One last splash at Hawthorn

Hawthorn Pool

My last swim was swum in the Hawthorn pool last Sunday afternoon. The pond has been my local swimming hole for more than a decade but has closed its doors for a $27 million facelift. The place holds a lot of memories so we went down for one last splash.

I took a moment to look around before heading in. Mundane is a word that comes to mind when describing the reception so it is amazing to consider how much time I have spent in that room patiently waiting for the boss. Over the years it has become like a second home, a place to pass time while Amy does whatever it is that takes half an hour longer than is reasonable for the post swim shower and change. It hadn’t been a bad place to pass time: comfortable couch, the major dailies, a flatscreen and a view of the Michael Tuck stand. All that had been removed though, all that remained was a feeling of imminent change and neglect.

It was one adult swim for me. In bored tones the girl on the desk made it clear we only had a couple of minutes before close. In actual fact we had 45 but she was obviously in a hurry. Don’t blame her; nobody wants to linger in building just one forceful fart way from collapse.

I ducked into the change rooms for the standard transition and thirty-seconds later was back poolside in my budgie smugglers and rampant back hair.

I always take my time getting wet, irrespective of the situation you have to work yourself up to a dive into an outdoor pool. I stood and surveyed the scene. The final dig had fallen on one of those 40-degree summer stinkers, coming off the back of a four-day heat wave. Melbourne’s outdoor pools provide tiny oases tucked in amongst the sea of suburbia. Hawthorn is no different and the punters had turned out for some late-afternoon relief from the heat. The pool looked a picture. Fifty metres, eight lanes, deep at one end shallow at the other. A spin room infested with the stink a thousand hours of exercise bike toil, squash and basketball courts, sauna, change rooms and the most over crowded sweat box gym in Melbourne huddle around three sides while shade cloth sails provide relief to a thin strip of grass on the car park side.

People lounged, frolicked, baked, read and paddled under the eye of the disinterested lifeguards in their bum bags and surf lifesaver attire. I noticed a few familiar faces, nostalgists like me turning out for one last splash around.

As I have done countless times before I stepped up and dived in. Having had countless speedo welding, screen lathered heat evaders pass though in the previous couple of days the water was never going to be at its finest. I broke through the tepid surface down into the milky bath water of a hundred strangers.

I found rhythm in my stroke but quickly felt this swim was different to the others. After a few laps I felt the need to pause and reflect.

I thought back on some of the time I had spent in that water. I thought back to the mid-winter Saturday swims when the biting cold meant you had the entire pool to yourself. I would crouch in the shallow end share at steel blue skies and enjoy the relative warmth of the water. Wind, drizzle and blue feet would soon follow but finding a moment of peaceful isolation not a hundred metres off an inner-suburban shopping strip is an amazing thing. I had trained for three tilts at the Underwater Hockey World Championships in this pool, done so many laps my brain almost imploded from boredom. I had watched Big Ted Baillieu smashing out pushups in his smugglers on the side of the pool after an early morning swim. In the winter of 1998 I had competed with other gas hot water service owning punters for a warm shower after the Esso Longford explosion left my sharehouse with three weeks of freezing showers.

The place was showing its age. The writing had been on the wall for a while. A broken boiler this winter meant weeks of blue shiver swims. The mould on the bottom had become so deeply engrained you can write your name. It was definitely time for a refurb.

After a few more lazy laps it was time. Stumps were announced over the loud speaker and people began to leave in dips and drabs. I got changed then paused for a last look before wandering out. They locked the doors behind me. They will stay closed for the better part of two years but I look forward to taking a paddle in a brand new pool in the summer of 2013/14.

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