With the Nepean River flowing through the heart of the Penrith district, it is natural to find that swimming has always been a popular sport in the area. In fact by 1897, clubs were coming to Penrith to use the river as a venue for their annual swimming carnivals. The Nepean was seen to be one of the best sites for such carnivals, the only problem being that of obtaining gate money from those watching the events. People lined the banks and went on to the river in a variety of pleasure craft.
The various distances were marked out by battens with buoys moored at each end, and the races were started from a punt moored in the river. The courses ranged from 50 to 440 yards, with the major race being the mile. The swimmers encountered rather more obstacles than they do today in swimming pools, with weeds and the wash of other swimmers, as well as the river’s current, being hazards which had to be overcome.
Apart from the more serious events however, there were often novelty races staged, such as racing in fancy costume. The Nepean Times describes the winner of one such race as being “dressed as either a white-eyed or black-eyed Kaffir – we don’t know which – in evening dress, with massive ‘gold’ chain and a double-barrelled long sleever hat, which he wore through the whole race.” Animal rights were not considered in those days either for the annual duck chase on this occasion was not considered such an interesting event as it was “caught first go after swimming about 50 yards”.
Today the annual “Bridge to Bridge” competition is a rather more serious affair. Begun in 1969, the swim is conducted annually, during the summer, between the freeway bridge and the railway bridge.
The modern history of swimming in the Penrith region began on 26th October, 1961 with the formation of the Penrith Amateur Swimming Club three months prior to the opening of the Penrith Memorial Pool. The pool was built after representations from Bruce Neale, Roy Handley and Edna Dunn who, after visiting other pools in NSW, presented Council with slides and information about these public pools. A public meeting was called and the club was formed, together with a fund-raising committee. Money to pay for the pool came from a variety of sources. The Penrith War Memorial Swimming Pool Committee’s fund raising efforts, the Public Works Department, the Penrith R.S.L. and the Boy Scouts Association all provided money and the shortfall was provided by the Penrith City Council.
Since then, several pools have been built in Penrith, some run by Council, others privately owned and operated. Today there are pools to suit all needs from recreational to competition as well as for hydrotherapy and rehabilitation.
Swimming clubs too have mushroomed. The RSL has been active in the formation of several clubs, especially in the promotion of junior swimming. The Penrith R.S.L. Youth Amateur Swimming Club for example, was born in September 1978 as a club for all children, both champions and tryers.
Local swimmers have represented NSW and Australia in competition, with the most recent being Emma Johnson at the Atlanta Olympics. The excellent facilities available will ensure that more will follow in her footsteps.
Nepean Times, 27/3/1897, p.2.
Penrith City Council, Penrith Year Book, 1985.
Penrith City Council, Penrith Year Book, 1986.
Penrith Panthers Magazine, September 1996.
Penrith RSLYASC, Reflections: 10 Years in Review, 1988.