18 July 2010

Michael Harry reports on Townsville Strand Swimming

Photos (from top) A straight 8k swim to Castle Hill and The Strand; gearing up for the 2.5 k; the start of the 5k Strand swim; Magnetic Island from The Strand with Picnic Bay SLC in the background.

Having a son living in Townsville is the perfect reason for a mid winter escape to the soft tropical sun of north Queensland, and an opportunity for a different open water swim. A booming regional city, Townsville has a tough exterior - heavy industry, a big military presence, rugby and hoon car culture. Scratch below the surface and it has real charms, beautiful gardens and fine colonial buildings, excellent galleries and restaurants, jazz at the Surf Lifesaving Club on Sunday evenings and most of all, the Strand, a 2.5K esplanade providing a magnificent recreational area which buzzes with activity
from 6.00am when the first walkers arrive to past midnight when the cars cruise the strip. There are elaborate water play areas, bike tracks, picnic tables and barbecues, cafes, sculptures and gardens, and two wonderful swimming facilities at either end: the Rockpool, an oval 100m x 50m open seawater pool at the north, and the Tobruk Memorial Pool at the south. Built in 1947 as a tribute to Townsville’s wartime services, the Tobruk Pool was the training base for the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Australian Olympic training squads (before the days of heated pools) and is now the home of the AUSSI Masters Rats of Tobruk. The original art-deco exterior has been preserved, and the entrance hall has a fascinating photographic display of our swimming heritage. The Strand Swim, run by the Picnic Bay SLC, offers 2.5K and 5K events, the latter serving as the qualifying swim for local swimmers doing the 8K Magnetic Island swim in July. Swimming in salty, turbid water – Cleveland Bay is a wide, shallow expanse with mud flats fed by the Ross River – competitors have views to the Island on the east and Castle Hill on the west. I did the 2.5K with about 40 others, and 70 swimmers tackled the 5K. The standard was high, with lots of young swimmers, but a few older Masters as well. A 400m dash for cash and generous prizes and lucky draws followed, and everything was wrapped up by 11.00am.The Maggie swim, which has a long history, was originally limited to a small number of competitors penned in shark cages but has grown rapidly since 2005 when it was first run as a paddler accompanied swim. It is now pushing up to 100 registrations. The course is a straight line from Picnic Bay across to the Strand, aiming for Castle Hill, so navigation is not a problem. Spending a couple of nights on the Island is a bonus – there is a permanent population of around 4000, many of whom commute to the mainland, but it remains a magnificent unspoilt place where development has been confined and kept low key. There are great walks and an interesting military history. Doing the swim is a personal goal next year, preferably in a duo, so if someone is interested let me know!