Dawn FRASER (1937-).
DATA: 4 September 1937, 06:09 (6:09am) AEST (10he) Balmain, Sydney, NSW, Australia (33s51, 151e11). REFERENCE: "I was named after the dawn that was breaking over Cockatoo Island as I first came into the world" from Fraser's autobiography, "Dawn: One Hell of a Life." Sydney: Hodder, 2001, p. 5.; Cockatoo Island is in Sydney Harbour just near the suburb of Balmain; the local newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Sept. 1937, p. 22, cites Bureau of Meteorology for sunrise at 6.09am.
BIOGRAPHY: At a ceremony for the World Sports Awards in Vienna in November 1999, Dawn Fraser AO, MBE, was officially recognized by an international jury as the world's finest female swimmer of the century. The Sport Australia Hall of Fame followed suit by announcing her as Australia's female athlete of the century. She is the only swimmer, male or female, to have won a freestyle event at three consecutive Olympic Games. Many people share her conviction that this tally could have been four, were she not prevented from competing at the 1968 Games. Her career effectively ended with a suspension at the 1964 Tokyo Games for alleged "misbehaviour." The first woman to break the minute for 100 metres, Fraser held that record for 16 years, winning the Olympic 100 metres in 1956, 1960 and 1964. Overcoming handicaps of poor health, scandals and tragic circumstances, this rebel eventually won 4 Olympic gold medals & 4 silver, and held 27 individual world records, in an illustrious career.
Dark-haired and blue-eyed Dawn Fraser was named after the dawn that broke over Cockatoo island in Sydney harbour when she was born to a tough but loving family in nearby working-class Balmain, the youngest child with three brothers and four sisters. Asthmatic, she aggravated her condition by playing in a disused coalmine. A spirited tomboy scallywag ("an apprentice delinquent"), who swore ("like a wharfie"), scaled fences ("like a scalded cat"), smoked cigarettes, drank beer ("like water"), wagged school, broke windows, stole push-bikes, and bossed the boys around, Fraser learnt to swim from her brother Don who died when she was 13. At the same age she began swimming training after a coach spotted her reigning over the local tidal baths. She left school at 14 to work as an apprentice dressmaker in a frock factory. As the local loudmouth and proud of her roots, she would be constantly rude to her coach, declaring at the pool, "I'm not training in the same lane as those stuck-up college bitches!" Seeing her potential, he nevertheless put up with her larrikinism and trained her for free. She followed him to Adelaide to train for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, working in the fashion dept of a big store and training in a group nicknamed 'the Water Babes,' while training with the men made her very competitive.
Dawn won gold in the 100 metres freestyle at Melbourne, becoming a permanent member of the Australian Swimming Team. She won 2 more gold medals at the 1958 Cardiff Commonwealth Games. At Rome in 1960, at age 23 and the oldest of 'The Water Babes,' she rebelled against the officials, staying out late at night. After she walloped one of her female competitors in the face with a pillow, her team-mates refused to speak to her. Just six months before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Fraser was driving a car when it crashed. Her 60-year-old mother, Rose, who had been sleeping in the backseat was killed. Fraser herself incurred cracked vertebra in her neck, and could not attend the funeral due to her hospitalisation. She was nine weeks in a steel neck brace and inconsolable. Having said in 2000 that she was probably suffering some kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome, she went to Tokyo in 1964 and won her third consecutive gold medal for her late mother. Wearing her mother's wedding ring, she stood on the dais and sobbed. Then she went a bit crazy, blasting on a bugle while poolside, marching at the wrong time, and trying to steal a flag from the Emperor's palace (a jailable offence). The Japanese authorities and Australian public forgave her (she was made Australian of the Year in 1964), but, in a very unpopular move, the Australia Swimming Union banned her from swimming for a decade. Fraser has since remarked that she was banned for wearing a comfortable but unofficial swimsuit (that she had stitched herself) in the Olympic opening parade and one of her heat races, because the official uniform swimsuit was ill-fitting. Her autobiography, "Below the Surface" (Australian title "Gold Medal Girl"), written with Harry Gordon, was published in 1965.
A year after the Tokyo Olympics, Fraser married Gary Ware, a Townsville bookmaker, and they had a baby, Dawn-Lorraine (15 Dec 1965) but the marriage didn't last. She was madly in love with him but perhaps the marriage never began properly. Unknown to Fraser, Ware had sold the story of their honeymoon to a women's magazine and they were followed about on their tropical island hideaway by a photographer. Fraser was shocked at discovering the intrusion. After the marriage ended she terminated a pregnancy after falling in love with a man, was raped by a Polish sailor in a ship's cabin in 1971, and fell into a 14-month depression. She took refuge in the kindness of a woman scriptwriter, and the two began an affair, which ended bitterly. Apart from coaching, she had a series of jobs that included co-managing a cheese shop and pub with a woman with whom she had a long-term relationship. She bought the pub in Balmain, but it went broke after she fell down the stairs and was too injured to work. In the late 1980s she declared she was near to the poverty line. In 1988, Fraser went into politics and was elected to represent Balmain in the New South Wales Parliament, but lost the seat in 1991. Almost crippled by asthma, she moved to the countryside, becoming the patron of various sporting organisations for the disabled. She returned to Sydney for the Olympic Games in 2000.
At the Sydney Games, Fraser was invited to sit in the VIP box beside International Olympic Committee Chief, Juan Antonio Samaranch, his wife being unable to attend due to grave illness. With several other champion Australian sportswomen, she also helped light the Olympic flame. (At the 1996 Olympic Games, in Atlanta, Fraser passed the Olympic Torch to Muhammad Ali for him to light the Olympic Flame at the Opening Ceremony). One of swimming's most controversial champions and the most visible rebel in the history of Australian sport, suddenly had the world's attention again.
Dawn Fraser has a daffodil, an orchid and a rose named after her, plus a swimming pool and a film. In 2001 she added her autobiography to the list, claiming that she wanted to "put the record straight' particularly over rumours about her sexuality. She candidly revealed her past two lesbian relationships, saying that she now doesn't consider herself to be gay. A supporter of gay and lesbian rights nonetheless, she helped present the bid for the 2000 Gay Games in Sydney. Fraser also revealed that while she had believed her mother had died from a heart attack in the car before the fated car crash in 1964, a coroner's report obtained after 30 years of wonderment over the incident stated that her mother died from injuries sustained in the crash. Today Fraser again lives in Sydney: "I have beautiful memories of Balmain. I live in the house my parents lived in and I was born in. I suppose I feel quite safe in it." While she joked that she wanted to subtitle her life's work, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," the cover of her book appeared as "Dawn: One Hell of a Life."