Going to the pool

In a West Australian summer going to the pool was part of life for us kids. For Mum it worked fine – we were out of the house and not under her feet. For us it was great. We’d leave in the morning before it got too hot and we’d come back in the afternoon when it had started to cool down. It was a great walk from our place to the pool. It was only about a mile or a bit more to walk. I was about 7 or 8 years old when I was allowed to walk there by myself, or with my elder sister and later on my younger brother. It was much safer to do that in those years. I wonder if it was the stronger influence of Christian values and mores that made it so back then. Not that everyone was a Christian – far from it – but that everyone knew the basics and more or less lived that way. Our society is now biblically illiterate and no longer knows the right way and you can see it in the way it is no longer safe to let seven or eight year olds walk for miles along streets. Mind you, society in those days had it’s faults too …

Turning left out of our place we walked up Third Avenue, up the little hill. On the right was the farm that grew the ‘elephant grass’ that caused my younger brother J some bother – but that’s another story! Further up there was a cross roads and on one corner on the left there was a fine house with a big black dog, which shall come up in another story, and on the right on the opposite corner was a sand quarry, or sandpit, as we called it. The cross road is now called Cammillo Road; then, if I remember correctly, it was called First Road. Over Cammillo Road from the sandpit is where Kelmscott Senior High School is now. Interestingly in the 1970s I did a teaching prac at this school while I was doing my teacher training.

Often we walked with bare feet. In fact, except to go to school and to church, I hardly ever wore shoes. The main reason initially was that we had little money to buy shoes. The wages of a brickworks labourer was far too little to spend much on such things, so the shoes we had were reserved for church and school. They were hand me downs. And just because I was the eldest son didn’t mean I didn’t end up with hand me downs. Whole networks of sharing were established in both church and school with friends sharing hand me downs and some things going through two or three families before they were finally worn out. Not much was thrown out that wasn’t thoroughly worn out! A similar system operated when I was a theological college in the 90s, but then we were the parents instead of being the kids.

Once you got used to it life without shoes was great. You learned the type of country you were in through the soles of your feet. You had to be careful, though. Black bitumen roads in the summer sun were hot. We would often walk further than we needed because there was a shady tree ahead where we could cross the road in the shade where the road was cooler. And then we would walk on every patch of grass we could find. But black bitumen roads in the summer sun had their attractions too. Sometimes there were places where there was no ‘blue metal’, as the crushed granite that formed the road surface was called. That patch of tar would soften and bubble in the sun. What fun for a small boy to get a stick and pop the bubble, and play with the semi molten tar. Mum was not impressed when – not if! – I got the tar on my clothes.

Walking up Third Avenue we came to Railway Avenue. The first couple of times we turned left there and walked to Denny Avenue and crossed the railway line there, and then walked down Albany Highway, which we crossed near the Fancote Street turnoff. We would then keep walking along Albany Highway until we got to Church Street and turned left there. For some reason we always walked up the left side of the street. I don’t remember ever walking up the right side of the street. Near the end of Church Street, on the left, I remember a church building (rather appropriately in Church Street!), or possibly a school building. We then turned right into River Road and then left into Orlando Street, though I didn’t know it’s name then. On the right of Orlando street was an oval. We’d take a short cut across there to the pool which was between the oval and the Canning River. Again I didn’t then know the name of the river.

After the first couple of times we learned of a shortcut. We would turn right into Railway Avenue and then cross the railway line opposite Davis Road, which was little more than a track then and didn’t have a name that I knew. This came out opposite Fancote Street. Incidentally when I later attended Kelmscott Primary School I met a boy named Julian Fancote. He said that Fancote Street was named after his grandfather. So instead of walking up Albany Highway to Church Street we would walk up Fancote Street. After winding around a bit it also ended up on River Road just before Kelmscott Primary School.

At the entrance to the pool there was a place to pay your entry fee and then a turnstile you went through to get into the pool. The entry fee for kids was sixpence. Once into the pool immediately on the left was a shop where you could get all sorts of stuff including ice-creams and the usual assortment of lollies. To the right there were change rooms. Straight ahead were the pools. Around the pools on the left and the far end was seating, arranged like grandstand seating. On the right was a lawn area. The first pool you came to was the little kid’s pool, not much more than ankle deep. This is where parents with babies and toddlers went. To the right of that there was the kids pool, maybe two foot deep. That was where the four to six or seven year olds went. For us it was the place to go for a rest from the big pool. Further up was the big pool. It seemed huge at the time, but I think it was a half Olympic sized pool. At the shallow end, the end nearest the kids’ pools, it was three foot six inches deep. At the deep end it was six foot deep, except near the diving boards where it was ten foot deep.

At the deep end of the pool there were two diving boards. The low board, which was about three feet high, was a favourite for every one. Dives, bombs, sometimes belly flops, running jumps … ah it was fun! Hours of it. The high board was about ten foot high. That was for the brave only. Most of the kids wouldn’t go up there initially, though eventually everybody did. To me such things were a challenge, and still are now. So it didn’t take long for me to have a go. It took me a while to do it though, and I reckon that if it was still there you could find my fingerprints on the ladder rungs!

I used to like jumping in at the deep end doing a ‘pin drop’, jumping in feet first with my body vertical. I would then go straight to the bottom, touch the bottom with my feet and push up and come up to the surface. I’d swim to the ladder, climb out and do it all again. And again … Once I misjudged and got too close to the wall and smashed my nose on the wall as I went down. When I came up there was blood pouring everywhere. It wasn’t long before someone from the pool came to help and took me to a room near the shop where they took care of me until the nosebleed stopped. They gave me an icy pole to help calm things down, which was quite a treat for me! That’s one way to get an icy pole.

Sometimes Mum would give us an extra sixpence with which we could buy something from the shop. I used to like the ice creams on a stick called ‘Red Indians’, which were an ice cream covered with a red frozen cordial confection. So that is what I usually had. Sometimes I had Choc Wedge, though, which was similar except the coating was chocolate.

We knew that we had to be home before dark, so later in the afternoon we grabbed our towels and began walking home. Sometimes if we were a bit early we would go and muck around at the river for a bit, but usually we were pretty tired and we just walked till we got home. I reckon that we’d be pretty quiet when we got home. It was a long day for seven or eight year olds to be out.

We would do this walk to the pool at least once a week during the summer. Our parents never drove us to the pool. They didn’t have a car, and my mum never got her driver’s licence anyway. If we wanted to swim, well, we walked. Or we didn’t swim. For us that was an easy decision. Whenever mum had enough money to get us into the pool we walked to the pool. Even later, when we lived in Harvey and it was a two and a half mile bike ride to the pool and dad had a car we still had to ride our bikes if we wanted a swim. We became pretty independent kids as a result.

© Copyright Willem Schultink