Manuka pool manager John Taverner has long been witness to our love affair with water.
‘All Aussies own this pool. I don’t give a stuff if you are fifth generation Australian like myself or you’ve just come off the boat yesterday, all Aussies own this pool, it’s the people’s pool.’
Meet John ”Tav” Taverner, proud manager of one of the nation’s historic swimming pools and embodiment of Australia’s long obsession with the water.
Tucked away on prime Canberra real estate is Tav’s jewel – Manuka Pool. Completed in 1930, the facility has changed relatively little over the years as its urban surrounds have morphed from small country town to modern bush capital.
Manuka is just one of thousands of local pools which have witnessed a rich social ”pool culture” and swimming history.
In regional areas pools are especially precious. Tav says he has been privileged to see the evolution of Canberra through the swimming pool, which he still regards as a country pool despite the city’s burgeoning population of some 350,000.
”This pool is more than the sum of its parts because my family has been here since 1947. We have watched people come and go, die and be born, go to jail, who knows?” he laughs.
”Maybe there’s been some porn stars and rock’n’rollers and everyone in between who have come here. Country pools, they are the greatest. You’re passionate about your job, the building and your punters.”
The tradition is strong in the Taverner household. His father Owen, a builder, was a pool attendant at Manuka from 1947. Then a few years later Owen took over managing the pool when a senior colleague told him he was leaving to ”take a better offer” – dog catcher in Canberra.
In the 1960s, a young Tav spent every morning in the pool until he heard the school bell at 8.50am and his father’s strong words of encouragement to put on his uniform and hightail it to class.
That decade a summer heatwave forced his father to close the gates, only allowing one person in for every swimmer who left. Tav remembers wall-to-wall bodies in the 30m pool but an overwhelming sense of goodwill despite the crowd.
He says he still sees a similar tolerance and vibrancy today.
”We see the bonding here and you think to yourself, it is a pity seven billion people [in the world] can’t just do this because this planet would just zing through the orbits.”
Despite his lifelong connection to the pool, John Taverner forged his own path early in his career, working at Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens before deciding to get a job in Sydney.
Newly married in 1980 and on his way to pack up the Melbourne household, he dropped in on his old Manuka stomping ground.
”My dad said, ‘You couldn’t give us a hand could you, John?”’
The rest is history.
Owen Taverner had one piece of advice for his son. ”My dad said to me, ‘You will never make any money here, boy, but it is a wonderful way of life’.”
Canberra Times, 27 December 2011, by Susan Briggs