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Lea’s Legacy Lives On

By Nicola Smith on May 26, 2021 in News

Lea limbering up at her beloved Icebergs Pool. Photo: Eve Wheeler

The Bondi community is mourning the passing of local swimming legend Lea Hill, who sadly passed away from brain cancer in April aged 77. Ms Hill was one of the first female members of the Icebergs swimming club since women were invited to join in 1995 and was also an active member of the Bondi Mermaids and Puffers swimming clubs, as well as a Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club member.
The flags at the Icebergs and Bondi Surf Bathers’ Clubs were flown at halfmast following her passing and a minute of silence was held in her honour at the opening of the winter swimming season.
Lea Hill held the records for countless masters events, including beating the record for her age category in the 2019 Winter Swimming Championship by six seconds while swimming with an injured shoulder.
Despite being in an advanced stage of cancer, she swam in the Bondi Blue Water Challenge on February 28, 2021, winning the one kilometre swim in her age category.
Former Icebergs Captain John Scanlon remembered this same tenacity when women were first invited to join Icebergs in 1995.
“She swam 365 days of the year at Icebergs, and always at 6am,” Mr Scanlon told The Beast. “When it opened, she was there, so when the membership opened for women, her name went straight down.”
Ms Hill was also the first woman to be awarded an Icebergs lifetime membership in 2019.
Dori Miller, director of competition at Bondi Surf Bathers’, said that Lea remains widely admired in the Bondi community for her ferocious bravery both in and out of the water.
“The thing I really admired about her was that she loved competing in the surf, and she was up for anything. She wasn’t fazed by big surf; she would always go out and swim her race and she never complained. It really didn’t seem to bother her,” Ms Miller told The Beast.
As well as being an incredibly consistent member of the swimming community, Ms Hill was also instrumental in campaigning for older age categories in masters surf life saving events, encouraging older men and women to compete for longer.
“She was just a lovely person, she had time for everyone,” Mr Scanlon said.
“She was a Bondi girl. She loved Bondi, loved the beach. She was age champion every year, won the Australian Titles every year. The real badge of honour at Icebergs is to fit in 100 swims in five years and she did near to 300 swims in 15 years.”
Outside of swimming, she was known as a lover of oysters, The Beatles, trivia nights and the Australian Labour Party.
Morgen Lee, Lea’s cousin, told The Beast that Lea was a true ocean lover with an infectious sense of fun.
“She was a lot of fun, she knew how to have a good time, there was nothing she loved more than sitting out over the ocean eating oysters and drinking champagne,” she said.
A true Bondi girl, Ms Hill attended St Patricks Primary (now amalgamated with Galilee) and worked as a personal secretary in the film and media industry, working for Fox Studios and 2UW radio at different times.
Friend and fellow swimmer Eve Wheeler said that Lea’s legacy will be felt throughout the community as an encouragement to give anything a go.
“She was a bit of a quiet achiever, she loved getting involved and she was unstoppable, she got involved and always turned up, she was always there. She was brave, fearless, courageous, and just bloody loved it,” Ms Wheeler told The Beast.