Towards a swimmable Yarra



About the Project

Yarra Pools is currently conducting research to understand the needs of future users of a Yarra Pool.

We want to understand what’s important to the community and how can we incorporate this into the Pool design and operation.

Stage 1 of the user needs analysis focused on understanding the views of peak bodies and community organisations. This culminated in the formulation of our ‘design principles’ across 5 themes.

Download the full design principles report here

Imagine swimming in Melbourne’s Yarra River . . . Pool

Perhaps nothing defines Melbourne and its people more than the Yarra River (Birrarung).

Inspired by successful urban river swimming projects globally and here at home, Yarra Pools is a community-led proposal to re-introduce recreation and water-play to the lower Yarra and, in doing so, to transform an under used section of the iconic river’s northern bank into a thriving community facility.

This riverside precinct will be active and vibrant and accessible to all. Bringing people a perspective of the river not seen since the middle of last century.

The global movement towards reviving urban river swimming and the growing demand for healthy waterways have gone hand-in-hand. Cities around the world are re-connecting with their rivers and harbours and it’s the people driving change.

Yarra Pools aims to bring people back to the river by advocating a swimmable and therefore healthy waterway all while celebrating a unique site’s cultural history by incorporating community involvement through design and ongoing operation.

Produced by a small team of passionate Melburnians. Yarra Pools is seeking support to advance the project through a community-led, multi-staged design and construction process. This will ensure we deliver a facility by Melbourne for Melbourne.



‘Our vision is to have Melburnians talk about our river differently. To be proud of the Yarra, and to see it as an active place of nature, recreation and play.’

Matt Stewart,  Yarra Swim Co.



In the Media

Imagine swimming in Melbourne’s Yarra River… Pool

Waterway pool being conceptualised for Melbourne’s Yarra River

Sparkly clean floating river pool proposed for Australia’s polluted Yarra River

This floating pool could help clean up a polluted river in…

Pool planned for Melbourne’s Yarra River



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History of Swimming in the Yarra

For thousands of years the Yarra River was an iconic central meeting place, a source of food and recreation. The local indigenous people, the Wurundjeri, nurtured it, told stories about it, and swam in its clear fresh waters.

When Europeans arrived and established Melbourne, the desire to swim in the river continued, even despite urbanisation and industrialisation leading to the river becoming increasingly polluted. In 1849, N.L. Kentish set about building the Victoria Baths, one of a number of floating, public pools constructed in the Yarra River around that time. Victoria Baths were located just downstream of the Queens Bridge Falls. The falls, removed in the 1880s where a natural feature of the river which separated the fresh and salt water.

In the early 1900s an annual swimming race was established in the river. The Three Mile Yarra Swim was “one of the chief swimming events in the world” and drew a world record number of entrants in 1929. It was attended by large crowds who lined the banks of the Yarra cheering on the likes of Olympic silver medallist Ivan Stedman, and former Lord Mayor and Olympian, Frank Beaurepaire.

Pollution, which remains a problem to this day, eventually put a halt to swimming in it the Yarra’s lower reaches. The Three Mile Swim was briefly revived from 1987-1991 but has not run again due to safety concerns. This is despite a report done on participants of the race which found that they were in fact less likely to fall ill than a control group who didn’t swim. It is currently illegal to swim in the lower Yarra for boating safety reasons.


“This project builds on decades of work to return the Yarra back to the people. We dine, ride, run and row along the Yarra. Now it’s time to get back in.”

Michael O’Neill, Environmental Scientist and Co-founder of Yarra Pools





Studio Octopi
Yarra Swim
The Pool


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