As all rural families know, there’s one place their nearest town can’t do without. It’s not the local pub or post office, it’s the swimming pool – and they’re even more important during times of drought.
In the northern NSW town of Bourke, Mark Hollman manages the Bourke Memorial Swimming Pool he used to frequent as a kid.
“The pools in little country towns like Bourke are the community hub,” Mark said.
“One of the things that can be overlooked during drought is the need for green areas. Our local Council designated the pool as a green area; it gives people a real lift seeing a bit of green grass.
“It’s been proven that without green areas, our mental health and wellbeing deteriorate, that’s why it’s important we sustain them during drought times. If you drove around towns out west like Bourke in December or January, you’d find that none of the backyards or parks had any green grass, but the local swimming pools did – that’s why they’re more than just a pool.”
Mark knows just how much his community values the pool, which dates back to the early 1960s, constructed under an Australian Government scheme to build community infrastructure in the regions.
“Going through this huge drought, a lot of families on stations up to 300km from Bourke make regular trips into town for the weekend so the kids can swim in a clean pool and play on green grass that doesn’t have burrs,” he said.
“It’s hugely beneficial for our community, not just in normal times but more so in drought. It’s more than just a swimming pool; it’s a key part of who we are.”
Mark explained he uses treated bore water to fill the pool and irrigate the surrounding lawn areas.
“It’s an Olympic-size swimming pool with wading and splash pools for babies and toddlers, a full setup that caters for everyone.
“We’re probably the cheapest pool in NSW as we only charge $2 for entry. We live on the Darling River and when it’s flowing it can be dangerous. Our local Council decided we’d therefore try and not have kids swim in the river, so access to the pool is affordable for everyone.”
It’s the same situation in Bingara, a similar-sized town located 500km to Bourke’s west. Gwydir Shire Council Social Services Manager Suzy Webber said the Bingara Swimming Pool complex proved invaluable for the community during the recent summer.
“It can get up to 50 degrees celsius here so it’s been essential for families to be able to come and use the pool,” she said.
“It gets families off the farm and away from the drought for a while. We’ve had some farmers say they wouldn’t have gotten through the summer if it wasn’t for the pool.”
Suzy said Gwydir Shire Council’s decision to waiver entry fees on hotter days had several unexpected benefits.
“Some people were unable to use the pool because they were financially strapped so Council made the decision that entry would be free on the really hot days,” she said.
“It was huge, everybody said ‘thank God for that’ and came along – not just mum and the kids, but dad came off the farm for a while as well, which is exactly what families need sometimes.
“We started having events at the pool including barbecues, it worked really nicely. Families then wanted swimming lessons for the kids and the swimming club ended up employing three extra swimming coaches.”
The Bourke and Bingara swimming pools are currently closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic.