The Coburg Olympic Pool is part of a long history of swimming on the banks of the Merri Creek in Coburg. The history of Coburg by Richard Broome (Between Two Creeks) describes the banks of the creek as an Aboriginal feasting site – in the 1920s a shell midden was discovered in Pentridge. After European settlement the Merri creek and later Coburg Lake which was dammed in 1917, became important swimming holes. Coburg lake had a series of pools, changing rooms, a diving board and champion swimming teams, also a water polo team. Locals continued swimming in the creek even after the Lake pools were closed due to pollution. In the late 1950s two children drowned in the creek at East Coburg and a campaign to build an Olympic Pool began. The pool was explicitly built to replace the lake and creek for swimming, and until these are clean enough to swim in again, the Olympic Pool provides an important opportunity to socialise and swim in a natural setting beside the Merri Creek.
The pool is closely linked with the history of community activism in Coburg. The push for the pool in the 50s and 60s came from the close knit community in the Newlands estate,which now has a local heritage overlay. Prominent Newlands local Frank Cox played a part in campaigning for the pool. The campaign for the pool involved a massive community fund raising effort including art shows, baby shows etc. Later waves of activism in the late 1990s kept the pool going and the pool was fixed and re-opened in 2008 after being closed for two years. The latest campaign was generated by a new wave of young families moving into Newlands and the campaign connected with a wide range of community members, including older residents. Frank Cox, now in his 90s, spoke at a Friends of the Coburg Pool event in 2008.
Coburg Olympic Pool is a site of shared memory for thousands of locals who grew up spending hot days at the pool when the local population was so big ‘you couldn’t find a spot for a towel’ on the massive grounds. Many locals learnt to swim at the pool– the students at Newlands High used to go over with a teacher at lunchtime, and students from Coburg Priamry School would walk to swimming lessons before the Coburg Leisure centre opened,.
The pool is an excellent example an increasingly rare example of a 1960s suburban Olympic pool (1965) architecture, with all 4 pools operational and featuring an unusual gravity fed system. The architecture is virtually intact and features a high modernist entranceway which is a local icon. The site has had buildings added – a multipurpose space currently used for a disability support program, and a table tennis centre, but apart from the removal of the diving towers in 2008, the site is intact; the stadium seating, the toilets and kiosk are all original and the Lions Clock is still in position (donated by the Lions Clock shortly after the pool opened so kids would not have an excuse to come home late for dinner). The grounds have established peppercorns and other leafy trees that have provided shade for over 40 years. The view over bush regenerated parkland toward Merri creek is an unusual natural feature for an urban outdoor swimming pool.