ACT News

Exploring the deeper end of the city: Civic pool

In the City Issue 34: Full edition

Audible splashes and youthful laughter ring out from beyond the pool fence. Children are standing atop the diving board, peering hesitantly into the blue depths beneath them, while seasoned swimmers employ stroke after stroke as they make their way down their respective lanes.

Civic Pool was constructed in the lead up to the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games.
Civic Pool was constructed in the lead up to the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. Photo: Daniel Spellman

It's summer, and nestled in among the concrete office buildings and circular roads that dominate the CBD is a place of the most iconic origins, the Canberra Olympic Pool, fondly known as the civic pool.

Built in 1955, the pool was constructed in the lead up to the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games and was one of the first multi-pool complexes to be erected in the country.

The diving board at Civic Pool.
The diving board at Civic Pool. Photo: Daniel Spellman

By the end of the 1956 season, the pool had firmly established itself as an ACT institution with more than 55,000 adults and 46,000 children having moved through the turnstiles and into the welcoming water within.

A keen triathlete and regular swimmer at the pool, ACT Minister for Territory and Municipal Services Shane Rattenbury​ has been going to the civic pool since he was a child, and he spoke of the context surrounding the aquatic centre's construction.


"There was a real enthusiasm and excitement about swimming and diving in Australia at that time – largely as a result of the impending Melbourne Olympic Games," he says.

"There was a whole program to build pools during that era and the civic pool was officially opened on January 28, 1956."

Civic Pool will celebrate its 60th birthday this January.
Civic Pool will celebrate its 60th birthday this January. Photo: Daniel Spellman

But inspiring a generation of Olympic hopefuls was not the only way in which the pool impressed, with the centre and its architecture receiving a nod from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects in the form of a meritorious award for sporting and recreational facilities.

"In that sense, it was certainly recognised as an outstanding facility," Mr Rattenbury says.

"The pool stood out in Canberra because at that time the city obviously wasn't nearly as developed as it is now and it was just out in the middle of a paddock. So it would have been quite the feature in 1956."

For more than half a century the pool has served the Canberra community; as a place for a family outing, a training facility and a venue for water polo and swimming carnivals. It has become an icon and as it reaches its 60th birthday this January, the next generation of ACT children can begin their tentative journey across the diving board and into the water.

"I think the civic pool has been a rite of passage for so many people. Going there as a family, taking that first dive from the top tower or even learning to dive from the lower diving boards," Mr Rattenbury says.

"Certainly as a teenager in high school in the '80s, I used to go there and hang out during the lazy school holidays in summer. I'd spend the whole day at the civic pool and had a great time catching up with friends."

"I think a lot of people have those memories which is why we hold it so dear in our hearts."