With the London olympics fast approaching, some champions of the past are in the news again. Last Sunday the ABC program Hindsight mentioned an upcoming broadcast that would include a discussion of Fanny Durack, the Australian who won the gold medal for women’s swimming at the Stockholm Olympics 100 years ago in 1912. She was the first Australian woman to win a gold medal at an Olympic games. Her success was widely reported in newspaper articles of the time. It prompted me to have a look in our collection and what do you know – we hold a couple of real treasures.
Firstly, a lovely hand coloured photograph of Fanny taken in 1912 by the Exchange Studios with the impressive caption “Miss Fanny Durack, champion amateur lady swimmer of the world”. Fanny is artfully posed in a sleek bathing suit with towel at hand seated on a rock at the beach – a very Australian scene. Exchange Studios were a well-known photographic business located in Sydney.
But even more interesting for those with a penchant for gold, the Library actually has Fanny’s famous olympic gold medal.
It was presented to the Library by Fanny’s brother Frank Durack on 14th November 1956. In his initial correspondence proposing the donation, he stated that the medal was an honour for Australia as well as a personal one for his sister and that the family felt it would be fitting to have it placed in Canberra in accordance with his sister’s wishes. As 1956 was the Olympic year in Australia the family considered it was an appropriate time to present the medal to the country.
A letter from the Chief Librarian at the time, Harold White, to the Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department said that the National Library would be glad to accept Miss Durack’s Olympic gold medal and that it would be temporarily displayed in one of the exhibition cases at Parliament House during the period of the Olympic Games “when interest would be at its highest”. After the presentation a press release was issued, and Harold White wrote personally to Frank Durack thanking him for the donation and telling him how greatly the Library appreciated the privilege of taking custody of the medal.