Waverley’s Water Women – Fanny Durack and Mina Wylie
It is unsurprising, given our glorious coastline, that Waverley has been home to, or a significant influence upon, so many female swimmers. Some have just paddled recreationally, others have swum competitively and a select few have gone on to international glory.
2012 is the centenary of the Stockholm Olympic Games, significant as these were the games where Australian women first competed at the Olympic level, and where Fanny Durack and Mina Wylie won gold and silver for Australia.
While these women could have easily been unfriendly competitors, they swam against each other consistently at swimming events as well as at the Olympics, and they were, in fact, great friends and supporters of each other’s swimming careers.
Fanny (Sarah Frances) Durack (1889-1956)
Fanny became Australia’s first female Olympic gold medalist when she won the women’s 100m freestyle at the Stockholm Olympics in the then world record time of 79.8 seconds. This was the only individual event women could compete in.
Between 1912 and 1918 she went on to break 12 further world records and earn her place in the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Florida. This centre is recognised by FINA, the international governing body of swimming, diving and water polo, as the official hall for aquatic sports.
Since her death in 1956, Fanny Durack’s final resting place has been Waverley Cemetery, fittingly overlooking the ocean. Her grave had been unmarked, overgrown and seemingly forgotten until Waverley Council set up a fund to buy a plaque to mark her grave and honour her contribution to Australian swimming. As well as money donated by Waverley Council, funds were received from the NSW Government, local swimming and surf life saving clubs, Fanny’s American niece and a former swimming pupil of Fanny’s.
Three thousand dollars was raised and in 1990 her grave was restored and a new onyx headstone put in place. It reads:
In memory of Sarah “Fanny” Durack (Mrs. Bernard Gately) died 20 March, 1956, aged 66. First woman swimmer to win an Olympic gold medal, Stockholm, 1912. Held every world freestyle record from 100 yards to one mile.
Mina (Wilhelmina) Wylie (1891-1984)
Mina Wylie, Australian pioneer and champion swimmer, first learnt to swim at Bronte Baths. Her father, Henry Alexander ‘Harry’ Wylie, himself a champion long distance swimmer and diver, leased Bronte Baths from Waverley Council from November 1, 1895 to June 1901.
Mina became Australia’s first female Olympic silver medalist when she came second to Fanny Durack in the women’s 100m freestyle, still an extraordinary feat as she started badly and had to work hard to make up time during the race. She managed to pass all of the other swimmers to come in just behind Durack.
Mina had a long and highly successful Australian and international swimming career and went on to worldwide fame. Her amazing swimming ability is recognised by her inclusion in the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Florida.