Alec Wickham came to Australia from the Solomon Islands in the late 1890s. He initially swam in the style developed by generations of Pacific Island people. His ‘crawl’ over the water at the Bronte Baths was said to have inspired other Sydney swimmers to do likewise. The Cavill family and other Australian swimmers developed that style further and something called the ‘Australian crawl’ emerged to challenge the then-popular trudgeon stroke.
Alec Wickham was a gifted amateur swimmer and diver and interested in surfboard riding. Diving fans remembered ‘the great Alec Wickham’ for the grace of his dives, especially the classic ‘Alec Wickham’ or ‘South Sea Island dive’ done feet first.
Wickham had turned professional by 1914, developing a vaudeville act where he performed in a glass tank.
His world-record dive of 205 feet (62.7m) in 1918 was not accomplished at an ocean pool, but from a specially constructed tower on a cliff above the Deep Rock Swimming Basin on Melbourne’s Yarra River. Wickham’s dive was the highlight of a World War 1 patriotic gala. Wickham had not anticipated having to dive from such a height, but was reluctant to disappoint the crowd and the gala organisers. Having survived that dive, he never wished to dive from such a height again.
By 1918, Wickham had already abandoned his vaudeville career and was working at the Sydney Tramways Board. He later moved back to the Solomon Islands. His image appears on a postage stamp issued by the Solomon Islands