1964 Australian of the Year
By Piper Macneall
Dawn Fraser has been called a larrikin and a mischief maker. She is
famous for her swimming medals and world records, as well as
sometimes breaking the rules.
Dawn is one of Australia’s greatest ever Olympians and her swimming
achievements have never been matched. She was named Australian of
the Year in 1964. If she had not been banned from swimming a year
later, it is likely she would have won another Olympic gold medal. But
her swimming career was ended after she got in trouble with authority.
She has also done a lot of work for charities since she stopped
swimming. Her work for charities is as good as all her wins in the pool.
Dawn Fraser was born on the 4th of
September 1937 in Balmain in Sydney.
She was born in the house she grew up
in and she still lives in that house today.
She has three sisters and four brothers
and is very close to her family.
As a girl Dawn attended Birchgrove
Public School and Leichhardt Home
Dawn Fraser had asthma
like her father. When she
was twelve it was so bad
her parents thought she
was suffering from
tuberculosis. Her favourite
brother Don told her to
take up swimming to help
her breathing. Don had taught her to swim at the Balmain Baths when
she was six years old. He died of blood poisoning when Dawn was
twelve years old, which made Dawn very sad. Some of the last words he
said to her were “You have a gift. Keep training for me.”
In 1952 when she was 14 years old, her coach Harry Gallagher noticed
how good she was at swimming and trained her for free because she
didn’t have any money to pay him. She swam with male swimmers to
try to beat them and make her faster. He used to get angry at her too
because he would find her smoking in the toilets. Harry used to trick her
into working harder by making his stopwatch go slower than it really
was, so that Dawn pushed herself harder.
In 1955 Dawn won her first Australian title in the 220 yards freestyle.
The events Dawn competed in were the 100m, 200m & 400m freestyle
as well as the 100 m butterfly.
There are only two people who have ever won a gold medal in an
individual event at three Olympic Games. Dawn Fraser is one, the other
is Krisztina Egerszegi of Hungary.
Dawn at the 1956
Dawn won the gold medal in the 100 metres freestyle in the 1956, 1960
and 1964 Olympics.
She was the first female swimmer to swim 100 metres freestyle in less
than a minute. She held the world record for 8 years after she had
Melbourne 1956 - 4x100m freestyle
relay: Sandra Morgan, Faith Leech,
Dawn Fraser and Lorraine Crapp
Rome 1960 - Dawn with her gold medal she won in
the 100 metre freestyle.
Tokyo 1964 – Receiving her gold
medal for the 100 metres freestyle
In the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Dawn Fraser
marched in the opening ceremony even
though she was asked not to by the team
officials. She also wore an older swimsuit
in the swimming heats instead of the one
she was told to wear by the officials
because she felt more comfortable in it.
Dawn at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
She was also accused of stealing an Olympic flag off the flag pole
outside the Japanese Emperor’s Palace. She was taken away by police
but they let her go without going to jail. She was eventually given the
flag as a gift.
Dawn was stopped from swimming by the Australian Swimming Union
for ten years because she did not follow the rules of the team officials.
They let the ban go in 1968 but it was already too late for Dawn to train
for the 1968 Mexico Olympics. In 1968 she was 31 one years old.
Dawn winning gold at the
1964 Tokyo Olympics.
Dawn Fraser worked hard to get the ten year ban lifted and won, but
she did not have enough time to prepare for the Olympic Games in
Mexico. The Mexican Olympic Organising Committee invited her to be
there as a guest at the games. A newspaper writer bet her she could not
swim 100 metres freestyle in 62 seconds. She won the bet and her time
was so fast that if she had been competing in the event she probably
would have won it. It would have meant that she would have won four
gold medals in the 100 metre freestyle at four different Olympics!
When Dawn found out that she could have won a gold medal she felt
sad and very hurt. She drank alcohol after the Mexico Olympics because
she was depressed. She didn’t leave her home in Balmain for a long
time. She was upset because she wasn’t given the chance to swim in
It was only because of her daughter, Dawn Lorraine, that she kept
strong. She went back to work and says that playing golf also helped her
through the pain.
When she stopped swimming, Dawn
started to help fundraise for charities.
In 1988 she became a mentor of the able
and disabled Australian Olympic Teams,
and still does it.
She helps out the Cerebral Palsy Sports
Association. She also helps the
Wheelchair Sports Association of
Victoria. Golf helped her when she was
sad so she helps the Ladies Professional
She also helped start the Laurels’ Sports Academy. She helps the Sport
for Good Foundation and is Vice President of the World Association of
Dawn has been involved with the National Australia Day Council as well
as the Sydney University Sports Union and New South Wales Sports
Dawn Fraser supports the West Tigers and is a Director of the West
Tigers Football Club and the Balmain Leagues Club and Balmain Football
Dawn Fraser also worked in parliament. From 19 Mar 1988 to 3 May
1991 Dawn was an independent member of the New South Wales
Parliament, in the seat of Balmain.
Dawn Fraser is one of the best swimmers we
have ever had. She has won many awards. In
November 1999 she was named the Athlete of
the Century, at the World Sports Awards in
Vienna, Austria. She also was given an award for
being Athlete of the Century from the Australian
Sports Hall of Fame.
She has been voted the best person to represent Australia and in 1998
was made a National Living Treasure.
In 1996, the Atlanta Olympic Organising Committee said she was one of
the seven best athletes ever and she carried the Olympic torch.
When the games were held here in Sydney in 2000, the President of the
International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch asked her
to be his guest. She carried the torch in the main stadium with six other
women athletes. She was also a mentor to the Australian Olympic team
In 1967 she was given an award as Member of the Order of the British
Empire and in 1967 an award called Officer of the Order of Australia.
The International Olympic Committee called her the World’s Greatest
Living Female Water Sports Champion in 1999.
She gives an award named after her at the Australian Sport Awards.
She even has a ferry named after her. It travels on the Parramatta River
in Sydney. And the pool she used to train in was named the Dawn
Fraser Baths in 1968.
LIFE AFTER SWIMMING
Dawn Fraser has been a mischief maker all her life. When she stopped
swimming she had lots of different jobs. She became a dressmaker,
swim coach, worked in a cheese shop and even ran
She was married to Gary Ware in 1964, but they divorced four years
later. They had a daughter called Dawn Lorraine.
She has written two books. Below the Surface - The Confessions of an
Olympic Champion is all about her swimming career. She also wrote a
second book called Dawn - One Hell of a Life in 2001 which is all about
the rest of her life.
Dawn has had to put up with lots of bad things in her life. Her favourite
brother Don died when she was twelve. He was the one who had taught
her to swim when she was little and made her keep swimming.
When she was getting ready for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 she was in
a very bad car accident and had a back injury. Her mum was killed in the
same accident. Dawn wanted to give up swimming but she didn’t and
she wore her Mum’s gold wedding ring in the 100 metres freestyle at
the Tokyo Olympics when she won a gold medal. It was her third
Olympic gold medal in the 100 metres freestyle.
Dawn Fraser in the pool in 1960.
Dawn Fraser was named Australian of the Year in 1964 because of how
well she had done in her swimming career. She should probably be
Australian of the Year again because of all the charity work she has
done since she was made to stop swimming. She has had to overcome
sadness and loss in her life. By not giving up she has made lots of other
people think they can do as well as her. Well maybe not win three gold
medals at three Olympics, but maybe she has made them think they
should try and not give up.
This is my favourite newspaper article about Dawn Fraser. It was on the
front page of The Age, a newspaper printed in Melbourne. It shows her
when she won her third gold medal in the 100m freestyle at the 1964
Fraser D. One Hell Of A Life. Hodder: Sydney, 2001.
Taylor, G. The Age No. 34144, Melbourne, 14 October 1964.