Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Peter McDonald
Interviewer: Edie Swift
Interview Date: 26 April 2019
Edie Swift My name is Edie Swift and I’m interviewing Peter McDonald on April 26th, 2019. He is going to speak about the Stanwell Park Sea Eels Winter Swimming Club. The oral history will go into the local studies library at Wollongong library. So do you want to start with when you started the club, since that’s when the club started?
Peter McDonald Yeah, I was an inaugural member along with my son actually, he was an inaugural member as well and back in ’89, we ah, there was a sign put up in the Helensburgh Stanwell Park Surf Club, to initiate a winter swimming club. And that was to be called the Stanwell Park Sea Eels Winter Swimming Club and from that day on we’ve swam every Sunday during the winter months, up until now, and I believe now we’re in about our 34th year of winter swimming.
Edie Swift And when you when you started what did the pool look like?
Peter McDonald Ah, not too much has changed. They’ve only, just last year recently refurbished it, and ah, it’s just been Coalcliff Rock Pool, where we swim. it’s nothing fancy about it, it was just a, just a swimming pool mainly used by locals in them days, and then we started swimming there on the Sunday mornings.
Edie Swift And what was the year again that you started?
Peter McDonald 1989.
Edie Swift Uh-huh. Now, um, when you do – when you did that, what was the, who were the people who were in the club?
Peter McDonald Ah, pretty well-known gentlemen from Helensburgh, ah, was initiated it – that was, ah, Phil Anger and who’s passed on, unfortunately – gentleman Phil. And it was a new fella from Cronulla Winter Swimming Club, and his name was Peter LeBreton and he was quite a good swimmer in his day, and between Phil and Peter, they initiated the start of the winter swimming club.
Edie Swift And why did they want that club?
Peter McDonald Well I think because Peter he was a swimmer with the Cronulla Polar Bears, that he thought he’d move down, living in Stanwell Tops and he thought well it’d be a good idea to do something in winter for our – for the surf club, otherwise the surf clubs just shut down over winter, and nothing happens.
Edie Swift So, um, when you started what ah were the officers? Did you all have to appoint officers?
Peter McDonald Yeah, it all done properly. There was a constitution set up, and there were rules made and there was a president and vice president and secretary and treasurer, just what normally happens in a club, and that was all voted on at an AGM, and which is still voted on ’til, ’til today, actually next Sunday is our AGM for the start of the season this year.
Edie Swift And so were you one of the officers too?
Peter McDonald No, I was a little bit younger, them days.
Edie Swift Oh! [laugh].
Peter McDonald No, I was just ah, I was mixed up in the surf club, along with my family – all my family; and ah, we just thought it was a good idea, it was a great idea, and we had about, I think, originally, probably something like 80 swimmers, back in them days.
Edie Swift So you your schedule during that time was what, what – when you meet in the morning, what happened – what happened then?
Peter McDonald Then on the Sunday mornings, we used to kick off about nine o’clock; Just to make things a little bit clearer: our club – because it come from the surf club – ah, all members of the surf club were allowed to, to swim with us – so that’s children, who could swim 25 metres unaided, up to anyone, of any age, male or female, who could – who could swim that – that distance, unaided. So, ah, there’s only two clubs in the ah, South Coast Association – that’s us and Bulli who allow the ladies to swim with us. Well females to swim with us.
Edie Swift And how do you, how did you, back then, go with handicaps and things like that?
Peter McDonald OK, so what we what, what we did, we’d get down there on Sunday morning, and ah, we’d do a time trial, to see what – how fast we could swim, ah, 50 metres, and that, that was our initial swim, and then, that was handicapped, from there on, so you – I might be up against the fastest swimmer, but not being the fastest swimmer, I’d maybe get a, you know, possibly a ten-second start on them, or something like that, and we still hold – we still carry out that system today. It’s all handicap swims, and ah, occasionally we have a nominated a time swim, where we can say, well, I’ll swim that in a certain time, and, ah, if you’re closer to the, closer to the nominated time it’ll be the winner. So on Sunday mornings we have heats so I could be swimming against I’m 70 now, I could be swimming against a 10 year old and ah, they’re a lot faster than me [laugh], surprisingly and a we do a heat and there’s a first, second and third and if you don’t break your time, well you go into, you go into a final swim. In the final swim nominated times again and the first one home, first, second or third. Ah, if they didn’t break their time, well they’d be doing the winner. Following that we have, ah, we’d, we’d have a relay. We just divided up how many swimmers we got and how many teams we got and that all, also goes off nominated times as well.
Edie Swift Do you have ropes?
Peter McDonald Ah, no, no swimming ropes at Coalcliff. Nuh. So it can [laughter] be a little bit can be a little bit ah, hectic or hazardous at times if the water is a bit murky and you can’t sort see where you are going. We have had swimmers hit the sides and hit each other and um, but that’s, nah, no one’s ever been seriously hurt or anything like that.
Edie Swift So in, in when you first started that pool it could get pretty rough. I mean do you call the swim off?
Peter McDonald We have had on a number of occasions had to call it off if the tide was too high or the surf was too big. Ah we’ve had some funny incidents where we, where we have swam when it’s been ah, pretty, a bit rough coming over the edge and we’ve actually had swimmwers lifted up onto the side of the pool. So the wave came in, picked them up, lift them up to place them on the side of the pool. No one hurt, no one hurt.
Edie Swift Well when you started back then did you have go to other swimming competitions with your club?
Peter McDonald Yeah, We’ve always competed in the South Coast championships against the other, the other clubs and ah we’ve pretty much gone to the Australian championships, ah, depending where they, where they were held. Cause, they’re held all over, all up in Perth, they’re held up in Queensland, ah ah umm, lately they’ve been going out to country towns like Wagga and I believe next year they are going out to Orange which, which will be good. This year they’re in Perth, ah, Perth is an expensive little journey so our club’s not in a position to afford to pay for our members to go to that one, so we won’t be going there.
Edie Swift Do you have different colours that you wear so they know which is which?
Peter McDonald Yeah, yeah, well ok, so the original Sea Eels. The fact that we are called Eels. We had a patron, who was a director of the Parramatta Rugby League club, who are the Parramatta Eels. So he, got us some, um, ah Parramatta colours and we’ve adopted them it ever since.
Edie Swift Ah, what colours?
Peter McDonald We’re blue and gold, Blue and gold, yeah.
Edie Swift So, you have to wear a bathing cap so people know what club you’re from.
Peter McDonald Yes, yeah in competition you have to, yeah, and we’ve got our own clubs and we’ve got our own uniform, yeah, our t-shirts and our costumes and that sort of thing. So when we go away we’re easily recognisable. One of the funny things about our costumes of the men’s costumes is, across the back they’ve got ‘feel the eel’ on them. Now we were the first ones to sort of start doing that and then a lot of the clubs around Australia now have got a little logo or something across their [laughter] backside as well, you know. But ours is ‘feel the eel’ so we’re pretty proud that someone was smart enough to think of that one [laughter].
Edie Swift So, how did the club change club change as, as it went into the nineties?
Peter McDonald Ah, there was not, not, too much change numbers, you know, over the years have decreased. We’re still probably swimming about 30 swimmers, ah, on our Sunday morning point scores. That’s that’s a reasonable size club. We’re not one of, the smallest clubs, we’re definitely not a big club.
Edie Swift Where do they come from?
Peter McDonald Ah, mostly local. Helensburgh, Stanwell Park, Coalcliff, ah, mostly local people. I believe this year we’ve got some new swimmers coming up from Woonona to swim with us because, we allow females to swim. They’re not allowed to swim at a lot of other clubs.
Edie Swift And, um, so did you have a different compe…a different composition of people as you got into the 90’s? Different ah, professions and things like that?
Peter McDonald Yeah, we got a, quite a large range of professions as you say, ah. A lot of them originally were probably coal miners, Helensburgh. Now we’ve got doctors n’ dentists n’ real estate people and ah, just all, all walks of life. We’re all getting a bit older now. There’s a lot of us, now are retired, so we just enjoy our Sunday morning swim.
Edie Swift So you’re not allowed wetsuits?
Peter McDonald You are allowed a wetsuit.
Edie Swift You are?
Peter McDonald but bring your money.
Edie Swift Oh!
Peter McDonald ‘cos you are going to get fined
Edie Swift Oh!
Peter McDonald So we have this gentleman, ah, ah, have a member who is a ‘fine’ master so that’s how we make our money. So if you break your time, it’s a dollar coin, it’s a gold coin donation, so, ah, so if you do…, you can do anything stupid. If you, you know, if you break early, you know, dive in too soon, you’d get fined. If you swam across in front of a couple of people, you get fined. If you wear a wetsuit, you get fined. Just little, little things like that. Nothing ah, derogatory, everything’s above board. Everything, it’s just fun. We’re just doing it for fun.
Edie Swift Do, you, um, write donations to…
Peter McDonald Yes,
Edie Swift Thanks. Alright.
Peter McDonald Yes, you’ll find a lot of that in that, what I’ve written in there. We started out with disabled, ah, people, if that’s the right word, we’re allowed to use these days, and that was Baringa. Baringa was just, a, ah, I think it was originally part of Wollongong ah, Hospital and that’s where our donations went and we had them come to visit us, ah, once a year. So they come and we’d put on a bit of, a bit of a show for them, a barbecue. We used to have it in our surf club, but we haven’t got disabled access so we used to carry them up the stairs in wheelchairs and whatever, and ah, after, ah, our OH&S put up a bit of a stop to that. We’re no longer allowed to carry them up there. So then we took them up to ah, Helensburgh Workmen’s Club and then when Helensburgh Workmen’s Club, ah, taken over by Tradies, ah, from the Sutherland Shire, we now go up to Tradies. We do that once a year, they come up, we have a theme. It could be disco, it could be the Olympic Games, ah, could be country and western a barbecue and we have music and they have that and it’s a day out not only for for the residents, it’s a day out for the carers. Now when Baringa, they didn’t actually fold, but once they started putting them into separate units, we lost a lot of contact with them and they found it hard to get them all together to come and enjoy that day with us. So then we searched around and, you would not believe, we had trouble finding a charity that we could look after. Until we came up with the Cram Foundation and there, ah, lot of the people a lot of the residents who were in Baringa went, went to Cram or Cram took over and ah, there, we’ve had them since they were maybe, you know, two or three years old. Now they’re adults because we’ve going that long, looking after them. So we have the same arrangement with the Cram Foundation. They come up to Tradies at Helensburgh and we put on a day for them and if we’re financial, we donate money to them. Last year it we were very financial we were able to donate $2000.00 to them. Ah, years before that we normally been about $1000 a year and ah, this year what they, we didn’t want the money to go into internal revenue. We wanted it spent on the actual residents themselves to buy a piece of equipment. It might be a lift chair to get them in and out of a bath or a wheelchair. Who knows, but there was something that we wanted them to buy that the government was not providing. This year they spent the money, they had a big day. Ah, I can’t just remember where it was. I think it was out Albion Park way. A big picnic barbecue and they had an animal farm yard there and things like that. One of our members went out there and ah, she played music for them. Very and they really appreciate, they, they appreciate music. They love music.
Edie Swift So you still doing that right now?
Peter McDonald We’re still doing that and that, that’ll be our goal this year again to raise money for them. If something happens within our local area that there’s ah, you know there’s, ah they’re trying to get donations for someone, someone’s misfortune, whatever it’d be, cancer or whatever, ah, we’ll donate to that as well. So we, we help our local community as well but our main, people that we look after are the Cram Foundation.
Edie Swift So if these children come um, what do you have? What do they…,are they able to swim that fast?
Peter McDonald Ah, originally they did swim at Coalcliff probably for a couple, couple of years but then it was just too much. It was, it was just too cold for them so we stopped doing that now they just come up and have an entertaining day with us and ah, we’re, we’re also one of the few clubs. A lot of people donate money to these, to these people but we actually sit down and have a meal with them and that’s special.
Edie Swift Oh, it is special.
Peter McDonald And we look at that and we you know, we think these carers are doing this every day, we do it one day a year.
Edie Swift That’s really wonderful.
Peter McDonald There, um, the, they are, they are severely disabled like [inaudible] Oh well. it’s a bit of a wakeup call for us one day a year but we do it.
Edie Swift I just wondered ah, where you after you swim? Do you go get some soup or something to warm you up?
Peter McDonald Yes, we do. Of course we do. That’s, that’s an interesting story that one, um. We go back to the Helensburgh Stanwell Park Surf Club and we have ah, soup, potatoes, bread and and then we have a few cool beverages after that just to, ah, bit of social. The social side of it, we’re. That’s where we do our, we ah, award our winners. Our fine master comes on and he makes some money and we do, ah, we have a lady who donates a raffle every week, free. Which is ah, could be vegetables, chocolates, drinks, whatever, whatever and ah, she donates that every week and ah, we just sell tickets in that. We also run a joker poker. That’s where you select the card put all the cards up on the board. All the playing cards on the board $2.00, to have, to have a go and if you get your number gets called out, you, you have to try and select where the joker is and if you pick the joker you you get the whatever is in the, in the fund.
Edie Swift Oh.
Peter McDonald So, half every week, half of that goes on to the winter swimmers and half of that goes onto jackpot, for a joker poker. So that’s how we make our money.
Edie Swift I don’t know where that Stanwell Park Surf Club, Helensburgh?
Peter McDonald It’s in Beach Road, Stanwell Park.
Edie Swift Oh, right. I do know where it is.
Peter McDonald Turn off the turn off the highway, turn off the Lawrence Hargrave Drive and that will get you down there.
Edie Swift Isn’t it cold? How do you stand that? You know you’re out there
Peter McDonald It varies, hmm.
Edie Swift You have to wait and you can’t ah, you know between the swims. [laughter] You must be frozen.
Peter McDonald It varies ah I think our coldest is 11 degrees ah, but this time of the year the water is probably still about 20 degrees and it also depends whether the oceans has come into the pool as well so like the ocean temperature is a lot warmer than just your normal swimming pool would be so if you get the water coming into the into into the pool it’s gonna be a lot warmer, but usually about the 13, 14, 15 degrees that we that we swim in. But as you say, we only swim in 50 metres so ah, it’s not that bad.
Edie Swift You get out of and put some on, something on like a big, ah
Peter McDonald Towels or jumpers or jackets
Edie Swift Or something
Peter McDonald Or whatever, yeah. It’s usually a beautiful day down there. It’s quite surprising, you know. You’re down there early in the morning. You’re driving down there thinking why am I doing this. You know going down to jump into cold water and you get down there and it’s like, it’s a beautiful setting Coalcliff pool.
Edie Swift It is.
Peter McDonald Where you can look south and look north and that sort of thing. It’s quite something. It gets you out of bed on Sunday morning and that’s how I look at it.
Edie Swift In some ways, you are more protected than Coledale from the wind?
Peter McDonald Yes, that’s right Ah, we do suffer a bit from the Southerlies, some south westers, yeah we do but ah, we survive. We’ve survived for 34 years [laughter]. We’ll keep going.
Edie Swift They did a complete rendition of that re-doing it, about a year ago or two years ago and they put it looks like it’s been re-done.
Peter McDonald It has. That’s what I said earlier. It’s been. Last year it was done, last year before, year bef…ah, the year, the year before we had to swim down ah Wombarra pool while they were working on that but ah, we were back there ah, last season enjoying back to our home pool. Enjoying. It’s a lot better. It’s lot cleaned up improved the access to it, stepping and that sort of thing. We put up a shelter now we can, if it’s raining it doesn’t matter we just stand up up under the shelter. We’re gonna get wet anyway. Ah, it’s a big improvement
Peter McDonald Thanks for the Council for doing that.
Edie Swift So they did that and did the residents come in there? I read something that the residents really were of the area were participated in that. That they wanted it redone. Yes, yeah, ah This goes back a while but there was a fund set up through the…I believe it was through the Stanwell Park Surf Club where the original thing was to raise money to put a swimming pool in Stanwell Park, um, and that money was held by the Council. In a fund held by the Council and just through compounding interest. It got to quite a large amount of money and the Council wanted to use that money for some particular community, um, some community building or activity there was never gonna be a pool built at Stanwell Park. Ah, there was talk about making Coalcliff pool 50 metres and that meant cutting up the rock shelf and I don’t think that was ever going to happen. Ah, there was, so they put about to the community to come up with something that the club can, any club, tennis club, soccer clubs, girl guides. anyone had a chance to make a submission of what to do with the money and that the major thing was because, the money was originally set up by Phil Anger again was to ah, something to do with swimming. So the money actually some money that that was used to help you do up Coalcliff pool in the end.
Edie Swift Oh, it’s very nice.
Peter McDonald Yeah.
Edie Swift I swim there a lot.
Peter McDonald Good, you’re more than welcome and the public are more than welcome to come down. Ah, they do. They come down on Sundays and they say is it alright if we swim with you. I said, it’s not our pool. You swim over there, you can do whatever you like. We can’t [Inaudible]
Edie Swift Do you want to add anything else? You’ve done a wonderful job
Peter McDonald Alright Ok, let’s go back to the soup.
Edie Swift Alright.
Peter McDonald The soup. Some of the soup we’ve had was absolutely terrible [laughter] we’ve had things like ah, [laughter] a pig’s head in the soup.
Edie Swift Oh!
Peter McDonald It was a beautiful soup actually but when but went to the bottom of the pot up come a pig’s head so that’s one thing that sorta happened and some of the soups were terrible. Some of them were just coming out of cans and heated up. So, I introduced 2 awards. A S.E.X. award which was soup excellence and if I can say it, S.H.I.T. award which is Soup Has Individual Taste. So if you made a bad soup you’re going to get the S.H.I.T. award. Which is a golden boot found in the coal mines at Helensburgh I bought the boot up, mounted it, painted it gold, and if you’ve got the lousy soup, well your, that’s something you don’t want to get. So now the soups up there are absolutely brilliant. They’re just beautiful soups everyone really goes right out. They take it in turns. It’s a bit of a roster system. Everyone has a go a making a soup. So, I’m on this Sunday. So , I hope my chilli pumpkin soup goes down alright [laughter].
Edie Swift And you make that yourself?
Peter McDonald Ah, well, you’re supposed to. I cut up the pumpkin[laughter].
Edie Swift Oh, that sounds [inaudible].
Peter McDonald And I’ll be fined for that because they know that I don’t make the soup. So that’s another fine, oh, ah. Ah, yes, so that’s a bit of the soup story. So ah, with the competition side of it ah, we competed the South Coast, the Australian when we can. Ah, we have also have a visit from Bulli which we take ah. We go there one year, they come here next year because, they ah, have ladies swim so that’s been going on for oh, a long time. I don’t know, 25 years or something like that so we have a very good friendship with Bulli. Um, we also have a good friendship with Cronulla ladies, well, they’re more than ladies. They are mixed club as well ah, they come down once a year to visit us. We now have ah, the Bondi Iceberg ladies come down to visit and they’re.., they are a very big club. They’ll bring down 60 swimmers. They’ll come on a bus trip down and they’ll have a day with us. Ah, we also I compete at the South Metropolitan ah, Championships which we are an invited club. Even though we’re not a part of South Metropolitan. Ah, there’s us and Foster, Foster Turtles. We’re the 2 invited outside clubs who go to that every year and that’s held at Bondi Icebergs pool.
Edie Swift Do you have dinners like every year?
Peter McDonald No, no we’ve ah, We’ve really only had one special day I think. It was our 21st birthday that we got, went back through all the archives. Found lot of the original swimmers and invited them all along and Peter LeBreton was one of the original, one of the people who actually started. Pete come down from up ah, up the north coast where he lives and ah, it was good to see Peter after all these years. Ah, and apart from that we ah, just have the ah, our presentation day, Championship presentation day and that’s usually our day where we, you know, we’ll sit down and have a decent meal, type thing, together.
Edie Swift And that’s at the surf club?
Peter McDonald Back at the surf club, yeah. We also do a visit to Coalcliff Surf Club. So, we’ll go to Coalcliff Surf Club once a year. For, that helps them make some money as well.so ah, that’s about, mostly our socialising.
Edie Swift And do you find that this is very rewarding socially as well as the physical part of it?
Peter McDonald Very much more social than physical. We’re not that competitive. We just like getting together there. A bit of a stirring each other up whatever, and ah, they are all friendly people they are unbelievably generous people ah, with their money. Like all the money is coming out of their pockets. So our money that goes to Cram and other people we can help out, comes out of the, comes out of our members pockets and they are as president of the club, have have been for, probably too long. I don’t know how many years now, ah. I just say, you know we’ve got the Cronulla ladies come down, we got Bulli coming down. Who can do. a soup?, who can do a salad?, who can provide, who can do a dessert? and up go the hands they write them down and um, they’re very good. They’re very generous people They all don’t mind getting in and lending a hand and I think that’s because we have ladies in the club. I think that’s a lot to do with it [laughter].
Edie Swift Do you ever have to rescue people off that pool?
Peter McDonald Ah, No. At the pool?
Edie Swift Yeah.
Peter McDonald We’ve only had, really had. Well, we’ve had minor incidents where people slipped over on the rocks and that was more public than our swimmers and we warn them. We scream?? there, don’t walk there you know. They walk there and slip over but since the the pool has been done up, that’s eliminated a lot of that. So we don’t get that. We only ever had one. Ah, well it started out at a tragic day but ended up fine. And that was one of our swimmers. ah, he was swimming, he got out of the pool andone of our fellows who’s, who was a lifesaver he says, “he’s not good, he’s not good”. Grabbed him, grabbed him, and he was falling down and I won’t say his name and ah, so he couldn’t could probably couldn’t have done it in a better place, you know. There’s 30 or 40 lifesavers there so I actually did, ah, the breathing for him we started the CPR. I was doing the breathing for him. Ah, a fireman who was also one of our winter swimmers. He was doing the, ah, compressions. Meanwhile, back in them days, this is going back a while, luckily we had someone who had a mobile phone. Was able to ring Triple 0. Meanwhile, they’re running out to Coalcliff Surf Club to get the oxygen and you know well they didn’t have defibrillators in them days, we got the oxygen and that. And ah, so we were just working on him ’til the paramedics arrived which was ah, first time I’ve ever experienced that and they said how long have been doing this. Whatever it was 15 minutes 10 minutes whatever and they said keep going and I thought, well what are you doing here, you know. And they’re very they’re very clever. They’re very good. The paramedics. The just got out all their stuff, adrenaline and all that sort of thing and ah, they then eventually took over. They took our member away and I thought ah, he’s not gonna make it. And that was about 11 o’clock in the morning, 2 o’clock in the afternoon he rang us up the surf club from the hospital. Thanking us for his life.
Edie Swift So he was all right?
Peter McDonald He was alright. He’s still alive today [laughter]. This gentleman, we still see him. And then for a lot lot of years after that he used to gives us $100. We said Stan, (oh, I said his name was Stan), don’t do that, we’re happy you are alive.
Edie Swift Did you want to say anything else?, ‘cos I think we could conclude. You did a great job.
Peter McDonald Well, I didn’t think I was going to say too much. I thought I was just going to hand over all that literature [laughter] and you was going to do the work for me. But, ah. Oh, no happy, we’re happy in the association. We have been trying to ah, get ladies to compete a in the South Coast Championships, which they don’t allow. So out of the, I think its’ 8 clubs 2 vote that they can swim. So every year we can beaten 6 votes to 2 votes at the South Coast meeting. So ah, nothing has happened and this is gone into media. Err, originally we had someone from Um, ah, The Herald come down and interviewed us and talk to us and that sort of thing at, um about getting the ladies. Why aren’t the ladies allowed to swim in the South Coast championships? and I still don’t know why but ah, there are some of the clubs they’re just just dead set against ladies and they said this is a men’s thing. That’s all, that’s their issue. I mean they’re married, they’ve got daughters. What’s wrong with them? Join the 21st century that’s what I say to them but ah, that’s how it goes. That’s about all I can say.
Edie Swift Would you like to donate this, Peter, to the local studies library in Wollongong Library?
Peter McDonald I have not problem with that.
Edie Swift OK, thank you.