My father, Samuel Ashton, owned the Public Baths at Mortlake. As a matter of fact, he built the baths himself, all cut out from solid rock.
I was born in Sydney on 10 April, 1885. I don’t remember ever learning to swim, but I know it was at a very early age. My father, Samuel Ashton, owned the Public Baths at Mortlake. As a matter of fact, he built the baths himself, all cut out from solid rock. They were 33 yards long and built on the Parramatta River at Majors Bay.
The baths opened in 1886, and were of the basin type, and my father devised a method of emptying and filling the baths with the assistance of the tides. I remember that every fortnight the baths were completely drained, and the bottom and sides all scrubbed down and whitewashed.
Admissions which included use of a towel and vees was threepence (2.5 cents). These baths were the first of their kind in the metropolitan area. I swam in races before I was in my teens. We had a swimming carnival every month and I competed in the racing events.
Our costumes were neck to knees with a collar band, short sleeves, and an all-over skirt. We had long capes that were worn until the race was being started, and we threw them off at the last moment. Very few girls went swimming in those days.
At the age of 16 years, I was teaching swimming. Then, one day, Major Reddish of the Boy Scouts, suggested I go to the Public Schools and see if some arrangement could be made about the pupils coming to Ashton’s Mortlake Baths to learn to swim.
I went to the schools, and it was arranged that the teachers would bring the girls, providing I would be responsible for them. I always went in with them and gave them lessons. I showed the girls the way to use their arms and legs in the breast-stroke method.
I had each pupil wear a specially designed canvas belt, buckled at the back, with a rope attached to the front, the girl would then swim toward me as I took up the slack in the rope. This proved a very successful method of teaching them to swim because the firmness of the belt, and the sight of the rope in the hands of the teacher produced in the pupil’s mind a feeling of security and safety from drowning. The girls from the schools came to the baths for many years, and there were never any accidents during that time.
Ladies were admitted during the classes of the schoolgirls, but at no other time. That was until “Continental” bathing was introduced at my father’s Mortlake Baths. This type of bathing meant that a man was not admitted unless accompanied by a woman. This bathing was only allowed at night.
I was trained for my life-saving certificate by the Sylvester method and was examined at the Domain Baths, receiving my certificate in March 1904 (see Sydney Morning Herald, 4th March 1904). As a matter of interest, I was the first single girl in New South Wales (and, I believe, the first in Australia) to receive a life saving certificate.
The Drummoyne Baths were built along the same lines as my father’s Mortlake Bath, a Drummoyne Council alderman had asked his permission to copy them.
I applied for the position of manageress of the Lavender Bay Floating Baths at the age of 20 years. I had many references as well as my life saving certificates which were submitted to North Sydney Council, and I had little trouble in obtaining this position.
The Council had built a pile bath, and the old floating baths were passed on for the ladies. I remember that the swimming costumes available there were made of unbleached calicos and were hired out for one penny. As far as I can recall, admission for adults was threepence, schoolchildren twopence.
My salary was thirty shillings ($3.00) a week for the summer months, the baths being closed during the winter. They opened from 6 am to 6 pm. I gave private swimming lessons there. The Sydney Ladies Swimming Club came each Saturday and held races.
In 1933, when the first Olympic Pool in New South Wales was to be opened at Bankstown I was appointed as manageress.