5 March 2021

Share your memories and help Manuka Pool celebrate its 90th birthday

| Michael Weaver
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Manuka Pool

Manuka Pool on its 90th birthday on 26 January this year, with a photo taken in 1943 or 1944. Photo: Virginia Rigney.

The walls of Manuka Pool can’t talk, but they do tell the story of Canberra, and none more so than a photo of nine members of the Canberra Amateur Swimming Club who swam at Manuka Pool before heading off to serve in World War II.

The photo from the Australian War Memorial archives is part of an honour board at Manuka Pool. The men, aged 18 to 25, were fierce competitors at the pool’s weekly swimming meets, which often attracted more than 500 spectators and were broadcast by Radio 2CC.

None of the men – Frank Browning, Mick Clemens, Bill Dullard, Wally Hall, Ian Ingram, Lindsay Knowles, Eric Peterson, Ian Ray and Harold Thorpe – returned from war, but are an endearing part of Manuka Pool’s history which is being compiled by the Friends of the Manuka Pool for its 90th anniversary.

The photo of the nine members of the Canberra Amateur Swimming Club leaving for WWII.

Nine members of the Canberra Amateur Swimming Club leaving for WWII. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

Another story, captured for posterity in a book appropriately called That’s Where I Met My Wife, tells of a man with dementia on a bus trip. He hadn’t spoken in ages, but while passing Manuka Pool, he suddenly exclaimed, “that’s where I met my wife!”

Friends of Manuka Pool president Rebecca Scouller said the book became part of the inspiration for compiling the history of the Manuka Pool, which was built in 1930 and was officially opened on 26 January 1931.

The pool’s rich history will be recounted during two events at Manuka Oval on 11 and 18 March.

Architect David Hobbes will talk about building the art deco treasures of the pool and a conservation management plan to retain its heritage architecture on 11 March. John ‘Tav’ Taverner, whose family name is synonymous with the pool and managed it for decades, will also recount tales of the pool’s good old days.

On 18 March, Canberra historian Frances McGee will talk about the nine men from the Canberra Amateur Swimming Club who lost their lives during World War II.

Merv and Beth Knowles at the front of Manuka Pool.

Merv and Beth Knowles sawm at Manuka Pool for decades. Photo: Supplied.

Ms Scouller said she promised one of Manuka Pool’s most well-known identities, Merv Knowles, she would host a garden party to mark the pool’s 90th anniversary. Merv was there when the pool opened but died on 14 July 2020, aged 98. His wife Beth died five days later, aged 93. They were married for 74 years.

READ MORE Vale Merv and Beth Knowles: Canberra farewells a beloved and loving couple

Ms Scouller is also seeking old photos people may have from their time at Manuka Pool and is encouraging people to get in touch.

“In Canberra’s early days, there weren’t many places to meet, so the pool was where you went and socialised,” she said.

“Boy Charlton swam at the pool as he was a pharmacist at Manuka. He went on to coach the water polo team.

“There’s so much fascinating history, so it will be great to hear that recounted during these talks.”

Three children at Manuka Pool in 1991.

Mark Rogers, Stephanie Bird and Laura Bird at Manuka Pool’s toddler pool in 1991. Photo: Supplied.

She said the heritage of the pool is more than just a part of Canberra’s history.

“As people start to value heritage in different ways, the social heritage and connection to the community are also being recognised.

“Manuka Pool is not just about inner south Canberra. People travelled from across Canberra and from interstate to visit the pool, so I think that social history and the stories are what make it special, as much as the art deco architecture is fabulous too.”

People who want to attend either of the two free events at Manuka Oval should register via Eventbrite links for David Hobbs on 11 March or Frances McGee on 18 March.

Friends of Manuka is also searching for the pool’s Champions’ Honour Board, which hung in the pool’s entrance foyer for over 10 years until it was moved to the Canberra Olympic Pool in 1956 in Civic. Unfortunately, it has disappeared in the years since.

If you have old photos or historical items from Manuka Pool, email the Friends of Manuka Pool.

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