Fanny Durack

Sarah (Fanny) Durack (1889-1956), swimmer, was born on 27 October 1889 at Sydney, third daughter and sixth child of Mary (born Mason) and Thomas Durack, publican. She learnt to swim in the Coogee Baths and trained in breast stroke - the only style in which there was a championship for women. While still a schoolgirl she won her first State title in 1906. Later she adopted the trudgen stroke and by 1911 had changed to the Australian crawl.

The New South Wales Ladies' Amateur Swimming Association forbade its members appearing in competitions when men were present. After public demand for Fanny to go to the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, the Association reversed this rule. There was further controversy over sending a swimmer for one event, but after a successful public appeal Fanny sailed for Sweden via London. She trained only half a mile a day. At Stockholm she swam a heat of the 100 metres free-style in one minute 19.8 seconds to break the world record. On 15 July she won the gold medal for the 100 metres, the only individual event for women, beating fellow Australian Wilhelmina (Mina) Wylie.

Her Olympic success led to tours with Mina Wylie in Europe and the United States, but with further controversy. In 1918 they arrived in America without official sanction to find themselves banned by the Amateur Swimming Union of Australia. Next year the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States threatened to suspend their amateur status, when they refused to swim until their manager's expenses were paid. After being defeated in two carnivals by American women, Fanny determinedly tried to limit her appearances until she had practised the new American crawl. Ordered by officials to swim at Chicago, she jumped the starter's gun, swam half a length and got out. The tour was curtailed.

A week before the Australian team left for the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, Fanny Durack had an appendectomy (followed by typhoid fever and pneumonia) and withdrew. Between 1912 and 1918 she had broken twelve world records, including swims of 100 yards in one minute 6 seconds, 100 metres in one minute 16.2 seconds, and 1 mile in 26 minutes 8 seconds. Her successes did much to promote women's swimming. In America she was honoured by the International Swimming Hall of Fame at Fort Lauderdale, Florida and received a Helms award.

Fanny Durack retired from competitive swimming on marriage to Bernard Martin Gately, a horse trainer, on 22 January 1921 at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney. She devoted herself to coaching young children. She was an executive member and life member (1945) of the New South Wales Women's Amateur Swimming Association. Fanny died of cancer at Stanmore on 20 March 1956.

Helen King