Community dives into the deep end to save pool

Ken Hamilton at the pool. Photo: Pat ScalaFor five summers, Ken Hamilton’s four children had unrivalled access to their local public pool. Every year, the Hamiltons bought a family pool pass and access to the pool was absurdly easy – the back fence of their Bendigo property doubled as the pool fence.

One parent would go with the children to supervise, while having the second parent on the other side of the fence at home proved helpful.

”They’d give us a phone call and we’d pass the odd towel or something to eat over the fence to them,” Mr Hamilton said, reflecting on the days when the family lived next to Bendigo’s Golden Square pool.

But despite the warm sunshine and blue skies, today is not one of those swimming days. The gate is locked, the grass unmown and the water green. The Golden Square pool is closed. In fact, it was closed for the entire 2012-13 summer after Bendigo Council decided to permanently close the venue.

Unsurprisingly, the decision to close the pool – agreed to by all nine councillors – caused an uproar in the city. Elsewhere, many communities have fought long and hard against a decision to decommission an ageing outdoor swimming pool. But few have done what Golden Square has. For the locals have persuaded the council to hand over the pool to them. In return, the Golden Square Save Our Pool Group has pledged to operate the pool from December this year, and to fund any necessary (and in all likelihood expensive) repairs.

Now, Mr Hamilton – who no longer lives next to the pool – is not just the father of four swimmers. He is the inaugural president of Golden Square Pool Inc, as well as the owner of a small business and a hobby farm. He is indeed a busy man.

”We’re over the moon,” he said. ”Council voted twice to keep it closed. And third time lucky we actually got a unanimous vote to keep it open. We know we’ve got a huge amount of work to do … but with so many people behind us we’re really confident we can get it up and running in time … We’ve got 60-70 registered volunteers.”

Committee member Courtney Owen is one of those volunteers. ”I learnt to swim here, as did all my friends, my brother, my dad learnt to swim here when he was a little kid – but that’s before it was a concreted pool, it was basically like a dam. So it’s been a big family thing,” she said.

Bendigo Council chief executive Craig Niemann said he admired the group’s passion.

The council, he said, was willing to contribute $25,000 to $30,000 towards the pool’s annual operating costs, provided the group met some key conditions. Money must be raised, repairs completed, trained lifeguards must be used and pool staff must have ”working with children” checks, he said.

He said the cost of required ”physical works” alone, was about $300,000. Mr Hamilton, however, hopes it is less than $100,000.

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