The little pool that made a big splash

Children in the pool at 14 Marmion Street North Perth, c 1950s. Photos courtesy of Gail Dorter.

FROM playing street cricket to camping on the coast, the City of Vincent Local History Centre will be featuring local memories of summers past in its suburbs throughout January. This week’s story takes us to a time when backyard swimming pools were as rare as hen’s teeth.  

TODAY, there are about 1200 backyard pools in Vincent.

During the 1940s and 1950s, the outdoor dunny and chicken coop were far more common in suburban backyards.     

Local resident Gail Dorter, who grew up on Marmion Street in North Perth in the 1940s and 1950s, recalls the novelty and popularity of her family’s backyard pool.  

The concrete pool was built by her grandparents at the rear of the family property at 14 Marmion Street North Perth in the 1930s.  

“Part of our backyard was cemented and fenced off from the main area, which wonder of wonders, contained a swimming pool,” recalled Ms Dorter.

“The first privately owned swimming pool in the state by a lot of years. It was built in late 1930 by my grandmother, who as family legend has it, went and saw a movie with a swimming pool around which the stars were lounging and decided to have one.

“The pool was 24 foot by 12 foot, built on a sloping ground so the deep end, which was about 7 foot, and was raised a foot or so out of the ground.  

“There was a sump at the deep end and a four inch pipe curved over the cement side and across the pool a few inches.  

“This delivered the freezing cold water with which the pool was filled. The energy for both actions was supplied by a pump in a shed behind the pool. And what a pump – we called it ‘Greedyguts’.

“(In those days), there was very little vehicular traffic around, so the entire suburb was very quiet – until we started Greedyguts that is. 

“It could be heard several streets away, and soon a string of hopeful kids in bathers and toting towels would appear at the front door asking for a swim.  

“While there was no lack of volunteers to swim in the pool, it was a different story when the time came to clean it. 

“Without chlorination or filtration, the water quickly became dirty, then green, and finally would form a sort of horrible scum on the surface.  

“Initially we would simply part the scum or do bommies to splash it out, but when it got so bad that you had to hose yourself down after a swim, then we knew it was time to empty and refill the pool. 

“On would go Greedyguts and the sprinklers would flow… We were the most popular children in North Perth when the pool was full, but we were to be avoided at all costs if it was not.

“When I look at the crystal clear water in my pool today, I can’t help but wonder why we never contracted any of the dreadful diseases the authorities warn us about, for not only did we swim in it, but for many years we kept a long necked swamp tortoise in it and a duck called Lucy regularly did what ducks do in it. I am sure we were made of tougher stuff back then.”

You can read more of Gail’s childhood Memories of Marmion Street 1945-1965 at the Local History Centre or online at https://librarycatalogue.vincent. wa.gov.au/client/en_GB/search/asset/2401/0

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