Mevrouw T’s recovery from knee surgery involves regular trips to the hydrotherapy pool at our local Annette Kellerman Aquatic Centre. It’s an excellent state-of-the-art swimming facility and wellness centre (a pool and gym in other, plainer words).
While my wife bobs in the water practising knee bends, I have time to imbibe the morning heart-starter from Kellerman’s Cafe and study the plaques telling me about Marrickville’s famous daughter. It’s an extraordinary story.
Mevrouw T and dozens of others who grace the hydro pool each morning hope the therapy works as well for them as it did for young Annette.
By 1902 Annette Kellerman was the state swimming champion and record holder in the 100 yards and the mile. It’s unlikely that any swimmer from Marrickville or anywhere else will ever match this feat.
Annette’s parents were musicians and their daughter had showbiz in her blood. So when the family moved to Melbourne, schoolgirl Annette gave swimming and diving demonstrations at the Melbourne Baths, did a mermaid act at Princes Court entertainment centre and swam with the fish in a glass tank at the Exhibition Aquarium.
That was just the start. Annette Kellerman was the first woman to attempt (unsuccessfully) to swim the English Channel.
She moved to America, starred in several mermaid movies, was arrested for indecency for wearing her notorious one-piece bathing suit on a Massachussetts beach, revolutionised ladies’ swimwear and is credited with inventing sychronised swimming.
Naturally she did her own movie stunts, even the 60-foot dive into a pool of crocodiles. She was a busy girl.
A Harvard doctor who studied 3000 women (history does not record how) declared Miss Kellerman ‘the perfect woman’ on the basis of her close resemblance to his ideal of feminine beauty – Venus de Milo. He was apparently happy to overlook Ms de Milo’s limb deficiencies and focus on her other attributes.
In her later life Annette Kellerman returned to Australia and continued to demonstrate her flexibility and swimming prowess well into old age – an inspiration to us all, especially those of us with dodgy knees.
Our friend and local writer/historian Mary Haire wrote a play, Dive Divas, about Annette Kellerman and her contemporary Aussie swimming champ, Fanny Durack. After the play was presented at both the Enmore and Petersham Pools, Mary was influential in having Petersham Pool renamed The Fanny Durack Aquatic Centre. All credit to you, Mary!