“We were thrown in from the timber catwalk at Balmoral Baths and told to kick,” Dad jokes as he methodically flips through a family photo album. Born in October, 1950, and growing up in the sea breeze on Waitavu Street, many of Dad’s earliest memories include Balmoral Baths. His parents, Victoria and George, both first generation immigrants from England and France, wanted Andrew to grow up immersed in the beach culture. “Mum and Dad wanted us to learn to swim at a young age,” Dad explains. “I think I was five when I first started swimming at ‘Sepp Prosser’s Swimming School’ at Balmoral Baths.” Dad assures me that Sepp Prosser was an Olympian and that other Olympians would help teach and coach young swimmers at the baths during the 1950s. “Though, your grandmother would complain about our swim instructors,” Dad recounts. “Mémé complained that the instructors were too busy strutting up and down the catwalk, striking a pose for the young ladies!” Living on Waitavu Street and going to Balmoral Infants’ and Mosman Public School meant that Dad and his mates would swim every day. “Balmoral was for the Baby Boomers, there were loads and loads of kids,” Dad explains, rather proudly. His mother would take him to learn to swim during the week at the baths, and then they’d go to the beach every weekend so that Dad could swim with his mates.
Dad’s first race at the Baths was something of a disaster. “They blew the whistle, I kicked out, but then I stopped when I noticed that no one else was swimming with me. I couldn’t work out why the others weren’t swimming with me! Everyone shouted at me from the catwalk, but I just didn’t understand how it worked. I don’t remember where I finished, but I wasn’t first.”
When my father’s twin brothers were born in 1955, Dad, who was five at the time, grew closer to his father. “Dad didn’t come down to the beach with us on weekends. However, when Michael and Stephen were born, he would take me down to the beach every morning before school so that your grandmother could spend time with the twins.” “Dad didn’t know how to swim until your grandmother taught him, and even then he only swam breaststroke,” He tells me before I notice his eyes focus on a picture of his father in the photo album. “He grew up in Liverpool and spent a lot of time around the docks, but he didn’t swim until he moved to Sydney after the war. It was special to have him take me to the baths and watch me swim. He told me I have a nice stroke.”
It’s at this point that I begin to think about all the mornings growing up when Dad would take me to the pool to swim. We’d love to hear from you about how you learnt to swim at Balmoral Baths or in the local area. Please feel free to comment on this page below, or get in touch with Dr Tanya Evans and I so that we can interview members of the local community for a public history project concentrating on the Balmoral Baths and the Spit Swimming Club.