Swimming and diving have been popular sporting pursuits of Melburnians, to cool off in the hot summer and for recreation, fitness and competition. Bathing occurred in the Yarra River, bayside beaches and other natural waterways well before the first competitive swimming club was formed in South Melbourne in 1876. This club held its first swimming carnival in March 1877 at the Emerald Hill Baths and, in 1893, joined with the Middle Park, Port Melbourne, St Kilda, Victoria, Ballarat and Geelong swimming clubs to form the Victorian Swimming Association. The clubs associated with new swimming pools that opened during the next decade provided the talent for Victoria to host and contest one of the first Australian Swimming Championships in 1901.
Bathing and competitive swimming were segregated along gender lines. In 1908 the Victorian Ladies Amateur Swimming Association was formed to promote and control the swimming pursuits of the 918 women swimmers in affiliated clubs, and rigid dress codes were enforced. Learn-to-swim programs introduced through the Education Department in 1916 were continued through the Herald Learn-to-Swim campaign, which ran from the 1920s through to the introduction of VICSWIM in the mid-1970s.
One of the earliest swimming champions to hale from Melbourne was Frank Beaurepaire, who over a 20-year period set 14 world records and won 200 different championships internationally, including silver and bronze medals at three Olympic Games. As a former lord mayor and a leading industrialist, he was later a key figure in securing the 1956 Olympic Games, at which the Australian swimming team won an astounding eight gold medals. Interest in competitive swimming increased with 50-metre outdoor swimming pools being constructed in most suburbs. During the 1960s the interclub swimming competition was at its height, with 11 men's grades and 68 men's club teams, as well as ten women's grades and 60 women's club teams, competing over a 12-week period starting every September in Melbourne. Junior and senior swimmers had separate Australian and Victorian championships from the 1970s, and the Shell All Juniors were introduced to encourage young swimmers into competition. By the 1980s masters clubs and competitions had been established for swimmers over 25 years of age, with both elite and masters swimming in Melbourne now taking place at the Melbourne Sport and Aquatic Centre, venue for the 2007 World Swimming Championships.
Diving was practised from bridges, cliffs and makeshift diving planks, and at Deep Rock, before municipal councils provided platforms, planks and boards of variable height and rigidity at pools and beaches. Brunswick pool hosted the earliest diving championships, but international stars performing during the Melbourne Olympics made the sport more popular, with the tower and 3-metre events brought indoors in the state-of-the-art diving venue. A number of Australian champion divers were based in Melbourne, including Ron Faulds, Arthur Winter, Ken Crotty, Gordon Creed, Chris Rob, Don Wagstaff, Fay Leverington, Beverly Donnet, Val Beddoe (McFarlane), Stephen Foley, Russell Butler, Shaun Panayi and Craig Robertson.