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There have been swimming events of various types and distances on the Derwent River since 1803 when Hobart was settled. These have been conducted by many swim clubs and individual organisations, namely regatta associations.
Chris Guesdon pioneered the long-distance swims and the swimming marathons in Tasmania in 1961.
The Australian Long-Distance Swimming Federation was formed in 1973 in Hobart to facilitate recognition of the new sport as this was not forthcoming from the pool orientated national body. The foundation members and subsequent office bearers were Chris Guesdon - President, Dick Campion - Deputy President, Secretary Sue Guesdon and John Koorey - Executive Members.
The body changed its name in 1980 to the Australian Marathon Swimming Federation.
John Koorey later became the President and the Australian Championships moved to Sydney, New South Wales.
The Australian Marathon Swimming Federation ran the national open water swimming titles until FINA and therefore Australian Swimming Inc. took over open water in 1986.
The first Australian Swimming Inc, Open Water Swimming Committee was set up in 1988. Chris Guesdon then became the Secretary of Australian Swimming’s National Open Water Swimming Committee and John Koorey and Campion moved across as committee members of that national body.
From this beginning the movement of open water swimming was grabbing a foothold across the country. Health, fitness and elite competition programmes in open water and rather than swimming pools, were flourishing and here to stay.
In 2018 there were as many individuals swimming in hundreds of separate events in Australia in open water competitions as there were members in pool swimming clubs. These numbers didn’t include those plunging into the open water on their own as an activity for health and fitness reasons. In subsequent years many other nations and individual hallmark events followed the Australian lead and national and world bodies were formed.
The Big Swim Derwent River in Hobart is considered one of the most difficult marathons to complete. The varying weather patterns can be extreme. Southerly weather brings winds from the great Southern Ocean via Storm Bay. The Derwent is a tidal river with the fresh water from the source and salt-water stretching upriver for 20 km.
Pioneer marathon swimmer Chris Guesdon was the first to challenge the course on Australia Day 1973.
The late, legendary Des Renford from Maroubra SLSC was the first to complete the distance on 25th January 1975. His time was 10h 54m.
Dick Campion set the fastest time in 1976. His time: 9h 19m.
Des Renford, Dick Campion and Chris Guesdon are all Honourees inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame. Sue Guesdon who has been a handler and administrator since the inaugural event in 1973 is an Honouree in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.
1975 International Long-Distance Swimming Federation World Championship silver medallist at Capri Napoli in 1975 was Jennifer Anderson. Jenny was Australia’s first ever official World Championship medallist in open water. Jenny set the women’s fastest time in the Derwent River Big Swim in 1976. Her time was 9h 44m.
39 years had elapsed before another success with Daniel Curtis of the USA. He completed the swim on 31st January 2015 in a time of 15h 57m.
The first and only relay swimmers from Park Beach Surf Lifesaving Club, Geoff Marsh, Mike Watkins, Stephen Godfrey, Don Marsh, Gary Everingham, and Don Hallett swam the 34 km in in 6 x 1-hour relay. Their fastest time in 1974 was 7h 43m.
The long swims on the River Derwent, New Norfolk have mostly been held on dates around or on Australia Day January 26th.
In 2019 the Derwent River Big Swim was named as one leg in the Marathon Swimmers Federation World’s Toughest 13 swims.
In 2020 The Derwent River Big Swim was named in the Australian Triple Crown of Marathon Swimming along with the NSW Palm Beach to Shelley Beach swim and the WA Channel 7 Port to Pub Rottnest Hotel swim.
Swimmers from Park Beach swam the 34 km in in 6 x 1 hour relay legs. The swim started with the tide at 6.00 am. The water temperature varied from 13 to 14 degrees for the course. Their fastest time in 1974 was 7hrs 43min. Rodney Ridgers, Cliff Wright, and Colin Rose provided surf ski support.
...Click or tap any thumbnail to enlarge the photo.
Back row: Geoff Marsh, Mike Watkins, Stephen Godfrey
Front Row: Don Marsh , Gary Everingham, Don Hallett
In the front the team manager and President of the club that year, Chris Guesdon.
...Click or tap a thumbnail to enlarge the photo.
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Swimmers must follow the Australian Long Distance Swimming Federation rules for the swim. The rules include:
Swimmers must not touch anything or anybody except when receiving food by coach’s hand, or receive any other assistance from the start to the finish of the swim.
There are several courses swum on this great river Derwent, across, up, and down the river. There are three bridges used as starting and finishing lines. So the history on the Derwent swims is not restricted to one course and a few swimmers. There are many swimmers and courses.
46 swimmers have competed in the various races in the Derwent at marathon distance since the Australian Long-Distance Swimming Federation was formed in 1973 . Volunteers ran the Federation and underwrote the sanctioned events financially and with manpower. The organisers provided accommodation, boats, watercraft, and personnel.
A number of swims have commenced and continue in the Derwent River, but most are not of marathon distance.
Other swims across the river of about 2 km to 5 km inlcude the Trans Derwent Royal Hobart Regatta Race 1.5 km, which is the second oldest continuously run race in Australia. Other distances across the river reach 5 km.
The Kingston to Hobart 15 km was an Australian Championship race. Top Australian and New Zealand competitors included, record holder for the fastest triple crossing of the English Channel, Philip Rush from NZ and John Koorey - the first Australian man and second Australian swimmer to cross the English Channel.
Another winner was Graham Bruce, and English Channel conqueror and member of the 1983-84 and 1996 Australian Open Water Teams.
Chris Guesdon was the first to complete the swim in the opposite direction from Hobart to Kingston in 1981.