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The History of the Motueka Saltwater Baths

Posted May 25th, 2011
Written by Sue Clark and first published in The Guardian on May 25th 2011.

The presence of sharks near Port Motueka was no doubt a factor in the formation of a local group called the Safe Bathing Society, of which Amie Talbot, a long time resident of Motueka, was the main instigator and president.

The group was formed in about 1930 with the aim of achieving a safer place to play and swim in the sea. To this end, they set about raising funds to build the first swimming enclosure or 'baths' at the Motueka beach.

The materials used were telegraph poles and shark netting. The netted area was large and very effective, but it was checked often to make sure there were no holes for the sharks.

A diving board on a platform was erected and a slippery slide. On site were two bathing sheds and a shop. The children were fortunate to have a lovely playground with two swing boats, a slide, a manually powered merry-go-round and knotted swing ropes on a pole.

It was often used as a picnic area and during the Christmas holidays families would camp for six weeks in the pines. The top of the rotunda based at Memorial Park was moved down to the Motueka Beach parking area next to the old bluegum tree and this remained for many years and was always popular particularly on Boxing Days when a gala was held.

The band rotunda disintegrated to a point beyond repair and it was a sad day when it was demolished. A house is situated where the camp store used to be, and the Motor Camp is still there unused on a reserve.

The old netting baths were dismantled when the concrete baths were completed inside the wire netting enclosure in 1936. These baths had three sides plus two wings running up to the beach.

Unfortunately they continually filled up with sand. The current from the harbour caused a permanent drift of sand across to where it banked up in the baths. At that time a pier had been built off the point of Jackett's Island.

The wings were demolished and another wall was built across the opening and a railing was added to the walkway on the baths, but this structure was severely damaged by a violent storm on 27th March 1948. The beach was littered with flood rubbish and debris was strewn from one end to the other.

In 1950 a Domain Board was formed which was responsible for about 27 acres which stretched the full length of Trewavas Road along the foreshore and took in the area around the baths and part of the mud flats to the seaward of the baths.

The first project undertaken by the Board was to fell the pines and have them stumped, leaving a flat area of some four acres where gala days were held.

On one occasion the Nelson Yacht Club were the guests of honour and conducted a regatta for the Domain Board. The upshot of this occasion (apart from raising funds for the Domain) was the formation of the Motueka Yacht Club. Raising finance was not an easy task in the post-war years, but with finance in hand and many promises of material, it was time to start building the fourth wall of the baths.

Gordon Steffenson, a local builder and Board member, was the project leader and supplied the concrete mixers, barrrows, boxing etc. There were many voluntary helpers. Golden Bay Cement Company provided the cement, Transport Nelson Limited the gravel, and many other people contributed.

Excavating quite a wide trench with a bulldozer was the first part of the exercise and this was done as soon as the tide had receded sufficiently. It was a case of mix and dump as fast as possible. Rapid hardening cement wasn't available in those days so caustic soda was added to hasten setting.

Bruce Pelvin wrote "I have painful memories of the condition of my feet and legs when concrete overflowed my short gumboots".

The steel was tied and boxing shutters erected and braced and Bruce said that some of the volunteers were bolting shutters in place working in chest-deep water as the tide came in. One chap using a large electric drill had the thing blow up in his hands, but the whole operation was concluded without major injury. By late afternoon the following day the wall was erected with help from extra volunteers who answered a radio appeal for help.

Nigel Duff was one of three volunteers who spearheaded the rejuvenation of the saltwater swimming pool in 1990. For months Nigel virtually lived there, providing expertise and doing much of the work himself. In 1993 a paddling pool was added, and a concrete bottom and shallow end made it a place for the whole family to enjoy.

The next stage of the development was beach-side decking, boardwalk, gates, cold water, shower, signs and landscaping near toilets and changing sheds.

Problems emerged: expected cost over-runs between $4,500 and $11,000, a need for assurance that the Council would do its part in upgrading parking arrangements, and the loss of a builder who was directing the work.

First built in 1938, the saltwater baths were improved in 1952. In 1991 Bob Cooke and Nigel Duffy joined forces to rebuild the pool which was officually reopened on 11th December 1993 by Nick Smith and Mayor Kerry Marshall.

The Tasman District Council closed the baths in 2003 citing health and safety regulations, but was forced to reverse the decision after public opposition which included a petition signed by more than 1000 people.

The baths have since been listed as a historic site and as such the council would find it hard to get rid of it. The pool is hosed down and scrubbed out every 12 days and the date of the clean outs is written on the board at the baths.

Nigel Duff is now the caretaker of the pool, which has closed for the winter and will reopen as early as possible for the regular swimmers.

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