Walking up the steps at Manuka Pool is like stepping back in time.
For Caroline Luke-Evered, the first day she visited the art deco icon as a new Canberran 28 years ago, she knew she was home.
She had dutifully followed her army officer husband to the capital after living in the United Kingdom and was desperate for a place to swim laps. To this day she visits the pool every day during the warmer months.
"It's like heaven to me. It's like a little sanctuary," she says.
It wasn't just the beautiful geometric lines of the 1930 construction that kept her coming back to Manuka Pool. It's also the community and friendships that developed around the pool that kept her coming back.
This year marks 90 years since the pool was officially opened and it remains a jewel and anchor of the inner south community.
Rebecca Scouller, the current president of Friends of Manuka Pool, was similarly drawn to the vintage design and friendly atmosphere of the pool when she moved to Canberra.
"What I really liked about Manuka pool is the architecture of the place and the green lawns," she says.
"It's an outdoor pool so when you swim you look up at the sky, but also what really attracted me was the community. When I started swimming there people were friendly and you'd have a chat across the lane ropes."
Her love of the pool dovetails nicely with her other passion: collecting vintage clothing, especially vintage swimwear. She bought her first crocheted 1970s bikinis in her university days. These days she has hundreds of pieces in her collection, including Edwardian outfits in heavy cotton through to coveted bombshell swimsuits from the 1950s and '60s.
"I just think the shapes and the designs are fabulous. They share the history, the social history what was acceptable, what was in fashion.
"It says a lot about women's body shapes also, and what was in fashion over the time. And they're just bright and colorful and I really love them."
Scouller has brought out her swimsuit collection for a special photoshoot to celebrate Manuka Pool's 90th birthday.
The pieces are part of our living history. What we put on our bodies at different point in time tells us a lot about the modesty standards, changing textiles and aesthetics of the day.
A demure navy swimsuit from the Edwardian period - a cotton dress with sleeves to the elbow, a skirt to the knee and matching bloomers - would have been worn at the time with stockings, shoes and a bonnet. Women would have been wheeled out into the water in a beach tents to save them the embarrassment of walking along the sand to take a dip.
"I don't think that would be very fun at all for swimming. I think it would have been quite heavy," Scouller says of the navy Edwardian outfit.
"And I have read on the odd occasion, I mean people weren't natural swimmers back in the day so potentially there were some drownings from it."
In the 1920s and '30s wool was a popular choice for swimsuits. The one-pieces are a more familiar silhouette in a time when the boyish body type was in vogue.
Former lifeguard Kasey Tomkins comes out in a green Jantzen one-piece. The colour is fantastic but she questions how practical wool would be when wet, smelly and saggy.
"The green wool number is so itchy and I can't imagine what it would have been like wet," she says.
Men and women had to make a quick exit from the water to change into something more appropriate, which led to the emerging category of leisurewear or active wear.
Scouller is especially fond of the beach pyjamas of the '20s and '30s. She struts out in a colourful, striped beach cape from the 1930s, paired with a black '60s one-piece swimsuit and white sunglasses.
The first two-pieces were made during the 1930s and more so in the 1940s when fabric was rationed during World War II. However it wasn't until the '60s that it became more socially acceptable to wear a bikini, but not in every country.
"My mother in law, I found out recently, was kicked off the beach in Italy for wearing a bikini in the '60s, which I think is amazing," Scouller says.
"She was traveling with her then boyfriend, now my father in law, on a motorbike. "
Bra cups were sewn into the swimsuits of the 1950s and '60s to preserve some modesty and achieve the desired hourglass figure. During these decades nylon and elastic boosted the performance of swimwear dramatically, making them fit better and dry off more quickly.
Scouller is proud of her collection of swimming caps decorated with cut out flowers. She says it helps to set the expectations of other Manuka Pool users as to how fast she can swim a lap.
The pool's friendly atmosphere is largely due to the stewardship of the Taverner family. Owen Taverner managed the pool from 1956 to 1990, passing the baton to his son John "Tav" Taverner who managed the pool until 2012.
His daughter, Grace Taverner, naturally got involved in the family business as a lifeguard, aqua aerobics instructor, learn to swim instructor and assistant manager.
"I grew up here. I don't know anything different. I spent every single day here in the summertime. The only day that dad would ever close it would be Christmas day so that he could spend it with his family, and that day was designated for us and our family to come here and swim and have the whole pool to ourselves," she says.
"I had many birthday parties growing up here, I even had my 21st here. It's just part of the family, it's part of me. It's who I am."
Taverner and her sister Sophie thought about taking over the management of the pool but decided they couldn't put in the long hours that Tav worked the years. Her mother, Pearle, worked as a full-time nurse but she would finish her shift and go straight to the pool after work to help out.
"We worked out that he would work more than your public servant full time and he would only do a six months stint," Taverner says.
"We couldn't find anyone passionate enough to want to take it over and so we had to let it go. It was like losing a part of our limbs."
She still comes to Manuka Pool to swim with her eight-year-old son, Hugo, to show him how his mum grew up.
The pool has had a few brushes with the bulldozer over its 90-year history. By the late 1950s the pool was looking old and tired as patrons flocked to the new Olympic-sized Civic Pool.
Plans were drawn up for a new modernist-style pool, however the cost could not be justified. Instead, construction of the wading pool - complete with Sammy the unicorn - landscaping and fencing proceeded in time for the 1963-64 season.
In 2016, a proposal from Greater Western Sydney Giants and Grocon sought to take 1200 square metres of land from the pool site for the construction of units. The community pushed back on the proposal, including Tav himself, and the Friends of Manuka Pool was born.
In 2019, the heritage-listed site received a significant upgrade thanks to a $2.4 million investment from the ACT government.
Special tiles were imported from the Czech Republic and a graphic designer from the Gold Coast was brought in to create era-appropriate signage.
The scum gutters were replaced to meet modern standards and the building was repainted in salmon and Brunswick green.
The pool is one-of-a-kind in the city, including its odd length of 33 and a third yards (about 30.5 metres).
"It's unique, it's different. There's nothing else in Canberra like this," Taverner says.
Tomkins says working as a lifeguard at the pool for ten years under Tav was a highlight of her working life.
"It's art deco and it's just a nice atmosphere and I don't think there's a pool like it anywhere, to be honest, for so many reasons," she says.
"Canberra is not an old city so we need to make sure we're looking after the things that do celebrate what would be considered old for our city.
"This is one of them is. It's a treasure."
- Friends of Manuka Pool is hosting a free talk with Frances McGee on the history of the pool's Honour Roll Board on Thursday, March 18 at 6.30pm at the Press Conference Room at Manuka Oval. See eventbrite.com.au to register and RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org