Darwin Harbour

Swimming in Darwin Harbour

Swimming in Darwin Harbour is a popular pastime. To protect swimmers from the dangers of jellyfish, crocodiles and sharks various swimming nets and swimming baths were built over the years. 

Swimming in the harbour is well documented through photographs, carnival programmes and oral history interviews held by the Northern Territory Archives Service.

The earliest swimming baths in Darwin Harbour were built near Fort Hill in 1880 and they provided a safe swimming place for residents. Vic Dunn was a resident of Darwin around 1917 to 1918 and noted that there was “a rise and fall of tide of nearly 30 feet. It is rather risky bathing in the open on account of sharks, alligators, also jelly fish during the Wet Season.” NTRS 2011, item 18.

The local baths, ca 1917-1918 
The local baths, ca 1917-1918
Vic Dunn, NTRS 2011, item 18

The baths below Fort Hill were damaged by a cyclone. The town council decided to build new baths on Lameroo Beach and these were officially opened in 1922.

Valerie Fletcher described the Lameroo Baths: "They were a cement wall, topped by palings, and with bathing sheds at the end.” NTRS 226, TS 551

Lameroo Baths, Darwin, ca1939-1941
Lameroo Baths, Darwin, ca1939-1941
C Gilbert, NTRS 1643, item 16

View of Lameroo Baths, Lameroo Beach, Darwin, ca 1942 
View of Lameroo Baths, Lameroo Beach, Darwin, ca 1942 
William Coleman, NTRS 884, item 6

Recollections from Valerie Fletcher: “The tides being very extreme, you would have to go down to the beach and wait until the water came over the wall. It was supposed to be shark-proof, and that was the idea of the wall, but we have seen sharks in there. I do remember the sharks, and the fear of crocodiles and sharks. I don't seem to remember quite the same fear of the stingers, although I know people did get occasionally stung. But there didn't seem to be as much emphasis on that as on the sharks and the crocodiles.” NTRS 226, TS 551

Aerial view of Darwin towards wharf, mid 1930s (showing Lameroo Baths on right) 
Aerial view of Darwin towards wharf, mid 1930s (showing Lameroo Baths on right) 
Ronald Cropley, NTRS 2280, item 4

Recollections from Patrick Murphy: “It was the only swimming pool, or swimming baths - there was no such thing in Darwin as backyard swimming pools then of course.” NTRS 226, TS 618

Lameroo Baths 
Lameroo Baths
Charles Wilson, NTRS 3335, item 169

Recollections from Jean Harris: “Down at Lameroo Beach they had a little dressing shed … inside that they always had blue bag — you know the old washing blue? And nobody ever took that, or threw it away or anything, because if we got stung by a jelly-fish all we did was, we got the hot dry sand and rubbed, well all the kids would help each other, whoever got stung was the patient and everybody else was doing something. Somebody else would run up and get the blue bag, stick it in the water, and dab it with blue bag. And that took the sting out.” NTRS 226, TS 843 [Note that rubbing sand is not recommended as a remedy for stings today. Vinegar is the recommended first aid treatment.]

Darwin Baths, built 1923, cost £1400 
Darwin Baths, built 1923, cost £1400 
Samuel Brown, NTRS 2010, item 8

Swimming carnivals were regularly held at Darwin’s swimming baths. Many were organised by the Darwin Amateur Swimming Club.

Recollections of the Lameroo Baths from Betty Dangerfield: “Oh yes, we used to have swimming carnivals there, and we came in to swim, later on when we got a bit older … we’d go down swimming at Lameroo Baths.” NTRS 226, TS 187

Swimmers at Darwin Baths, ca 1934-1937 
Swimmers at Darwin Baths, ca 1934-1937
Patrick Murphy, NTRS 1685, item 12

During World War II the military forces also held swimming carnivals.

Swimming program of the Combined Services Sports Carnival in Darwin during the Second World War, 1943
Swimming program of the Combined Services Sports Carnival in Darwin during the
Second World War, 1943

Geoffrey Frier, NTRS 2317, item 1

 Swimming program of the Combined Services Sports Carnival in Darwin during the Second World War, 1943 
Swimming program of the Combined Services Sports Carnival in Darwin during the
Second World War, 1943

Geoffrey Frier, NTRS 2317, item 1

There were also swimming baths below the Larrakeyah army barracks. “The Barracks swimming baths are always popular. All ranks take every opportunity to indulge in the splendid exercise of swimming and health-giving and luxurious sun-bathing.” Northern Standard, Friday 27 September 1940

Darwin swimming baths, 1935  
Darwin swimming baths, 1935
McDonald, JP, NTRS 1217, item 88

Images used have been selected from the following collections:

  • Vic Dunn, NTRS 2011, Photographs and postcards of Darwin, ca1917-1918
  • C Gilbert, NTRS 1643, Copyprints of Mobile Defence Force and construction work in Darwin during the Second World War, ca1939-ca1941
  • William Coleman, NTRS 884, Photographs of Darwin including landmarks, ca1942-ca1942
  • Ronald Cropley, NTRS 2280, Photographs relating to Darwin, Pine Creek and Alice Springs, 1933-ca1935
  • Charles Wilson, NTRS 3335, Reference digitised copy of images relating to the Top End, ca1924-1932
  • Patrick Murphy, NTRS 1685, Copyprints of Darwin including aircraft and the aftermath of the 1937 cyclone, ca1934-ca1937
  • JP McDonald, NTRS 1217, Photographs and papers about involvement in the union movement in Darwin, defence and Aborigines, 1935-1988
  • Samuel Brown, NTRS 2010, Copyprints of Darwin and the Northern Territory including plane crash at Cape Don, 1884-1929
  • Geoffrey Frier, NTRS 2317, Swimming program of the Combined Services Sports Carnival in Darwin during the Second World War, 1943-1943.

Full references to the oral history interview transcripts of oral history interviews with TS prefix 1979-ct:

TS 551, Valerie Fletcher
Valerie was born in Darwin in 1923 and grew up in Darwin. Her father was the well known builder Harold Snell.
TS 187, Betty Dangerfield
Betty was born in Darwin in 1913, one of seven children. Her mother was Jessie Litchfield, a reporter and newspaper editor. Betty lived in Darwin until 1942 when she was evacuated to the south.
TS 843, Jean Harris
Jean was born in 1916 in Darwin and grew up at the 2 mile (Parap).
TS 618, Patrick Murphy
Patrick Murphy moved from South Australia to Darwin in 1934 and worked at the Post Office until 1937.

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Last updated: 18 April 2016