Owns 'FoodLit'. Highly qualified, established food & lifestyle writer, former restaurateur, founder professional writing business, Articul8. Long, diverse writing history, passion for food culture, the land & inspired food language.www.foodlit.com.au
Published July 6th 2010
Many of our city's public buildings have a rich and fascinating history. The Melbourne City Baths, amidst it's first-class health, fitness and well-being facilities, is no exception.
Located at 420 Swanston Street on the corner of Franklin Street, the baths are housed in one of our most stunning, heritage-listed architectural buildings. Built in the Edwardian period in the Art Noveau style, it is indeed a grand building. See images of it here.
While swimming laps in the largest pool in the CBD, soothing away sore muscles in the spa or sauna, or working out in the super-modern gym, it's hard to imagine what it might have been like back in the 1860s when it was first built, or in 1903 when it was re-built after it was closed due to general dilapidation and 'an unwholesome scum' on the surface of the water. Lol!
The initial aim of the public baths was to stop people bathing in the Yarra River. Now, that's hard to imagine! It's almost impossible to conceive having a wash out in the elements at the local, non-private river, complete with algae and all sorts of critters, instead of stepping into the sterility and warmth of our nice, stylish bathrooms. In fact, back then bathrooms were the domain of a few wealthy people, while the masses took a weekly dip in the river or bay. Eouw!
Anyhow, the river was becoming quite polluted, and a subsequent typhoid epidemic caused many deaths. A clever councillor decided a hygienic place to bathe (and do other natural human things) was necessary and set the sanitary wheels in motion.
People flocked to the baths in droves and it is reported that 79,096 men and 2,950 women enjoyed (separate) facilities in the first year. And, yes, the discrepancy in the male to female ratio is very telling of the times. Mixed bathing was introduced in 1947, but I imagine it was still very much a male-dominated domain. Thank God that's changed.
To cut a long, historical story short, you can today enjoy the best of the health facilities of the modern world, including a great array of fitness classes, while sparing a thought for our pioneers before us.