Throughout our explorations of Dundee there was one site that got us excited from the outset and that was the Union Street Municipal Bath. We had stumbled upon pictures of the pool (opened in 1924) while sifting through the Talana archives.
Apparently the pool dried up a few years after the Municipality sold it to the neighbouring junior school.
This site was mentioned in several of our oral history interviewees’ recollections, and often referred to as one of the relics of Dundee’s “Golden Years”. There are numerous theories around why the facility was abandoned.
An elderly Zulu man we chatted to told us that post 1994 a bitter resident --determined not to see the facility become a multi-racial one—ensured it was closed down rather than shared. We were also told that in recent years the pool had failed to attract much interest, perhaps due to the fact that most bathers were from Dundee’s affluent suburbs and eventually had private pools installed on their own properties.
Since arriving In Dundee we were keen to work with the local re-enactment group The Dundee Die Hard’s and decided the deep-end of this abandoned pool would be the perfect stage for our collaboration. It took a morning to prep the venue, sweeping several bin loads of foliage and smashed glass from out of its interior. Die Hard team leader Gavin Slater managed to convince his Red Coat army to participate while the visiting Siwela Sonke performers (and our co-collaborator Bongikosi Ngobese) doubled as our Zulu Impi.
We were excited by the possibilities of using the space at night, lugging in a generator and experimenting with our performers and some theatrical side- lighting. Our aim was to film several passes of the feuding re-enactors and (in post-production) layer them over one another to create scenes reminiscent of Anglo-Zulu War battle paintings.
The soundtrack is provided by sound recordings taken from two of Dundee’s operational public pools, the one situated in Sibongile and the other in Peacevale.
Cleaning and utilising the pool generated a large amount of interest and discussion in the local newspaper (The Courier) and on its Facebook page. Below are just a few of the comments posted on the site as a result of our activities.
Antony Ware Shocking that this pool was allowed to fall into such a state of disrepair!
Tracy Grobbelaar Gosh looks like a lot of stuff is abandoned in Dundee. I had a look on Google maps yesterday at the show grounds were I used to do horse riding....I almost started crying at the state of what I saw. Does nobody care anymore?
Ninette Du Plessis It’s shocking - drove past there a few weeks ago. Even the grass is not being cut - does this still belong to the municipality or privately owned. I suggest you turn this into a useful space rather than once for 'strange events' - turn it into a skate park for the kids!
Northern Natal Courier @Ninette the strange events may but propel the powers that be or some in the community to indeed get the pool to be a useful community facility again. See next week for news of said event in the pool.
Janine McCallum Very sad to see the state of that pool. Had many good times there while we young and still at school. I agree Tracy it is shocking at the state of the town in general. Was up there over a year ago to place a plaque up for my late dad and we appalled not just at the town but some of the house in general and especially our old house, it was so sad.
Gerhard Potgieter Wow! Small town mentality always amazes me. Firstly no one knows the nature of the activity in the photo but give negative remarks, not fair. At least something is happening in this negative space and it can possibly be the start of something new and positive. Problem is lots of small town people fall in a rut and all they do is complain and be negative. I see so much potential in Dundee every time I get there. When you live in a small town it is easier to do things yourself if council cant/wont. Changes like these also tend to stand out and evoke positive energy. Have any of you petitioned council regarding their unkempt premises? Why can't you people in conjunction the Courier make this the year of action? Let the Courier ask the hard questions. What stops anyone here to send an e-mail and post the reply and the timeline right here?
Stella Mckenzie Smuts The pool seemed so much deeper when it was full of water and I was very small!!!! Pity someone can't buy the whole area and develop it into a resort or fun park or someone - could be a draw card for visitors to Dundee.
Ninette Du Plessis @Gerhard. How can one not be negative when there was a stage when all was so well kept and now left to be as it is now. Positive would be for someone to turn this into a well used facility in time. Has really nothing to do with small town mentality and think that is rather harsh.
Janine McCallum I just think general smaller towns are not what they are anymore if it was not for work prospects we as family would have stayed there but we had leave to carry on living. I do miss the closeness of a small town here in the city you hardly know your neighbours. It is sad really.
Tracy Grobbelaar Have not been in Dundee for 12 years now....not so sure I would want to come back.....all the old places don’t look the same....gosh even my old house has changed....all the lovely big trees were chopped down..
Tracy Federici Don’t know about strange events but looks like a cool place to develop into an open air theatre for music events and plays/productions, add a few seating stands and there you have an interesting little attraction.
Marthie Burger I can still smell the chlorine coming down that steps.... and hear Mrs. Wessels ordering us to shower before we get into the pool (so that our hearts don’t stop when we enter into the cold water) haha - we had such wonderful times in that pool.
Gerhard Potgieter @Ninette you say:" positive would be for someone to turn this into a well used facility in time." You slagged this pic off from the word go and painted yourself into a corner...If council does not want/can’t do anything then why don’t the citizens start a initiative themselves, it is another option besides just complaining. In the pic there is a video camera on a tripod and this points to creativity, creative thoughts are great for problem solving, harness them. Dundee has got great potential, sadly it is a small town mentality and I have seen it all over the world.
Gerhard Potgieter It is an empty pool with either a small incline or decline depending on which side you view it from. Build a stage on the grass of the shallow end and build in access steps from the deep-end, the audience already has an elevated view of the performers. Seating does not need to be permanent. Lighting can most probably be done from the surrounding wall.
Cathy Grey Your art gives us something to think about, well done guys.
Kelly Louise Steenkamp Can't we do a function of some kind at the old pool?