Boomer www.advertiser.com.au 18.09.2017 FUN FOR OUR WEIR-Y DIVERS
Chris Milne dives into the murky history of the River Torrens and remembers a time when Adelaide’s youth swam, raced and played in the water without a care in the world PAGE 27
THE signs are everywhere these days — a red slash across a diving figure that says it all: “Polluted water. Keep out”.
Swimming in the River Torrens hasn’t been allowed for about 50 years because of high levels of pollution.
But who else can remember the days when the now-grubby river was — more or less — a pristine waterway?
When lively competitions took place at the Gilberton swimming pool? When there was an annual swimming race that covered the distance from the Torrens Weir to the University of Adelaide footbridge?
Or who can remember when spritely youngsters dived off from the front of the Weir into the deep water below without a care in the world?
Or they swung from the bank on a rope hanging from an old gum tree, with no fear of what lurked beneath —the hidden snags or filthy debris?
Who can remember when the river was actually a playground for the youth, while their elders fished nearby and caught yabbies for delicious cooking in their backyard pots?
Nowadays, the poor old Torrens is the victim of Adelaide’s expanding suburbia. It is the victim of the degradation of its tributaries that today capture the dirty chemicalladen run-off from roads and shopping centre carparks.
The victim of the rubbish that flushes down the seven creeks that flow into it from the foothills. The victim of the dangerous organic material that harbours bacteria such as E. coli and breeds blue-green algal blooms.
And we can’t not mention all the assorted rubbish that is dumped into the river, including old car tyres, bicycle frames and household junk. During the 2014 drought, a West Torrens councillor found an abandoned fridge lying in the mud.
The “early settlers” found a river that provided water in winter and became a series of waterholes in summer. Soon it became horribly polluted, breeding diseases that caused death and led to a ban on bathing.
But when the first weir, built in 1881, formed the Torrens Lake and held back the river upstream, swimmers returned to the water.
Several swimming clubs were started, the most enduring being Gilberton Amateur Swimming Club, which hosted races in its large swimming hole and fostered free swimming lessons for local children. The club thrived until the late 1960s, when the State Government banned swimming in the Torrens because of the rising pollution levels and the consequent threat to health.
The “Gilby” pool was forcedd to close in 1970 — though it continued to own land on the riverbank, which was subsequently sold to the Government and the funds used for swimming lessons for schools in the district.
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Who can remember when the river was actually a playground for the youth, while their elders fished nearby WATER FUN: Youngsters beat the heat with a visit to the Torrens Weir in 1962 and, right, a Gilberton Swimming Club gathering (year unknown).