Fanny Durack is best remembered as the first Australian woman to win a gold medal in Olympic swimming.
Born Sarah Durack on 27 October 1889 in Sydney, Fanny learned to swim at the Coogee Baths. She won her first State title in 1906. She went on to hold Australian records over distances from 50 yards to a mile and set many world records for swimming.
After being defeated by Mina Wylie in the 100 yards breaststroke and the 100 yards and 220 yards freestyle at the Australian Championship in 1910-11, Durack began practising the new Australian Crawl stroke.
Public demand for Fanny and Mina to compete in the 1912 Olympic Games held at Stockholm led the New South Wales Ladies Amateur Swimming Association to change the rule which forbade their members to appear in competitions when men were present. Fanny and Mina had to raise their own funds to cover their involvement in the Olympics and be accompanied by an appropriate chaperone.
At the Stockholm Games, Fanny broke the world record for 100m free-style in the heats and won the gold medal. She broke twelve world records between 1912 and 1918. She and fellow Olympian Mina Wylie toured the USA in 1919.
World War I meant her next chance for Olympic competition came in 1920, but one week before the 1920 Olympic Games, Fanny had to withdraw due to an appendectomy, typhoid fever and pneumonia, which led to her eventual retirement.
Fanny was made a life member of the NSW women’s Amateur Swimming Association.
She died of cancer in 1956 and is buried at Sydney’s Waverley Cemetery, which overlooks the ocean.
- the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry for Durack, Sarah (Fanny).
- the Sport Australia Hall of Fame entry for Sarah ‘Fanny’ Durack – Swimming