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Fanny Durack

Prepared by Chrys Meader, Marrickville Historian

Petersham Park Swimming Pool opened to the public in September 1962. It was renamed in 1999 as the Fanny Durack Aquatic Centre.

Fanny Durack was an Olympic swimming legend and a champion of women's rights.

The name change to Fanny Durack Pool was suggested to Marrickville Council by historian Mary Haire, who stated

"Fanny spent the last years of her life at Douglas Street Stanmore which is very close to Petersham Pool. And Fanny does not have a pool named after her in Australia, which is scandalous. She fought for women and their rights. Women were banned from swimming competitively. It was considered immoral and immodest but she campaigned for years to swimming associations and the authorities. It was very important."

The pool was officially renamed after Fanny Durack on 27 November 1999 by the Mayor of Marrickville, Councillor Barry Cotter.

Sarah "Fanny" Durack (1889 - 1956)

Fanny Durack was born Sarah Frances Durack on 27 October 1889 in Sydney. Her importance to world swimming is eloquently summed up on her restored headstone in Waverley Cemetery.

Durack was always known as "Fanny", a diminutive of her second name. She learned to swim in Coogee Baths. In 1906 at the age of 16 years, Durack took her first State title. She dominated the 1912 Australasian Ladies Championship with her strong Australian crawl.

Breaking New Ground For Women's Swimming

Women's swimming was included for the first time at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. Fanny and fellow swimmer and good friend, Mina Wylie were initially refused permission to compete.

Mina Wylie was the daughter of the proprietor of Wylie's Baths at Coogee. Swimming in NSW was strictly segregated.

The members of the Olympic selection team were male and were not even allowed to watch Fanny or Mina swim.
They were also rather unenthusiastic about females competing at Olympic level.

Rose Scott, President of the NSW Ladies Swimming Association, strongly opposed Fanny and Mina's inclusion in the team saying that it was immodest for them to appear among men in attire so scant that they would be embarrassed to wear it in their own homes.

At this time Annette Kellerman was parading her above the knee one piece swim costume in America. Ironically Rose Scott was a well known suffragette, campaigning for women's right to vote.

After a public outcry, mainly from swimming clubs, a special meeting of the NSW Ladies Swimming Association was held.
Durack and Wylie could go to Stockholm but would have to pay their own expenses. Rose Scott resigned in protest.

The new President, Mrs Hugh McIntosh, wife of a boxing promoter, opened a public fund to help pay their expenses.

Gold at Stockholm

At Stockholm Durack set a new world record in the heat of the 100 metre freestyle.

When Fanny took to the blocks for the final next to Mina Wylie they were making history as the first Australian women to take part in an Olympic women's swimming final.
They were wearing the one piece swimming suit promoted by Annette Kellerman.

Durack quickly established an unbeatable lead and easily won the race. Wylie started badly but put in a strong sprint at the finish to take second.

On their return to Sydney Durack and Wylie were given a rousing welcome by large crowds.
The men's swimming team were almost ignored as they had not lived up to the high expectations. Durack's gold and Wylie's silver were the toast of the town.

Capitalising on their Olympic success Durack and Wylie travelled across Europe and the United States taking part in swimming carnivals and putting on exhibition swims.

Fanny Durack dominated world swimming from 1912 to 1918. She held 12 world records.

After The 1912 Olympics

Stockholm was to be the only Olympic Games at which Fanny would swim. The Berlin Games of 1916 were not held because of World War One.

Although not quite the Olympics, Fanny gave an exhibition of swimming in 1916 in Cooks River at the Illawarra Road bridge.
Fanny's display was part of a Venetian Carnival held to raise funds for the Australian New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). It is the only time that a gold medal Olympic swimmer has swum in Cooks River.

Fanny was very unlucky not to be able to swim at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp.
She came down with appendicitis and, after the appendectomy, developed typhoid fever and pneumonia.
It was the end of her competitive swimming career. Fanny retired and switched to coaching.

In 1921 Fanny married horse trainer Bernard Gately. The couple settled in Douglas Street, Stanmore. Actor and comedian Noeline Brown recounts in her biography Noeline: Longterm Memoir: 

"The Olympic champion Fanny Durack lived a few doors up the road from us with her brothers Con and Frank.
Dad told us proudly that our neighbour was famous for having been the first Australian woman ever to win an Olympic gold medal...

She was born in 1889 so she was getting on when we knew her and she had acquired a rather matronly shape for a swim suit.
She always wore an old fashioned woollen one piece costume equipped with a modesty skirt.

Like many others over the years Fanny tried to teach me to swim with lessons at North Olympic Pool but I was never much good at it."


Later Life And Death

Fanny was made a life member of the NSW Women's Amateur Swimming Association in 1945.
She was also honoured by her inclusion in the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Florida, United States of America.

At the 2000 Sydney Olympics Durack was honoured by having a thoroughfare in the Olympic Village named after her.
However, despite representation to the Olympic Committee, the street was named Sarah Durack Avenue, not Fanny Durack Avenue.

Bernard Gately died in 1939. Fanny died 20 March 1956, aged 66 years.
She was still living in Douglas Street Stanmore. Fanny was buried in Waverley Cemetery. Her brother, Frank Clement Durack who died in 1961 is buried with her.

In 1990 the grave and headstone were restored with funds from Waverley Council, the NSW Olympic Council, the NSW Department of Sport and recreation, local swimming clubs and the Durack family.

Fanny Durack's gold medal was presented by her family to the nation. It is held at the National Library in Canberra.

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