- Category : Sports-Swimming
- Type : GE
- Profile : 6/2 - Role Model / Hermit
- Definition : Triple Split
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Migration 2
Australian athlete, officially recognized by an international jury as the world's finest female swimmer of the century at a ceremony for the World Sports Awards in Vienna in November 1999. The Sport Australia Hall of Fame followed suit by announcing 'Our Dawn' as Australia's female athlete of the century. Fraser 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 "misbehavior." The first woman to break the minute for 100 meters, Fraser held that record for 16 years, winning the Olympic 100 meters in 1956, 1960 and 1964. Overcoming handicaps of poor health, scandals and tragic circumstances, this rebel eventually won four Olympic gold medals and four silver, and held 27 individual world records, in an illustrious career.
Dark-haired and blue-eyed Dawn Fraser 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" by her own account) 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 was 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 brashness 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 while training.
Dawn won gold in the 100 meters freestyle at Melbourne, becoming a permanent member of the Australian Swimming Team. She won two more gold medals at the 1958 Cardiff Commonwealth Games. At Rome in 1960, 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 later stated that while she believed her mother had died from a heart attack in the car before the fated crash, a coroner's report obtained after 30 years of wonder revealed that her mother died from injuries sustained in the crash. Fraser herself incurred cracked vertebra in her neck, and could not attend the funeral due to her hospitalization. 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, born 12/15/1965, but the marriage
did not last. She was madly in love with Gary but shocked to discover that he 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, an intrusion that felt like a betrayal.
After the marriage ended she terminated a pregnancy from a brief love affair, 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 organizations for the disabled.
Fraser returned to Sydney for the Olympic Games in 2000. She 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 prior Olympic Games, in Atlanta 1996, 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, she 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
rumors about her sexuality. She candidly revealed her past two lesbian relationships, saying that she does not consider herself by the label of "gay." A supporter of gay and lesbian rights nonetheless, she helped present the bid for the 2000 Gay Games in Sydney.
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."