- Honour Roll
Fanny Durack was born on 27 October 1889, in Sydney, to parents who were both publicans. After nearly drowning in the surf at Newcastle, she decided to learn to swim in the Coogee Baths. She initially swam breaststroke as this was the only style in which there was a championship for women. She won her first State title in 1906, later adopting the trudgen stroke and by 1911, the Australian crawl.
The New South Wales Ladies' Amateur Swimming Association had banned women from appearing in competitions where men were present. However, Fanny was so successful that, following much debate and much opposition from male Olympic officials, she was allowed to compete in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm.
At the Olympic Games she broke the world record for the 100 metre freestyle in 1 minute 19.8 seconds in a heat. On 15 July 1912, she won the gold medal for this event, the only individual event for women, beating fellow Australian Wilhelmina Wylie.
Buoyed by this success, at their own expense, the two swimmers toured Europe and the United States over the coming years. Fanny constantly fell foul of officialdom, because as a woman, she insisted on her right to swim internationally and competitively. Determined, she pressed on and with very little official support between 1912 and 1918, she broke twelve world records and her success aided the promotion of women's swimming.
Unfortunately, Fanny had an appendectomy a week before the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, forcing her to withdraw. In 1921, she retired from competitive swimming and married a horse trainer, Bernard Martin Gately. She turned to coaching young children and was made a life member of the New South Wales Women's Amateur Swimming Association in 1945.
Fanny died of cancer at her home in Stanmore on 20 March 1956. Following this, her gold medal was presented to the Commonwealth Government. She received little attention until 1990 when public subscription raised funds to erect a commemorative plaque on her untended grave at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney.
Reviewed 25 May 2022