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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 1856

Mr LAUNDY (Reid) (10:58): Because I grew up in Reid, my weekends in summer were spent at swimming club. Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings were spent at the St Patrick's College swimming pool—on Saturday for the St Pat's swimming club and on Sunday for the Catholic swimming club. Whilst we would train every morning, weekends were for competing. The competition was fierce. Why was it fierce? It was fierce because the brilliant people in charge decided to make ice creams the prize. The races were handicapped to ensure titanic struggles; however, I cannot help but think there were some rorting involved when a child had not won for a while.

While I am no longer involved in these clubs, it was a real trip down memory lane when I received an email last week from the president of the Drummoyne Swimming Club, Duncan Lyon, inviting me to attend the George Wheaton Family Tribute Day at the Drummoyne pool. The Drummoyne Swimming Centre is an amazing community asset. It was built in 1904 at a cost of £3,000. It sits on the water overlooking the Iron Cove Bridge. I would hate to think what it is worth today. The pool has been home to many Olympic champions. Harry Gallagher's squad of the 1950s called the pool home. In fact, he took his squad from here to the 1956 Olympics, and two of his stars won Olympic gold, both in the 100 metres freestyle—no, there was not a dead heat. Drummoyne Pool was home to the male champion, Jon Henriks, and a swimmer I think not too many people have heard of, the legendary Dawn Fraser! In 1959 one of the best coaches our country has ever seen moved to the pool: swimming royalty Forbes Carlile. At the time his squad dominated world swimming. Three world records have been set at this pool, the last of these by another relative unknown, Shane Gould, who bettered the world mark for the 200 metres freestyle. A year later she shocked the world, wining three gold medals in the 1972 Olympics at the age of 15. Shane was coached by Forbes Carlile.

George Wheaton was a proud member of the Drummoyne Swimming Club from its earliest days. Whilst George Wheaton is not as famous as the people I have mentioned, he was no slouch. George was selected to represent Australia at the Empire Games, but never got the chance, due to the outbreak of World War I. George had four sons: Noel, Neville, George Jnr and Lindsay. All swam at the Drummoyne pool in the Drummoyne Swimming Club with their father. In 1937, at the age of 55, George Wheaton competed in a 220-yard race at the regular Thursday night swim meet. The local newspaper sums up what happened next:

'Swam to his death in race'

His love of participating in competitive swimming in spite of his advanced years caused George Wheaton, about 55, of the Lenore Street, Five Dock, to suddenly fall dead in view of many bathers last night after he had raced over 220 yards at Drummoyne Baths.

The victim was unplaced in the last race.

That was a bit harsh, wasn't it!

He contested a heat of the championship arranged by Drummoyne Amateur Swimming Club. After successfully negotiating the distance Wheaton left the water and conversed with some friends while the next heat was about to be run.

Without warning he fell and struck his head on the concrete. Friends found that life was extinct when they picked him up.

Wheaton had been told by his associates that he was getting rather old to compete in races, but he was too fond of his hobby to give it up.

Central Ambulance took the body to Balmain Hospital, where formal pronouncement of death was made.

His obituary in The Sydney Morning Herald on the same day read:

Mr George Wheaton, a prominent swimming official, collapsed and died shortly after a 220-yard race. Mr Wheaton, who was 53 years of age, was for several years delegate to the New South Wales Amateur Swimming Association, honorary secretary of the Western Districts Swimming, and treasurer of Drummoyne club.

I would like to thank all at the club for not only involving me in the day last Saturday—and the fact that they honour the heritage of their wonderful club and the foundation members involved, like George Wheaton—but also for the hours of work they put in for the benefit of local families in Reid. To the president, Duncan Lyon, and to all on his committee, as well as to the volunteers who offer their time, I say thank you and well done. To the four generations of Wheatons, especially Grandma June, I congratulate you for continuing to support the club of which George Wheaton was a founding pillar.

I am sure George is looking down and has a very large smile on his face, and deservedly so. Lastly, well done to the winner, Adam Brooks, and well done to Kate Coyne, last year's winner, who presented the trophy. To come back to where I began, the Brooks and the Coyne families are from Strathfield. Growing up, I attended the swimming club and competed against Adam's and Kate's parents, aunties and uncles. Although this world gets quicker by the year, I like to think the more things change, the more they stay the same.