Monday, October 28, 2013

Locals party at opening of new Petersham Pool

Petersham marked the re-opening of the Fanny Durack Aquatic Centre yesterday with a big pool party.

The celebrations started with a traditional smoking ceremony from indigenous elder Aunty Jenny, who led a trail of kids in cossies around the centre's new 25-metre pool, toddler's pool and water play area.

Aunty Jenny's 'welcome to country' was followed by a few words from Diane Barker, a relative of the pool's namesake. Ms Barker said her great, great aunt had forged ahead in her chosen sport at a time when women weren't encouraged to swim competitively.

Fanny Durack was the first Australian woman to win a gold medal in swimming at the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games.  She was also a resident of Douglas Street, Stanmore, just up the road from the pool and her story is on show at the redeveloped centre.

Jo Haylen, the new Mayor of Marrickville said she was very excited that, "today we are having a pool party in Petersham" as bringing people together in their communities was one of the issues she had campaigned on.

After Mayor Haylen unveiled the plaque recording the official opening on Fanny Durack's 124th birthday, the winners of the council's competition to be the first to swim in the pool made their way to the deep end.

Kelly Pipe was selected to christen the pool with her great grandchildren Lachlan, Aimee and Taleah and friend Margaret after submitting this entry: "I'm an old duck and my greatest attraction is water so why not let me be the first to swim in your pond. Quack Quack!"

Then the pool party began with beach balls and Paddle Pops, water melon and sausage sandwiches and lots of fun and games in the big and little pools.

And what was the verdict on the redevelopment? While many felt there needed to be more seating and covered areas and there was a bit of nostalgia for the previous 33-metre pool, most were very happy with the new facilities.

As Kelly Pipe said: "It's fabulous!"

For more information on the Fanny Durack Aquatic Centre including opening hours and entry fees click here.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Birthday swim at Coogee's McIver's Ladies' Baths

As a birthday present to myself last week I went for a swim at McIver's Ladies' Baths.

I had visited the Coogee pool a few times before but this was the first time I was diving in.

Mid-week, McIver's is a peaceful spot where breaststroke is the preferred style or a leisurely backstroke.

A few also don caps and goggles and lap close to the chains where the waves wash in.

Others channel Valerie Taylor in their snorkels and masks and gaze at the underwater treasures.

When I pushed off into the blue-green water I did a slow breaststroke to the northern end where I stood on a submerged rock and looked back to Coogee Beach

I watched a surfer paddle by just outside the borders of the pool, and delighted in the white water gushing in and out and moving me about. 

And then I brought my camera into the pool and snapped all the beauty that abounds above and below the water.

As I dried off after my swim, I talked to a woman who told me it was also her first time at this cocoon-like, women-only pool.

"I can't believe I've lived in Sydney all these years and only discovered it now," she said.

For more about McIver's Baths read my earlier blog here.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A night of spinning swimming yarns

Last night I was part of an evening of ocean swimming yarns held at the Woolloomooloo Bay Hotel. It was a great night of story-telling loosely based around the theme of 'my first time' with no two stories the same.

We heard about facing fears and making it out past the waves at Bondi, the art and soul of swimming from Cronulla Beach to Shark Island in the light-filled month of May, the gentleness of a mother whale communing with the Bold and Beautiful swimmers off Manly's Shelley Beach, feeling lost at sea on the 10km Bondi to Watsons Bay swim, taking on the mighty Tweed River,  escaping from Alcatraz and finding romance in the waters off Galway Bay.

Thanks to Liz Crowhurst from CanToo for organising the event and for bringing all the yarning swimmers together for a night of craic as the Irish say.

Here is my story, which I'd like to dedicate to my friend Fi's Dad Barry, an ocean swimmer from way back who encouraged us to follow him out to the deep water and around headlands back in the 80s and 90s.

Big Swim finishers 1988: Therese (left), Mark, Greg, Fiona and Peter (two of Barry's brood).

Starting again

Sunday,  20 November 2011. After a break of more than 10 years I am resurrecting my open water swimming career. I am restarting with Balmain's 'Dawny to Cockatoo Island' swim.  So it's not my first time but it feels like it is.

In the 80s and 90s I swam in a number of ocean swims; the Palm Beach to Whale Beach at least three times, the Cole Classic when it was still at Bondi, the Manly swim and the Warriewood to Mona Vale where I was dumped and held under by smashing waves on the way in. I lost my cap and goggles and staggered up the beach gasping for air.  I never went in that swim again.

With my brother and sister and cousin's son Niall after the Big Swim, late 80s.

Maybe that was the start of losing my nerve. I'm not sure but from the late 90s I stopped swimming around headlands and stuck to following the black line up and down the pool. But in 2011, soon after I'd turned 50 and returned to squad at Leichhardt Pool I started to contemplate ocean swimming again.  When our coach handed out flyers for the 'Dawny to Cockatoo', I thought why not get back into it again.

The night before I was due to swim I kept my alcohol intake to a minimum and went to bed before 10. I woke feeling like I'd like to sleep in but I wasn't going to drop out as I'd already paid my money on Ocean Swims. In Balmain my husband dropped me in Elkington Park and went in search of a car park. I followed the conga line of bodies making their way past the jacarandas and towering palms to the Dawn Fraser Baths

Near a magnificent fig tree, I looked out to Cockatoo where in 1863 bushranger Captain Thunderbolt aka Fred Wordsworth Ward escaped from the island's prison and swam to shore  –  where legend has it his girlfriend was waiting to make a quick getaway on a white horse! I scanned the waters where he made his famous escape and hoped the bull sharks that roam the harbour stayed away today.

On the timber boardwalk that surrounds Australia's oldest surviving swimming pool, a band was playing and there was a festive feel. I lined up to get my name ticked off and number 336 inscribed on my arm.

Early birds climbed down the chrome ladders and dived off the starting blocks, warming up their limbs before the 2.5km swim. I sat under the grandstand, took a few deep breaths and lathered my fair skin in sunscreen.

Soon it was time to leave the pool and move towards the start on the jetty next door. I stayed close to my squad friend Sue who told me to head towards the crane on the way out to Cockatoo. I jumped in the water with my fellow black caps and tried not to think about swimming with sharks.

Then bang went the gun and we were off, heading out to where the Parramatta and Lane Cove Rivers meet. As I stroked in time with the rise and fall of the swell, my hands touched the slippery surface of jellyfish but I wasn't too concerned as I was used to them from my childhood at Northbridge Baths.

I settled into a rhythm and thought of the stories I knew about Cockatoo; how the island was before white man came - when stands of red gum and flocks of sulphur-crested cockatoos occupied the 18 hectares of space. When Aborigines fished and swam in the waters nearby.  And then white man arrived with new ideas and ways, and prisons, reformatory schools and ship building replaced the trees and cockatoos.

Photo from

I followed the splash and kick of the bodies in front of me and every now and again lifted my gaze to check I was heading towards that crane. As we reached the island overnight campers stood in a line and waved and cheered. I changed my breathing to the left and caught glimpses of sandstone buildings and a massive dock. I wanted to stop and take a closer look but my competitive nature made me push on.

Photo from
As I completed my circumnavigation of the island I swam past the spot where the Sobraon ship used to be – a sort of orphanage on the water for delinquent boys – and home to champion swimmer Barney Kiernan who set six world records in 1904 but tragically died the next year when he was only 19.

As I swam away from the island and back towards the pool I thought how much cleaner the harbour had become since Balmain's industrial days when dye from a textiles factory nearby sometimes turned the water red.  For the last 400 metres or so I channelled Dawny – Fraser that is, and swam as fast as I could, buoyed on when I realised I was passing swimmers in younger age groups than me.  A few more strokes and I reached the jetty. A man held out his hand and helped me up. I staggered a bit as I got my land legs but recovered quickly when I passed over the finish line.

As I searched for my husband in the waiting crowd a sense of satisfaction came over me – that feeling of having done something big  that I remembered I used to get after an ocean swim,  and I thought I might do the Wedding Cake Island swim next weekend.

Re-living running through the finish line after The Big Swim, 1985.