BBC Centenary Book & the Manhattan Island swim

BBC Centenary Book – author Ian heads and publisher Gary Lester

The evening began with Kieran K introducing and giving a warm welcome to the author of the BBC Centenary Book, Ian Heads, and publisher, Gary Lester.

IanHead and Gary Lester BBC Centenary BookIan spoke about the first meeting between Gary and himself with the BBC back in late Feb 2010. Unbeknown to him then, it was Alex Hamill, a workmate of his from the AOC media team at a couple of Olympics, and BBC member, who had pitched his name into the mix as a possible author. In turn Ian mentioned Gary and the excellence of his work producing truly beautiful books with Playright Publishing. The deal was settled on 26th June 2010: Ian would write the book and Gary would publish it…………

“And so it began…….
Well, the challenge it would turn out to be was a labour of more than three years of many interviews conducted and endless digging….. and I can report that the centenary book resulting, hammered out largely by a two-finger typist – me – and massaged into shape by Gary and his editorial team – is of well over 400 pages, of some 170,000 words, featuring 77 sidebars and more than 300 photos, some wonderful pix among them. My final impression of the design before it headed offshore, bound for the printers was that it looked terrific….
The breaking news (as they say on every TV channel these days) is that the book at this moment is in Singapore in the final stages of production – and not far from being shipped to Australia. The leather bound edition which will accompany it looks very classy indeed, I am told.”

Ian feels that the publication tells a colourful and terrific Sydney story – one of people coming together and working for a beloved cause. A recurring theme is how the different generations of the Beach Club triumphantly negotiated some seriously rough waters along the way.

“The book committee (Jackie Bourn, Kieran Kelly, Chris Deane and Brian Thornton) proved to be foundation stones of the project – a steady reference point throughout the three years of the book’s creation.
Very early, it became apparent from those on the committee just how much a good and accurate and worthy telling of the story meant to the club.
So strong in fact was the determination to get the book `right’….I think it maybe too took quite a time for the committee to accept that the old firm of Lester and Heads, originally sports writers by profession…were made of the right stuff for such a task. Maybe the final verdict on that will come only when the book is assessed by people such as yourselves.

Anyhow the understanding and friendships and trust grew as we plugged on – and progressively it became a team effort between the club and us.”

For Gary and Ian, old mates, it was something of a revisiting. Way back in 1987-88 the first book they worked on together was a History of Australian Sport from 1788-1988…a commissioned bi-centenary production…….they spent hundreds of hours in the State Library, with the viewing of endless micro fish films…or ploughing for hours through dusty newspaper pages.

There was far less of that this time, although some, New technology had arrived, the challenge of finding out stuff had changed forever via the likes of Trove and ready access to old newspapers online ….and the revolution had certainly reached the Beach Club as Ian soon discovered.

“Never, In the course of many years in newspaper and magazine journalist and in writing or co-writing some 40 books had I had access to such a body of readily available home-grown information on a project, notably the store of in-depth interviews already conducted with key club people, the photo files, the documents……
That was a tribute to the likes of Peter McCormick who back in 2005 scanned and digitised some of the Club’s photos, triggering interest in the idea of a series of restoration and preservation projects. As a newish Club member Jackie Bourn, of IT expertise, was soon on board………
The rest, as they say was…and is…history.

Supplementing the foundation provided by the archives…there existed of course the wonderful Report Card – such a store of knowledge, humour and history, a fabulous and often funny and elegant record of the club’s modern era”

“I will always think of the triumvirate of George Franki, Tim Anderson and Dick Morath as a veritable museum of available information in the making of the book. Such people are, indeed, the keepers of the flame at the Club. ”

The consensus following Ian’s most interesting presentation was “when can we get our hands on the book to have a jolly good read?” All will be unveiled at the book launch on 12th February 2014!

The Manhattan island Swim by the Balmoral Beach Team

After a short break Jimmy A and his team presented stories on their latest adventure. The “Balmoral Beach Team” of Jimmy A (Captain), Jenny Hole, Cathy Mackay and her sister Karen Panaretto participated in the famous Manhattan Island swim (some 46kms) on 10th August 2013, being one of eighteen teams taking part. More info…

Manhattan Swim - Balmoral Beach teamIn his inimitable style Jimmy was as entertaining as ever. He took to the floor dressed immaculately in a suit. He explained that its common knowledge that a man wearing a suit will 99% of the time tell the truth, with the odd exception; in 1987 Bob Hawke in a suit looked at the camera and said there will be no Australian child living in poverty by 1990, Lance Armstrong in a suit said that he did NOT take performance enhancing drugs. Jimmy would tell a good story whilst it was up to Jenny to tell the truth. There was mention of Cathy being slapped as pre-race nerves got to her or was it for talking … or was it true anyway?

As a relay team they agreed to swim with Jimmy starting the race followed by Karen, Jenny, and then Cathy. Jenny explained how there was a different kind of race pressure for if the team had not finished within 9.5 hours then the officials will take you out of the water. This was the last thing they wanted so were always mindful of swimming as fast as possible which meant averaging some 5 kms per hour. No mean feat. The swim was in an anti-clockwise direction around the island. Up the East River, along Harlem and up Hudson. There were lots of rules and regulations with the relay change-overs initially every 45 mins. The team arrived in New York allowing 4 days to relax and get accustomed to their surroundings. Jenny said their biggest problem was that they were in NEW YORK .. it had a vibe about it, so naturally they shopped and shopped and managed to take in 3 shows. They played tourists and took the circle line ferry around the island which seemed to take forever which concerned them! On the day of the race it was sunny; the water was warm and calm. Also fortunately there was a current of about 6 kms per hour. The girls couldn’t believe it when they waited in the boat for Jimmy to appear for the first change-over. The swimmers were just flying. It was just a lovely day for swimming except that they had the 9.5 hours cutover hanging over their heads. They swam under the Brooklyn Bridge, past the Empire State Building, The highlight for Jenny was swimming under the George Washington bridge, under which is a little red lighthouse (the start of another swim). Damage from Hurricane Sandy was evident for Jenny as she swam the last leg and past all the broken wharves. Fairly early on some of the other teams disobeyed the rules and moved out in the river to get a faster current. This was when Cathy became very vocal .. “They can’t do that” .. and she also drew the short straw and had to swim past the sewage intake (note intake!) The only other incident was when they lost their kayaker near 79th street. They looked around and saw he was floundering in the water with the NY Police having to come to the rescue. It seemed he was a dead weight as his legs were no use due to sitting in the kayak for so long. When Jenny was approaching the finish the captain told her to get in close to the wall, which seemed a good idea but she then had to dodge fishing lines. The current was still strong and then there was elation as she rounded the final corner and saw the big red buoy at the finish.

Jimmy then showed their trophy (5th in the 4 person relay category, 8hrs 29 mins) and mentioned how they also received individual trophies. Jimmy’s audience participation then began. There were some “Lucky door prizes” located randomly under several chairs, and what prizes .. signed team photos .. what joy! Then he asked for 3 volunteers with Susan, Sharna & Denise putting up their hands. Jimmy said he was always being asked what the water was like so he decided to try and provide some examples of it. The volunteers were blindfolded and then asked to smell and / or put their hands in some containers and say what the contents smelt / felt like. There of course was a mix of diesel, cold jelly (jelly fish), chocolate ice cream (dark murky water), salt & vinegar chips (salty water).

Cathy began her presentation with a very funny excerpt from a Seinfield episode when Kramer starts to swim in the East River … no one apart from Kramer would be stupid enough to swim in that river. Cathy told of considering the swim initially and balancing 1 day of swimming with the opportunity to have 2 weeks of holiday with her sister without the children, the latter tipping the scales. It all started to sound quite good. She had survived East River before when she and sister Karen had swam around the Statue of Liberty the year before, so how hard could this be? El Capatino AKA Jimmy stipulated they needed to be swimming 10 -15 kms per week in the build-up. They had a brief team meeting together in June when Karen was back in Oz and once committed they began getting all the necessary needles; tetanus and cholera shots. Finally Cathy showed Karen’s video, a really professional production of their great adventure. The team then took a number of questions from the floor.

A vote of thanks was given to the evening’s presenters, and on behalf of the BBC President Bob Johnson, who was unable to attend; Kieran Kelly thanked the convenor for his efforts throughout the year with the Storytellers.

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