My love of water began early when Dad hoisted me on to his shoulders and waded out into the Pacific Ocean as it reached Queensland’s golden beaches. As he was 6’6 ½” tall, I had a bird’s eye view of the beach as he turned and warned me to “Hang on tight” to his blonde curls as he body surfed back into the shallows. “Do it again, Dad,” was my constant refrain whenever we had a family picnic at the beach.
I learned to swim properly when I was 10 and soon wanted to join Harry Gallagher’s Golden Dolphins training squad which trained both before and after school at the Adelaide City Baths. Harry had a big reputation as he coached Australian gold medallist Dawn Fraser, also part of the Olympic squad he trained for the Rome Olympics in 1960.
These were exciting times for a girl with stars in her eyes as she watched such swimming heroes as the Konrads – Jon and Ilsa, John Devitt, Dawn and golden boy Murray Rose. Murray was incredibly fast in the water, a natural sprinter, despite having a distance swimmers slow kick. He was tall, blond, with a perfect swimmer’s physique of broad shoulders tapering to slim hips and long lean legs. He was always tanned and had film-star good looks, making him the heart throb of every girl in the squad – even a ‘tiddler’ like I was.
Murray seemed quite unaware of his looks and had an exceptionally kind and helpful nature which he demonstrated to me one day as I struggled to mater the tumble turn. He jumped into the shallow end and asked if I needed help?
Blushing, I told him that the tumble turn was proving very difficult for me to master, despite some hurried tips from Harry. Murray calmly took me through his technique of counting the strokes from the flags, taking an extra large breaths 2 strokes before hitting the pool wall, sliding my hand down the wall and flipping my tucked up legs over in a somersault before kicking off the wall with my feet.
At first he had me somersault over his extended arm, gradually withdrawing it as I mastered the tricky move. “Now aren’t you a back-stroker?” he asked. “Let’s try doing the whole thing backwards.” After an hour of his caring and practical advice, not to mention his arm with which he guided my forward and backward somersaults, I had the tumble turn problem ‘licked’.
I never forgot the kindness of my golden hero and followed his success at the Rome Olympics where he won more gold medals. Murray moved to California to attend university there and went on to star in a surfing movie.
He remained a much respected member of the Australian swimming scene and I was devastated to learn of his death at the age of 73 on 19th April. TV news footage showed Murray poolside at the Sydney Olympics, giving Ian Thorpe and encouraging pat on the shoulder before a big race, and many of the swimming greats of this country saluted not only a great swimmer but one of nature’s gentlemen, affectionately nicknamed 'The spinach streak'.
RIP Murray Rose.
As we grow up, heroes are an important part of our lives. You have captured the story of one of your heroes in a beautiful manner as to when and why he became a part of your life! Beautifully told, beautifully done. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks, Golden, heroes are so important when we are young and Murray Rose fitted the title of hero like a glove. I have never forgotten his kindness to a 'tiddler' in the training squad that trained 8 miles a day in an unheated pool!
Annie, I didn't know you were such an avid swimmer. This is a wonderful story. I can see you now making sure you didn't learn the flip too quickly.
Tom, T rained with the Golden Dolphins for 6 years, was a member of Crystal Pool Amateur Swimming Club (where I became Junior Women's Captain when I was 14 when Dawn Fraser was our Women's Captain) and was the South Australian Backstroke record holder from the age of 12 for the 50, 100 and 200 metres. So, yes, you could say I was avid! Passionate would be more like it! I spent at least 6 hours a day in the unheated pool training every day from September to April, before school and after school, which turned my blonde hair green! I still love swimming and feel completely at home in a pool!I have taught hundreds of kids how to swim and also played water polo, was part of Adelaide inaugural synchronised swimmimg group and demonstrated water safety and resuscitation for the Royal Life Saving Assc.