Posted By John
Dawn Fraser, The Girl from Balmain

“I didn’t get it for being Miss Goody Goody,” she says. “I’ve always been known to
be outspoken and to speak my mind and I think that’s what Australian people like.”

  • 1996 voted the person who best symbolizes Australia
  • 1999 named one of Australia’s National Living Treasures
  • Officially recognised as one of the greatest Olympians of all time
  • 39 world records broken during her career
  • Won every 100m Freestyle competition she ever entered
  • First woman to break the one minute barrier for the 100 metre Freestyle
    at 59.6 seconds
  • World record holder for 100 metre Freestyle of 59.5 seconds which stood
    unbroken for 14 years
  • First swimmer to win a gold medal for the same event (100m Freestyle) at 3 consecutive Olympic Games: 1956 Melbourne, 1960 Rome, and 1964 Tokyo.

Who is she?

If you haven’t guessed by now, it’s the always-smiling Dawn Fraser.

Dawn was called a larrikin (mischievous person), a trouble maker, a non conformist. This lady was no ordinary Australian. She ran a cheese shop and a pub and was a factory hand, a pollie (politician), a member of the Cerebral Palsy Sports Association, a patron of the Wheelchair Sports Association of Victoria and president of the Australian Sports Hall of Fame.

Born on the 4th of September 1937 to a proud mum and dad, Dawn was raised with her 3 brothers and 4 sisters in a Sydney working suburb called Balmain in New South Wales, Australia.

There were many happy memories in Dawn’s childhood. “I had my first game of football on this oval here with my brothers. We came down here for a school carnival and they were one short and I had very long hair at the time and my brothers ran over to the caretakers lodge and got a pair of scissors and cut my hair so that I’d look like a boy and put a pair of football boots on me and a football jumper on me and I played for the school on the wing.”

Asthma takes her to swimming

As both Dawn and her father suffered from asthma, she was encourage to take up swimming to help her with her breathing. Dawn soon became a regular face around the Balmain pool. In 1948 Dawn’s competitive nature inspired her cousin to enter her in the local club races. This was the beginning of an impressive career that would make Dawn a household name.

Her greatest supporter was her favourite brother Don, taking her to the pools and encouraging her to swim. Sadly he died when she was only 13. Dawn recalls, “I can remember crawling through the window where he was in the hospital. He said, ‘you have a gift…keep training for me’. I s’pose those were the last words he ever spoke to me.”

Not all Dawn’s days were spent happily swimming

In a swimming meet, Dawn received prize money purse for defeating a well known swimming wonder Lorraine Crapp. Unaware that accepting the money was against the rules, Dawn was banned from swimming for eighteen months for this infringement.

Dawn continued to swim on her own till a swimming coach, Harry Gallagher, spotted her. Seeing the raw potential for her to be a great swimmer, he offered to train Dawn for nothing. In 1953, Dawn raced in the Australian Championships for the selection to swim in the 1954 Empire Games in Vancouver but was not selected. With determination, Dawn was not willing to accept this set back

Dawn and her coach Harry Gallagher moved to Adelaide. There she began training at the local pool and become part of a group nicknamed, ‘The Water Babes’. Dawn was extremely competitive and started training with the men in her effort to compete in the South Australian Championships in 1955-1956.

Dawn Fraser’s
Swimming Records


  • 1964 Tokyo, Japan
    100m Freestyle 59.5 sec
  • 1956 Melbourne, Australia
    100m Freestyle 60.2 sec
  • 1956 Melbourne, Australia
    400m Freestyle 4.17.1 min
  • 1962 Perth, Australia
    400m Medley 4.11 min
  • 1962 Perth, Australia
    100m Freestyle 59.6 sec
  • 1962 Perth, Australia
    400m Freestyle 4.11.1 min

Commonwealth Games

  • 1958 Cardiff, Wales
    400m Freestyle 4.17.4 min
  • 1958 Cardiff, Wales

The Girl from Balmain

World record broken

Harry perfected Dawn’s swimming style and in the Nationals for Olympic selection she broke a swimming record that had stood for 21 years. This qualified her for the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. Dawn went on to win gold in the 100 metre Freestyle 60.2 seconds as well as taking gold in the 100m Freestyle Relay and silver in the 400m Freestyle at the Olympics.

After that spectacular performance at the Olympics, Dawn became a permanent member of the Australian Swimming Team and continued to win 2 more gold medals at the 1958 Cardiff Commonwealth Games. Although Dawn was struck down with hepatitis, she was still able to win a position on the Olympic team for the 1960 Olympic games in Rome.

Rome Olympics

The 1960 Rome Olympics was not a pleasant time for her. At the age of 23, Dawn now was the oldest of ‘The Water Babes’. Her independent attitude and larrikin (mischievous) ways often saw Dawn in trouble with officials. In addition the Australian swim team was struck down with illness, the coaches in disarray and unrealistic pressures put on the swimmers. For the second time Dawn won the 100m Freestyle, but because of a misunderstanding Dawn and officials clashed. Dawn was dropped from the Australian Team the following year. Dawn moved to Perth in preparation for the Commonwealth Games. Sadly it was during this time that Dawn’s father died.

World record smashed

In the 1962 Dawn competed in the Commonwealth Games held in Perth, Australia. There she smashed the world record and become the first woman to break the 100m in less than a minute swimming it Freestyle in 59.9 seconds.

Tragedy strikes Dawn again

In 1964 a fatal car accident Dawn’s mother was killed and Dawn was seriously injured landing her in hospital for nine weeks. This nearly ended her career and her plans to enter the Tokyo Olympics.

More records broken

Dawn found the strength to go on and competed in the Tokyo Olympics winning gold in the 100m Freestyle for the third successive time. This had never happened before in the history of the Olympic games.

Dawn becomes a member of Parliament

In 1988, Dawn went into politics and was elected as an Independent to represent Balmain in the New South Wales Parliament. Still having a love for swimming, Dawn was a support official at the Seoul Olympics.

Donating her medals to raise money

Dawn went on to help support the sports effort in Australia. In an effort to raise money for the Australian Commonwealth Games, Dawn offered her medals at an auction. The medals were bought by one man at the auction. Because of his admiration for Dawn, he presented them back to her.

Dawn Fraser is an Australian swimming legend and an inspiration to our youth. Australia thanks you, Dawn.

Dawn is banned from swimming

In 1964 rightly or wrongly, Dawn felt the wrath of officialdom and was suspended and banned for 10 years from swimming. No official reason was ever given.

Since Dawn was always playful and not fond of rules, it could have been because she marched in the opening ceremony without permission, wore a non-regular swim suit in a semi-final or stole a flag from the Japanese Emperor’s palace in Tokyo.

Although none of those things seem to warrant a 10 year ban from swimming, that is unfortunately what happened to Dawn.

Her response was to say “I guess it retired me four years earlier than I wanted to retire.” Australia didn’t forget Dawn however. The following year she was named Australian of the Year in recognition of her great talent and contribution to Australian sports.

The World honours Dawn
at the Olympics

The world showed her the appreciation and gratitude for what she had given to the sport of swimming at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Dawn went to the games as Sports Ambassador for Australia and to motivate our Olympic team.

At the Olympic Games, Dawn had the honour to carry and pass the Olympic Torch to Muhammad Ali for him to light the Olympic Flame at the Opening Ceremony.

She was further honoured at the Opening Ceremony along with other world legends: American long jumper Bob Beamon, Cuban boxer Teofilo Stevenson, American track and field star Carl Lewis, American diver Greg Louganis and Romania gymnast Nadia Comaneci.

It was at these games that Dawn suffered a heart attack. She believes she would not have survived her angina attack if her daughter, Dawn-Lorraine, had not urged her to fight.

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