It was the summer of The Rubettes hit ‘Sugar Baby Love’ when I dragged my nine-year-old arse out of the deep end of the Prince Alfred Municipal Public Pool.
Having spent hours in the water creating mayhem with other like-minded idiots, I stood by the edge of the blue water and listened as the song’s final exultant crescendo crackled and distorted through the Tannoy speakers that hung above the turnstiles of the pool’s main entrance.
I knew there and then that this magnificent piece of pop puffery would never sound better than it did right at that moment.
Decked out in my stylish black sluggos I strode dripping like a pre-pubescent version of the Solo Man straight from the pool to the kiosk.
At the edge of the southern concourse were multiple Greek families. In the 33 degree heat the obligatory Nannas wearing black from head to toe were handing out cold pastitsio to half-naked grandkids.
It was the mid 70s and it was the waning days of the old inner-city summers. ‘Greeks’ Creek’, as it was known to most of the kids at Redfern Public School, was in full flight.
Returning with a vanilla Paddle Pop, I plonked myself down on my orange and black ‘goofy foot’ beach towel that had yet to see a beach. The thick terry towelling worked well as a buffer against the heat of the concrete pavers that made up the pool’s forecourt.
My companion this day was one Lester Biggs – big by name, big by everything else.
Two weeks earlier, Lester had kicked the shit out of me in the sand pit of the Coronation Activity Centre which was also in Prince Alfred Park. ‘Coro’, as it was known locally, was an obligatory stop off point on the way to the pool.
Lester was nine going on 17 and he was from a particularly mean family that lived in Louis Street Redfern, back when Louis Street still had houses.
I would eventually take my revenge out on Lester not more than a few hours after my initial belting. It was in the shallow end of the pool that I blindsided him with a chunk of black tar that I had extricated from between the aforementioned pavers.
The tar would soften in the heat and kids would pull it out, roll it into black tar balls and then throw it into the deep end and dive for it. On this occasion I threw my tar ball directly into the part of the pool where Lester’s massive head was taking up too much space. Bullseye! He didn’t feel a thing. As is often the case in these matters we became firm friends for the rest of the summer.
This was also the summer that I found out where babies came from. Where they really came from.
Robert O’Halloran, a little smartarse dressed incongruously in a fake leather jacket and black desert boots revealed the stunning details to myself and half a dozen other boys whilst we devoured Choc Wedges next to the air hockey table in the pool’s arcade area.
A self-styled ‘Mr Know It All’, O’Halloran, never the less, could not enlighten the rest of us on how the baby got to where it was in the first place. It would be one more summer before that penny dropped.
On the Redfern train track side of the cracked and torn asphalt path that led to the pool, about a hundred yards from the entrance, stood an old brown brick structure that had been built sometime before the First World War.
It was a public lavatory. A boarded up public lavatory.
The reason for its closure was the unsolved murder of a woman whose mutilated body had been found in the loo one morning by a cleaner sometime back in the mid 1960s.
The entrance to the toilet block was a tall ornate iron gate that was swathed in large thick chains. The gate had been locked since the killing of the woman. Walking past it at dusk, on my way home from the pool, it never failed to put goosebumps on my skinny nine-year-old arms.
It was the summer that my best friend discovered Bruce Lee and attempted to throw Kung Fu kicks at my head in the pool. Upon witnessing this unbridled assault, the pool inspector promptly banned the assaulter and, inexplicably, the assaulted from the pool for the rest of the day.
It was the summer at the pool when boys wore terry towelling hats and girls wore platform thongs. The only sunscreen that existed was this thick pink zinc that came from a toothpaste tube and the only part of your body suitable for it seemed to be your nose.
It was the summer that a girl, whose name has been lost to the ages, got for herself an all-expenses paid triple decker fruit boat from the pool kiosk simply by allowing my friends and I a fleeting glimpse of something beneath the water, that may or may not have been, well who knows what… anyway, it’s hard to focus and keep your eyes open for very long when they’re awash with chlorine.
They tore down Greeks Creek sometime just after the new millennium kicked in and they’ve since replaced it with a brand new heated pool surrounded by a sloping grass lawn and a platoon of coloured shading umbrellas. There’s energy efficient lighting and a green roof of native grasses to regulate the temperature plus a splash deck with water toys for the toddlers. I wonder if one of those toys is a melted bit of tar direct from a loose paving stone originally laid in 1963?
From the street this new Prince Alfred Park Pool looks a bit like the area surrounding the Fuhrerbunker just before the Russians arrived. No doubt it suits the needs of the new inner-city aquarian and eases the constant anxiety for a lane to do some laps in. But I’m guessing there’s no triple decker fruit boats in the cafe – or old Greek ladies dressed in black in honour of a long lost love left on an ancient shore back in the arse end days of WWII.
I sometimes take a walk on that same old path that runs beside the still standing and greatly enhanced activity centre. Down by the train tracks that lead to Central Station’s Platform 23 I can almost hear above the traffic, above the hiss and roll of the trains, that long ago refrain…
Sugar baby love, sugar baby love. I never meant to make you blue.
For more, see Johnny Barker’s full gallery from 2012, when the Prince Alfred Pool was abandoned.