Friday 31 May 2013


Straight after Christmas I linger in Sydney a while and set up temporary lodgings in Matt and Jane’s spare room at their flat near the Stanmore Station. The closest pool is the Fanny Durack on the edge of Petersham Park -The very oval where, at 18 years of age, Don Bradman struck 110 runs, his first triple figure in an official game- and the walk there becomes our afternoon suburban pilgrimage.

Along Trafalgar St which parallels the snaking train tracks, up over the wooden bridge at Petersham station and past the bowling club that somehow yearly survives the creeping re-developmental fate of having brick flats plonked onto its green. Turn right onto Station St where we pass an unusual tree I look at every time; a smooth milky ghost gum whose branches have gracefully yielded to the dipping arc of power lines in a perpendicular gesture of, “be my guest,” like they were there first and have first dibs on the air-space.  A left and the atmosphere darkens slightly as you turn into the park and paths lined with Camphor Laurel trees that provide voluminous umbrage to the picnicers.

The flat-roofed dark brown-bricked entrance, of the same architectural vision as the public toilet block beside, is at odds with the turn of the century wooden bandstand across the way. Often, whichever teenager is in charge of taking our money at the kiosk is off hosing down something or other so I let myself through the turnstile and pay on the way out.   

We pick out a patch of ground and mark it with our unfurled towels. Many mums of the Inner West favor the soft lawns too, and the undercover child wading pool is sometimes fuller than the main one.  A mural of a giant middle-aged baby coveting a beach ball adorns the wall of the pump-shed with a reminder to use sunscreen: Use 30+, Live 30+.  The message being if we protect ourselves from the sun we should hopefully live past age 30.

My holiday in Caloundra has set me on a path; a combination of swimming and painkillers has got me through a bout of the mystery illness I’ve been plagued with for years. My training starts here at the Fanny Durack and Jane is my unofficial motivator.

As our afternoons pile up my strength and endurance grows. 20 laps, 25, 30. The main problem I’m having now is keeping count.  And the boredom.

At the awkward length of 33 meters I find myself doing mental arithmetic up and down the lanes. 3 laps equals almost 100 meters, therefore 30 is close to a kilometer.  Usually after about 3 laps my mind starts to wander and it’s hard to control: 4, 5, 6, 7…do tomatoes count as part of my daily fruit or vegetable intake?...7... hang on, didn’t I do 7 already!?

I start making up rhymes to help:
One, One, I’ve just begun
Two, two, there’s more to do
Etc, until it gets complicated
Twenty one, twenty one, this is not plenty fun

When that no longer works I start a new game, Artistic Works Containing Numbers.

One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Two Mules for sister Sara
The three Amigos
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Slaughterhouse- 5
The Sixth Sense
The Magnificent Seven
Dinner at 8
Nine ½ Weeks
Ten Canoes
Oceans 11
and then it gets hard…
Oceans 12
Oceans 13
and then it’s near impossible…

Jane and I get competitive at our daily lap count.  She moves through the water with a lot more ease than I do, and usually when she gets out she's ahead by about 6 laps.  My power is determination; I lumber on.

At night I can’t sleep for black line fever and in the morning the sheets smell faintly of chlorine.  

By the time the summer temperatures are waning my mind has somehow melded with the lane lengths and I’ve started to feel what number I’m on, even if my mind wanders off.

Specs: As of the time of writing the Fanny Durack is closed pending renovation, controversially being downgraded to a 25mt length.   
History: the pool was one of three 33mt pools commissioned in the early 1960s in the Marrikville area after unresolved squabbles as to where a single 50mt might go, and opened as the Petersham Park Public Swimming Pool. It was re-named in 1999 after Fanny Durack, Australian swimming legend, who lived her twilight years in nearby Douglas St. Durack overcame local puritanical banning of women from competing with men due to immodesty, to travel to the 1912 Stockholm Olympics and win Gold.