Catering for the swimming fraternity in the days before Environmental Impact Statements were invented wasn’t a difficult matter if the enterpreneurial activities of the Fisher family at Five Dock Bay are any indication.
The fabulous story of Five Dock Bay’s famous floating baths has been told before in District News, however the full photographic splendour of this recreational flotilla of the turn of the century hasn’t been seen for years.
Jack Fisher is Old Man Time to the Drummoyne District. His father Bill, a world champion sculler and oarsman, ran a boatmaking and boat hire enterprise on the shores of Five Dock Bay, near where Moore Street intersects with The Esplanade today.
When the only floating public baths in the southern hemisphere were put up for sale by their original owner and operator – a Professor Cavill who operated them as a fun attraction at Farm Cove in the Botanic Gardens – old man Fisher thought it a reasonable proposition to tow them to Five Dock Bay, attach them to his hundred yard long wharf, and there establish “Fisher’s Public Baths”. (Photo 3)
The year was 1909, the price to swim all day was three pence for adults and a penny for children, and young Jack Fisher, aged 78 (Photo 1) was still only a smile on his father’s face.
Jack still lives at the Moore Street address where his family’s varied maritime enterprises had their heyday on Five Dock Bay. A champion swimmer and oarsman himself, Jack recalls the days of Fisher’s famous floating baths with affection and pride.
The goliath structure was made of wood and floated on iron tanks like pontoons. It enclosed a swimming area twenty five yards long by twelve yards wide, with a depth of three feet at the shallow end and eight feet at the deep end. The floor of the pool was wood also, whilst the sides were of slatted timber to “let the fish in”.
“We used to open a few of the slats at the end of the day to let the sharks in and get the people out” Jack laughs. “It was good fishing in there”.
As well as sacrificial entertainment, the world’s first “float-to-relax-tank” observed strict standards of public decency. Male and female bathers were cordially separated, and curtained change ar
eas (behind the white sheets draped along the sides of the enclosure in Photo 4) were provided for patrons, complete with combs and mirrors! A little shop at the entrance to the baths sold lemonade, ginger beer, biscuits and butter cakes.
Fisher’s Famous Floating Baths remained afloat in Five Dock Bay until 1919, when the strange edifice was dismantled. During the ten years of its novel life it established itself as a popular leisure time destination point for people as far away as Sydney.
(Photo Key: (photo 1) Jack Fisher outside his home, “Fisher’s Nest”, in Moore Street, overlooking Five Dock Bay near where his father’s famous floating baths formerly frolicked. The baths as they appeared from this spot can be seen in an old photograph taken of them from the bottom of Denning Street seventy years ago (photo 2). The suburb of Chiswick is mostly bushland at this time, whilst the people in the foreground are standing where The Esplanade is today; (photo 3) The baths in Five Dock Bay, looking from the direction of Gladesville Bridge. A hundred yard wharf led back to Fisher’s boatshed (photo 5) at the bottom of Moore Street; (photo 4) Bathers (segregated) enjoying a corner of the shallow end of the baths.
District News 3/8/1988 This cutting was found among our archives. Unfortunately the only photos we could locate were those from the cutting and we apologise for the quality. If anyone can locate other we would be happy to copy them for our files. Also, does anyone have the original District News article mentioned in this post?