Facebook or Change.org returns results from groups just like Save Glenorchy Pool Action Group scattered around the nation and calling for action to save their pools. A lucky few are celebrating their victory. But according to the State of Aquatic Facility Infrastructure Report 2022 from Royal Life Saving Australia (RLSA), many more may need to fight to keep their pools afloat. They expect almost half of the nation’s public pools need serious refurbishment or replacement by 2030 due to their age. 

The report found four main impacts that could result from closures: increased drownings, worsened community health, reduced social value for communities and loss of employment. 

Drowning deaths in the early 20th century led to the construction of public pools across Australia. As more pools were built, drowning rates dropped. Schools now include water safety and swimming lessons in the curriculum. Peter Tonkin is the Swim Coaches and Teachers Australia (Tasmania) president, and says local pools are a part of our Australian DNA. 

“Learning to swim can save someone’s life” he says. 

Avoidance of drownings and improved mental and physical health outcomes credited to the aquatic industry are worth $2.5 billion each year, a joint study between RLSA and Swinburne University found. The State of Aquatic Facility Infrastructure Report found research suggests swimming can reduce occurrences of diseases which are the leading causes of death in Australia. This includes heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. They found research suggests it can also reduce occurrences of other diseases such as type two diabetes and dementia and improve mental health outcomes. For people like Natalie Larter, swimming and aquatic-based physiotherapy is an option for pain management. 

According to another study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) many pool users benefit from the social interaction. For some, it is their only opportunity for regular interaction. The PWC study found swimming provides a 44 per cent higher subjective wellbeing compared to other sports. Whilst more research is yet to be done in this area, RLSA say the benefit to social value equates to $3.8 billion each year.  

The finding that public pools result in increased community health benefits and wellbeing is supported by Mr Tonkin. 

“Swimming Australia did an examination of what the community benefits were from swimming pools. They found that for about each dollar councils spend, they got about three times as much back in community health benefits and wellbeing,” he said. 

The aquatic industry also creates employment for 67,000 people in Australia according to RLSA. These jobs are predominantly held by women who make up 73 per cent of the industry. This returns $1.4 billion to the economy each year. 

The majority of public pools at-risk of being closed can be found in council areas that fall within the bottom 30 per cent in terms of socio-economic advantage.  

Glenorchy ranks in the bottom 20 per cent, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021 census data.  

Glenorchy residents want to know why some Council members appear to have broken their election promises to be advocates for the pool.  

They want to know why the current and previous Councils have not budgeted for anticipated costs after admitting they knew the pool was being stretched beyond its anticipated service life.  

Most of all, they want to know why the council appears to not have a strategy to support families in making intergenerational, lifelong memories at community facilities.  

Natalie Later says the year before Glenorchy lost its pool it also lost Tasmania’s only ice rink.  

“I was watching the Grand Tour; they went to Finland to an old prison that had a pool and an ice rink. Prison in Finland, and I’d be doing better already” she said.  

A sign on the side of the entrance to the Glenorchy War Memorial Pool. Photo: Bastiaan Van Impe




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