100 years ago at the Olympic Games a young Australian girl whose parents came from East Clare, made history when she became the first Australian woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Fanny was daughter of Thomas Durack of Cloontra, Mountshannon and Mary Mason, Scariff, both of whom had emigrated to Australia, married and started a hotel business.
Durack, Sarah (Fanny) (1889–1956)
Sarah (Fanny) Durack (1889-1956), swimmer, was born on 27 October 1889 at Elizabeth Street, Sydney, third daughter and sixth child of Irish parents Thomas Durack, publican, a relation of Patrick Durack, and his wife Mary, née Mason. Known as Fanny, 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.
Although women had been forbidden by the New South Wales Ladies' Amateur Swimming Association to appear in competitions when men were present, such were her successes that there was public demand for her to go to the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm: debate among the clubs reversed the rule. It was argued that one event did not justify the inclusion of another swimmer, but the wife of Hugh McIntosh launched a successful appeal for funds. Fanny sailed for
Her Olympic success led to tours with Mina Wylie in Europe and the
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 (91 m) in 1 minute 6 seconds, 100 metres in 1 minute 16.2 seconds, and 1 mile (1.6 km) in 26 minutes 8 seconds. Her successes did much to promote women's swimming. Determined and self-willed, she had long dark hair and a figure that showed 'no symptom of ropes of athletic muscles'. In
Early in January 1921 Fanny Durack retired from competitive swimming and on 22 January at St Mary's Cathedral she married Bernard Martin Gately, a horse-trainer. She devoted herself to coaching young children and, a member of its executive, was made a life member of the New South Wales Women's Amateur Swimming Association in 1945. She died of cancer at her home at Stanmore on 20 March 1956 and was buried in the Catholic section of