Where can a mile of pennies lead? To the Grammar pool

When looking at our 21st century suspended, intensely blue pool situated in the heart of the Gregory Terrace campus, it is hard to believe that it took so long to convince our early Trustees to agree to the construction of a swimming pool on the Spring Hill site.

The 2009 pool

The imperative of a pool was expressed as early as 1915 by Lady Principal, Annie Mackay, in her Annual Report: ‘I hope that we shall one day have a Swimming Bath of our own, for though we must encourage swimming, I cannot but deprecate the use of the public baths’.

An old girl and a teacher at the School before becoming Principal, Miss Mackay would have observed the importance of swimming to the Brisbane community after the tragedy of the Quetta sinking, the giving of swimming prizes by the Chair of Trustees, Sir Charles Lilley from 1891, successful swimming classes, and the introduction of intramural and interschool competitive swimming.

Why were the Trustees of the 1920s so reluctant to provide the girls with such a facility? How were Grammar girls learning to swim? What created the momentum for the building of the original 1960 pool? Why was the original pool demolished?

The forerunner of the 2009 pool began life in a very different manner. Interschool swimming was well and truly established when Miss Mackay expressed the desire to own a pool. Swimming was a regular expectation of the Grammar girl with both competitive swimming and learning to swim occurring at the Spring Hill Baths, which had been built in 1886.

2013 Spring Hill Baths

The desire for a pool by the Lady Principal appears to have been motivated by a range of issues. The prevalence of disease was uppermost in the minds of the Brisbane public with dengue fever and the Spanish flu epidemic preventing public swimming across the early 1900s and the option of the School having its own pool would protect the girls from public bathing. This, coupled with the fact that ‘other Secondary Schools have managed to acquire their own Baths, and quite a number of Primary Schools can boast of them too…’ (1924 Annual Report), would have motivated and frustrated the principals of the time.

Some hope appeared in 1924 when Acting Headmistress, Kathleen Lyons, stated in her Annual Report that ‘hope springs anew in our hearts that we too, if we exert ourselves sufficiently, may be able to raise the necessary money to build ourselves a Swimming Pool. That hope has been strengthened by the very generous offer by Mrs E Munro to give us the first £10 towards the Fund.’

However, the expense of building a pool on campus appears to have deterred the Trustees when they must have surmised that a perfectly adequate pool, within walking distance, would suffice! In the Minutes dated 26 March 1926, a bleak note was made:

Swimming Pool. We do not favour the establishment of our own Swimming Bath.

Not to be deterred, the OGA President, Helen Maud Campbell (1905) in 1928, petitioned the Trustees with regard to building a pool. Their response:

Letter from the President, Old Girls’ Association re Swimming Pool. Head Mistress to inform the Association that the Trustees, while grateful for the kindly thought of this benefaction are not at present disposed to sanction the proposal (Trustees Minutes, 31 August 1928).

Across the years, Grammar Physical Educators, such as the highly esteemed Mrs Meg Rorke, attempted to convince Trustees of the importance of a pool. Mrs Rorke recalled in April 2010 that when she pressed the issue with Trustee, the Hon. Mr Justice RFB Philp, he stated, ‘how can you have a pool when we don’t have a library?’

Grammar girls continued their swimming tuition at Spring Hill Baths or training at the Valley Pool, until in 1954, when Brisbane Grammar School opened its WWII Memorial pool. They most generously allowed swimming classes, Interform swimming, and boarders’ recreational weekend swimming from its opening until 1959. (Interform swimming moved to the Valley Pool in 1958).

1957 IVB Swimming class at BGS

Finally, however, the need for our own pool became apparent as explained by then Principal, Mrs Louise McDonald.

Extract from 1958 Annual Report by Mrs Louise McDonald

1960 Pool (Marty collection)

And so, after more than 45 years of agitation, card parties, a Mile of Pennies (netting £293 with other miscellaneous items), the launching of a swimming pool appeal, and School Day stalls, the first Grammar pool was built below the old gymnasium on the terrace above the running track for a total cost of £16 600: £6640 Government subsidy; and £9960 raised by the School. The OGA, instrumental in the support and concept, donated £1450 and were ably supported by a most generous Parents and Friends Association with a donation of more than £2000.

1967 School Pool (Barbara Harris collection)

This 25-metre, six-lane pool provided the classroom for Physical Education, a training venue for swimming, lifesaving, and water polo, and a venue for scuba diving and other aquatic pursuits for the next 45 years until it fell within the footprint of the Cherrell Hirst Creative Learning Centre.

1993 pool Year 12 Interschool swimmers

The building of the Cherrell Hirst Creative Learning Centre commenced in 2005 and was completed in 2007, with its footprint covering the auditorium (old gymnasium) and the 1960 pool, forcing their demolition. In September 2007, the Board resolved, in principle, to approve the construction of a 25 m x 14 m pool or, subject to further investigation, a 25 m x 16 m pool adjacent to McCrae Grassie Centre on the grassed area known as the running track.

2005 demolition of the 1960 pool

2005 demolition of tuckshop and pool changing facilities

What resulted was a Bovis Lend Lease 16 m suspended construction designed by M3 Architecture. The Health and Physical Education Faculty suffered a long and challenging four years without an on-site pool, during which time Grammar girls went ‘back to the future’—either walking to Spring Hill Baths or bussing to the Centenary Pool for their swimming and lifesaving classes.

2008-2009 pool construction

The challenge of fundraising was as vital an issue for this pool as it was for the 1960 pool. However, a more sophisticated appeal was mounted. The elegantly named Desiderata Pool Appeal reached its goal, with 210 donors contributing a total of $1 068 140. Once again, the Parents and Friends Association gave most generously, as did the Mothers Group.

At the time, the School received a bequest from the late Frederick John Noblet and his sister, Judith Dalton Noblet (1944), a strong academic student and certificate of merit winner. It appears that the School made the decision to allocate this bequest to the pool project as it seemed both timely and appropriate. Acknowledgement of this most generous bequest by John and Judith Noblet can be seen on the wall at the pool.

2010 plaque on the pool wall acknowledging John and Judith Noblet's contribution

The official opening of the pool was in 2010, although the Health and Physical Education Faculty had use of the venue in Term 4 of the previous year. The $6.85 million suspended pool boasted heating, a retractable shade in the shallow end, spacious changing rooms and amenities, and storage rooms. The design also allowed for a wide concourse, which facilitated useful teaching space at the ends and sides of the pool, particularly during lifesaving lessons, and also enabled the teaching of multiple classes. The facility was an improvement on the first pool as it was wider, accommodating up to four classes simultaneously, changing rooms and facilities, and a larger deep end allowed for more efficient water polo training.

With compulsory Health and Physical Education classes for Years 8 to 11 at the time, lifesaving, an integral aspect of all Grammar girls’ lives, QGSSSA swimming, and Water Polo being the School’s largest competitive sport, the new pool was a welcome addition to the Spring Hill site for both the Sports and the HPE Faculties.

2010 pool opening, Water Polo

Dominique Pass 'resuscitates' her casualty for 2010 pool opening powerpoint

Casting our minds back to 1946, Beryl Freeman, captain of the swimming team wrote ‘our swimming season this year was a marvellous success, since not only did we win the Brockway Cup but also retained the McWhirter Cup for Life-saving, and came first in the Interschools carnival. This was due to the continual practice the team had in our new swimming pool, in which they, and many more of the School, were trained for their Bronzes and Queensland Crosses. This made the practice for the McWhirter Cup relatively simple; and with the improvement acquired in our daily class swims, we were able to carry off the Interschool swimming cups with ease. But then I woke up and found I had been dreaming. Alas! Dreams are only the revelations of our suppressed desires …’ (BGGS 1946 December magazine, p29).

Nestled in the heart of the School, the new pool is the jewel in the crown. For some it may represent torturous training sessions, frightening lifesaving scenarios, or just cold, wet lessons in the rain but, for some, it is a dream come true!

2012 School pool

Ms Pauline Harvey-Short
Manager, School History and Culture



BGGS Annual Reports 1893 – 1960.

BGGS Magazines 1920 – 1960.

BGGS Trustees Minutes 1926 – 1959.

Desiderata Pool Appeal Document – The Vision, The Project. No date listed.

Pool Project Newsletter April 2008.

Pool Project Newsletter May 2009.

Rorke, Meg Interview 28th April, 2010.

2012 Swimming class