For the past three decades, Paul Simms’ protégés have taken to the world stage to compete against the best — Tokyo bronze medallist Isaac Cooper among them. 

For the Bundaberg swimming coach, it all begins with sharing something simple: his love of the water.

“It’s unique here in Australia, we have 80 per cent of our population within 20 kilometres of the coast. We’re encouraged to swim at an early age,” he said.

“I’m a bit biased because I’ve grown up in a water environment. But swimming, it’s just wonderful for all ages, all abilities, it’s amazing.”

Now, Simms is aiming even higher and he will have an important weapon at his disposal — a state-of-the-art FINA-standard aquatic centre to rival the best in Australia.

“It can only increase the number of swimmers we have and hopefully the number of champions we create,” he said.

Construction is underway, despite a $30 million dollar blow-out in the cost of the joint council-state government project.

Artist's impression of the glass entrance to a new acquatic centre in Bundaberg.
The aquatic centre development will cost the local council and state government $75.8 million.(Supplied: Bundaberg Regional Council)

Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey said the $75.8 million development would become a beacon for the community and tourists.

“It’s certainly one of the best aquatic facilities outside of a capital city, particularly in Queensland,” he said.

“It’s all about livability and lifestyle and the ability to attract people from right across the region to come to Bundaberg.

“We know that the Olympics are coming as well and that’s just a bonus that we’ll get as we head toward 2032.”

Man stands in the middle of a CBD smiling
Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey says the centre will be “one of the best facilities outside of a capital city”.(ABC Wide Bay: Scott Lamond)

Build it and they will come

Recreational and lap swimmers have been confined to a single pool in recent months after the beloved century-old Anzac Memorial Pool was demolished this year, prompting an outcry from vocal members of the community. 

By the end of 2024, they’ll be treated to a covered 10-lane, FINA-standard, 50-metre competition pool, indoor pools for learn-to-swim and health programs, and multipurpose training and fitness areas.

Simms said the Bundaberg Regional Aquatic Centre would draw major competitions.

“There’ll be teams that come up and train in it and the lap swimmers will just be in heaven to come here,” he said.

“To have that Olympic-standard, millimetre perfect, it means you can host a lot more competitions here, whether it’s Wide Bay Championships, Pacific School Games, or Australian Titles.”

An artist's impression of a 50 metre swimming pool.
The centre will include an Olympic-standard, 50-metre competition pool.(Supplied: Bundaberg Regional Council)

Swimming Australia’s executive general manager of sport development Kirin Lindop said the facility had the potential to be used in the 2032 Brisbane Olympics.

“We do say ‘never say never’ in terms of what a regional facility can be used for,” she said.

“In the upcoming Melbourne World-Short Course Championships, we’ve got a Dolphins pre-camp in a Bendigo regional facility, which is incredible for activation and community engagement in that region.

“So, these facilities are not only amazing for the region, but a real attraction for teams coming from overseas.

“There’ll be obviously an incredible depth of countries coming into Australia for Brisbane ’32, so this facility absolutely will be targeted.”

Construction fences stand in the foreground with workers in high-visibility shirts and an excvator in the backgrou
Construction has started on the aquatic centre and is due to be completed by 2024.(ABC Wide Bay: Scott Lamond)

100 per cent access

Mr Dempsey said a major prerequisite was creating equitable access through wheelchair lifts and hoists, ramps, and accessible change rooms.

“It’s going to be one of the most accessible pool facilities in Australia,” he said.

“So, particularly with the number of senior citizens and people with disabilities in this area, they’ll be really proud to tell the rest of Queensland how good this facility is.”

Bundaberg Special School teacher Brooke Taylor said older developments lacked access for people with disability.

“It allows people to feel like they have the ability to jump in and join in with what other kids or people are doing,” she said.

“The fact this aquatic centre has taken this into consideration is a really big boost for us.”

The five coloured rings of the Olympics on the outside of a building with an Olympic flag flying.
Swimming Australia says the centre will be a suitable training facility for the 2032 Brisbane Olympics.(Reuters: Denis Balibouse)

Ms Lindop said accessibility was a key to developing Australia’s next Paralympic talent pool.

“This facility is groundbreaking. This Bundaberg facility will actually be state-of-the-art, best practice,” she said.

“We do not want any barriers for anyone in their access to the water and this complex has designed all elements to ensure there are zero barriers to entry to the pool.”