Henry is not my friend’s real name. His name has been changed to protect him from intrusion.
Question: At what point does a public amenity become a public liability?
Answer: When either the amenity becomes potentially dangerous to the public or when the amenity fails to adequately serve community needs.
Unfortunately, Lane Cove Pool satisfies both of these criteria. What was once one of the North Shore’s recreation flagships has become nothing more than a rusting shed – a legal time bomb waiting for its fuse to be lit – a carcass awaiting demolition.
Twice a month I spend the morning with a young disabled man who loves to swim. Young Henry can’t talk, is blind, has cerebral palsy and is epileptic. Yet with all this, he’s one of the happiest blokes around. He’s friendly, honest and engaged in the world; far more engaged than most able-bodied people. Henry is also a member of Lane Cove Pool and his ‘Blue Fit’ membership gives him free entry. It’s a nice arrangement and Henry is always pretty happy.
Yet this is where the ‘niceness’ stops.
It is mandatory in NSW for all public amenities to have a toilet facility that can be used by people with a disability. As a matter of fact, the Australian Human Rights Commission provide extensive detail as to the provisions for disabled individuals. Anything outside of this can be considered discriminatory or illegal.
Disabled people need wide doors, special supports beside the toilet, lots of space and custom designed hand washing facilities. Yet on trying to enter the bathroom supposedly set aside for the disabled at Lane Cove Pool, Henry and I have only once been able to get in. Why? Because the bathroom is constantly occupied by families wanting a spacious room to shower and change. Parents with kids clearly too precious to use the able-bodied change room occupy the disabled area so that it is hardly ever available for the disabled when they need it.
On complaining to a pool attendant, I was told that it is also a ‘baby change area’ and that the area had to be shared. While sharing such a facility may have been OK 30 years ago, it is certainly not acceptable now! In all my time of taking Henry swimming, I’ve never seen a parent and baby emerge from the ‘disabled and change’ facility. Parents with children well over three years old emerge; children who haven’t seen a nappy in years and certainly old enough to use the normal facilities.
When a disabled person needs to be toileted, (yes, that’s the term when the person can’t look after themselves), access to the disabled facility needs to be fast and simple. Speed is essential. Making Henry wait while a family casually showers and changes is something he doesn’t understand and he shouldn’t have to. I normally rush him to the able-bodied toilets – cubicles too narrow for ‘us’ to work in and with doors that don’t lock. Dignity – heck no! But clearly Lane Cove Council couldn’t give a damn.
On my last visit to the pool with Henry, we managed to jag the disabled facility for the first time. Score! We were shocked. It was the first time in 10 months. Having never been to the room before, we settled in for the changing and toileting tasks believing this was our lucky day. We were wrong.
The floor to the room, a floor that should be well drained and dry, was thick with water. It puddled in areas up to a centimetre deep. Changing a disabled adult in a room like this meant that clothes got wet. It was unavoidable. It was uncomfortable.
There were no paper towels and no soap – necessary in a disabled facility. While the space was better for our purpose than the able-bodied Lane Cove Pool change room, it was ill-equipped, badly lit and dirty. The single power point was rusted and dangerous. With no ventilation besides a gaping hole in the ceiling (see photo above), the space was akin to a pool change room I visited in Delhi in 1987.
What of the ‘able-bodied’ change room?
Yet the families who overtake the disabled facility can’t be fully blamed for doing it. The change rooms and toilets for able-bodied people are also worse than those in the Delhi pool. The change-room floor is puddled with water that simply won’t drain away. The toilet doors don’t lock and the hinges are rusted. On one occasion a door was off its hinge as rust had eaten completely through. Tiles are gaffa taped together to prevent them falling off. The change areas are so crowded that people end up getting dressed in the shower areas. Ventilation is non-existent.
Is this the facility we want in 21st century Sydney?
Change table one minute, lunch table the next – perfect!
Now if the lack of suitable change or toilet areas for able-bodied or disabled people isn’t enough to make you shake your head, perhaps this next truth will.
On several occasions when Henry and I are in the spa, I’ve looked across the toddler’s pool to see a baby being changed on one of the plastic café tables near the kiosk. Faeces, baby-wipes and dirty nappies abound. Far from an unusual occurrence, it’s quite common (see photo). Once changed, mum or dad toddles off to leave the table free for the next family to have lunch. How very considerate.
Once again, the blame can’t be entirely laid on the desperate mum or dad. The entire complex boasts one baby change table and this dear reader, is in the disabled toilet. Go figure!
I can only urge visitors to the centre to refrain from eating at a table. Perhaps it’s better not to eat at all.
Language and signs
The spa pool proudly boasts a sign stating that under 16 year olds aren’t allowed. That’s all very fine if the area is patrolled by lifeguards enforcing this law which it isn’t. Parents often hold their young children in the spa in open breach of the request.
Yet why? These parents look reasonable and intelligent. They certainly don’t look like belligerent law-breakers.
The reason is simple. At least 40% of those attending Lane Cove pool are from non-English speaking backgrounds. Of this 40%, it is my educated guess that some struggle with reading English. If this is the case, and from teaching in schools and universities across Sydney I believe it is, then why don’t the pool managers erect multilingual signs catering for their target market?
Is the leafy north shore too good for this? Is there a failure of reality somewhere in Lane Cove Council? Are multilingual signs simply too expensive?
Rust, rust and more rust
Everything and everyone gets old. Rust is to metal what grey hair is to us. It’s a natural part of metal’s lifespan, yet in most 21st century facilities, the rust is removed or the entire rusted ‘piece’ replaced.
The metal surfaces within the Lane Cove Pool complex are so rusted that it’s only a matter of time before something major collapses. Handrails are rusted and dangerous. The pylons at the southern end of the pool are brown with rust. I hope they don’t support the roof as if they do there’s big trouble ahead!
Lane Cove Pool has a problem, and while some of the blame can be placed on the Bluefin tenants, most of the blame sits squarely on a council that is seemingly too scared to face the painful reality that their facilities are an embarrassment not only to the North Shore, but to Sydney and indeed NSW.
If money is the problem, perhaps the good council should pull its head from the Garigal sand and start to generate some serious cash. Parking meters seem to work as a cash cow in many councils and enable facilities to be maintained to expected standards. Parking in Lane Cove is hell. Perhaps meters could not just raise cash but fix the parking problem.
If local businesses object to parking meters (which they probably would), perhaps rates in the area could increase for a 12 month period in exchange for better community facilities. Perhaps the good council could have a lamington drive or even a fete! Maybe a meat raffle? Perhaps they could sell the Mayor as ‘slave for a day?
Yet what about Henry? If he could talk he wouldn’t have a bad word to say about anyone. He doesn’t understand about the spa signs. He laughs when I tell him about the rust and the gaffa tape because the word ‘gaffa’ sound a bit funny. He certainly doesn’t laugh when he needs to go to the toilet and the room is occupied by families.
As the carer of Henry, and someone who understands the law and 21st century expectations very well, I don’t laugh at all because in reality, Lane Cove Pool, on Sydney’s leafy North Shore, is no laughing matter.