My failed swimming career


This is the Oasis Pool which was a pretty big deal in Brisbane before modernity obliterated it.

I was once asked to write something about “swimming” but it was quite a struggle to find any happy memories of water let alone being submerged in the stuff. Being born a scrawny ginger with big ears and a death-like complexion was probably not a great start to any swimming career.

I did have a massive crush on Haley Lewis when I was 12, which doesn’t really count.

I have also had so, so many swimming FAILS over my life. The biggest one was probably the time I borrowed some yellow board-shorts on a Christmas vacation trip to Mooloolaba. They turned out to be entirely see-through and hilarity ensued as I tried to desperately escape the packed surf and make my way the 50 metres or so to the relative safety of my towel.

At 9 I got literally hoiked out of the pool halfway through my heat the first and only time I ever tried to compete in swimming because my breast-stroke better resembled someone having an epileptic fit.

And then there was the time I got washed over the rocks, slicing a big hole in my side, at the Coogee Beach rock pool.

And before all those mis-adventures I actually saw a girl drown – something so amazingly horrific – well I should have just treated it like an omen.


In my hiking days I took this photo of Moogerah Dam and Mt Greville, Main Range in the background.

So I guess you are now all wondering about that story so I will just quickly fill you in. I was about 8 and she was a little bit younger than me and it happened at Moogerah Dam, but not in the actual dam, but in a privately-owned pool attached to the convenience store. It cost 20c to have a swim in what was effectively – just someone’s backyard pool – a rather crappy one at that. Yet it was bizarrely packed.

My dad was busy fixing something wrong with the car and when my sister and I begged him to let us go in, he agreed.

I only noticed something was quite wrong when the overcrowded and milky-white-with-too-much-chlorine water was suddenly empty. I had been too busy diving deep under the surface attempting (in vain) to mimic that underwater stroke Aquaman used to do. So eventually a few breath-surfaces later I couldn’t help but pay attention. I suddenly saw everyone crowding around that poor girl.

It was a very real scene which is permanently seared into my brain. I had never seen someone distinctly not breathing before and I have never since. She was wet and oozing pool water from her nose and her mouth and no one was doing anything to save her. No one. And there were plenty of adults around, but they were just pathetically frozen or fucking useless — and this has been quite a theme throughout my formative years. I heard someone saying a nurse was on her way so I felt I should take my sister back to the car and away from this chilling scene. My dad reassured us that she would be ok but I wasn’t convinced.

Because it was Boxing Day we were in Ipswich with family and I remember my Poppa was a great reader of newspapers and so for the next few days I read every word in Ipswich’s incredibly crap periodical until eventually I saw this tiny, tiny story — only about 25 words — saying she had died.


Me, my mum and my sister at Moogerah Dam Christmas, the year before — in much happier times. Note my Michael Jackson t-shirt.

OK! So that was intense. But I guess even at 8 I was getting used to the fact my life was one trauma after another.

The other big hurdle with me and swimming was the flabby paunch I suddenly developed in my final year of primary school spending too much time eating my Nanna’s ginger nut cookies on weekends spent at her place. I didn’t even realise it had happened until we had an end of year 6 pool party. All my friends noticed and spent a great deal of energy making a big deal of it. Great.

So for the next few years until it wore off I would hide under a towel until being centimetres from the water and then whip it off and dive in as quickly as possible. Then when it was time to go out of the water I’d make sure it was before anyone else got out so I could better hide my shame.

Oh! I just remembered something else that tortured me. My hair used to stick down so much when wet and make my ears look so big. I remember having to rough up my hair after every dive under a wave. it seemed like anytime I got intimate with water I’d have to be in a supreme state of alertness.

The other by-product of my big ears was the inevitable water-getting-stuck-inside. After any decent period exposed to water this malaise would ensue. I would lie upside down on the couch banging my opposite ear like a mental patient. Sometimes for hours. Not cool.

But all-in-all swimming is not that bad. I did have a rather nice swim after a big ride just the other day — and this is despite the fact that I jumped into the pool in my full bike kit (minus shoes) and accidentally forgot my Garmin computer was tucked away in the back of my jersey. (It miraculously survived).

So it was just me and Dee’s parent’s dog — Evie. The dog seemed a bit too excited by the tennis ball game we invented together. But then again, I was pretty excited too.