WASA Celebrates 50 years

Olympic swimmers Brooke Hanson and Elka Whalan reflect as Warringah Amateur Swimming Association turns 50

Steven Deare, Manly Daily, November 22, 2014

OLYMPIC gold medallist Brooke Hanson can vividly recall that disaster at the Warringah Aquatic Centre.

Then 10-years-old, she nervously waited for the start of the 50m breaststroke event at the Warringah District Championships.

The race was a handicapped one, and little Brooke told her mother she was worried about diving at the wrong time.

Despite advice, the Manly Amateur Swim Club junior dove too soon after the gun, and was penalised. She swam the race through tears.

“Mum and Dad were there and I said: ‘I’m so embarrassed. I don’t want to go to the timekeeper and ask for my time’,” she recalled.

While distraught at the time, the 36-year-old believes the meetings of the Warringah Amateur Swimming Association – celebrating 50 years this year – taught her discipline and resolve.

“I can look back and know it was learning moments like that from the Warringah championships that made me stronger and able to put negatives behind me,” she said.

Elka Whalan after racing for Australia
Elka Whalan after racing for Australia

So too can fellow Olympic medallist Elka Whalan (nee Graham).

She fondly remembered those who helped coach and stage the events that nurtured her prodigious talent.

“It’s where it all started for me. It’s where I got the basis of why I loved swimming and the thrill I got from racing,” she said.

“Anytime I went to the WAC or Boy Charlton pool, from the lifeguards to the timekeepers, they were all supporting you. They deserve recognition.”

Comprised of 17 clubs across the northern beaches, the association encourages competitive swimming among children and adults.

Some clubs are based at rockpools, others at indoor ones.

Narrabeen Lakes Amateur Swimming Club
Narrabeen Lakes Amateur Swimming Club

Many are older than the association. They operated under the North Sydney Swimming Association until 1964, when Swimming NSW formed Warringah.

It spawned its own band of volunteer organisers, timekeepers and marshalls. People like Joan Somerville, twice association president and Queenscliff Ladies member.

She saw talents like Hanson emerge and co-ordinated many championships and school carnivals.

“It’s been a marvellous association to have kept going the way they have,” she said. “There are lots of other sports children become involved in, but swimming has held its own and our association has very strong numbers.”

“There are hard workers. That’s why we are where we are today.”

The association proved a catalyst for the building of Warringah Aquatic Centre, opened at Frenchs Forest in 1979. Prior to this, Mrs Somerville was one of the officials braving the chill at championships held at Dee Why Rockpool.

“You’d be standing there with a rug round you trying to keep warm, and trying to read the watch in the dark,” she said.

The Association has continued to find ways of helping young swimmers realise their potential.

WASA secretary Morna Hill and president Lois Clarke and swimmer-Mitchell Davis.
WASA secretary Morna Hill and president Lois Clarke and swimmer-Mitchell Davis.

In recent years it’s formed a scholarship with Warringah Council that provides six youngsters a season of expert coaching at the Aquatic Centre. One recipient has been 11-year-old Mitchell Davis of Allambie Heights.

He’s shown promising signs at the Northern Beaches Swim Club, based at Arranounbai School.

Father, Glenn said while the scholarship period ended, Mitchell continues to train at the centre.

“We probably wouldn’t have been able to escalate Mitchell’s swimming in the absence of a scholarship,” he said. “So there is affordability with smaller clubs.

“The scholarship makes the next step that much easier. We’ve got both kids doing multiple sports and you don’t want to say no.”

Affordable swimming is part of the ethos of Association president Lois Clarke.

“You’ll find grandparents, parents and children all swimming at our clubs,” she said. “It’s a family-oriented program.”


Article written by: Steven Deare, Manly Daily, November 22, 2014.

View the article