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

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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.

Con­tin­ued Page 299

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).

Pic­tures: AD­VER­TISER LI­BRARY

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