The West Australian
Coach for all classes
Fred de Lacy was one of the pioneers of Australian swimming, who began coaching in a backyard pool — still in use — half a century ago.
Fred trained many West Australian champions in his self-built pool a few years after his sister Evelyn swam for Australia at the notorious 1936 Olympics in Germany (nazi propaganda and racial persecution were an uncomfortable background).
His family remember Fred for the charmed childhood they enjoyed under his guidance on the Swan River, a Huckleberry Finn type existence in small boats, fishing and swimming.
Fred had many successes as a coach. They gave him great satisfaction. But there was even more in recalling the hundreds of children he had taught to swim in the family pool (it was one of the first heated private pools in Perth).
Fred, the youngest of 14 children, was born to Ernest and Louise de Lacy on April 3, 1927 at King Edward Hospital in Subiaco, although the family home was in Maylands.
Fred was born a couple of years before the Great Depression. His father was poorly paid and the river was a vital source of food for families along its banks.
Fred joined the army near the end of World War II and later worked in the country for a couple of years.
In 1948 he became a foundation member of the Maylands Swimming Club in Bath Street, Maylands. From then he taught swimming and coaching in the river.
He married Winifred “Wina” Davey in 1949. The following year the first of his five children was born, another Fred, and later came Perry, Sherri, Debra and Wayne.
The couple literally built their home, using bricks they had made themselves after a day’s work, and Wina remembers the bruises on her shoulders from carrying five concrete tiles at a time up the ladder for roofing.
In 1960, they began building the pool next to the house, the first heated pool north of the Swan River.
On Boxing Day 1960 the first swimming lessons were given there.
Not that it interrupted Fred’s routine. He rose at 4.30am, and went crabbing. Mina took the swimming lessons while Fred rowed his boat from Maylands to near the Barrack Street Jetty, a 12km each-way trip, to join his friends.
He returned with a big catch of river food for the family.
Swimming lessons have continued ever since, moving from pool to pool with the de Lacy passion for teaching and coaching being passed on through the generations.
In 1960 Fred organised club family bush walks at Mundaring, Kalamunda, Helena Valley and Bullsbrook. They were popular but parents complained it was hard to get their children to training the next morning because they were too sore to move.
About this time the family began early morning river training swims.
The younger children were in a small boat while the older ones swam from jetty to jetty.
The young ones never stayed in the boat long, with Fred rowing the boat and throwing children into the water then trying to row away before they could climb back in.
He continuously shouted instructions to his swimmers, ensuring that no one ever got back in the boat or close to it.
The organised chaos was in fact carefully managed by Fred, creating a lively format for training.
His coaching included ocean swimming and included competitors in the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, World Swimming Championships, Australian and State championships, Paralympics, open-water swimmers, school swimming, members of surf life saving and Royal life saving groups and water polo.
He was one of the first people to teach children with disabilities to swim.
He was a great believer in the skill factor, analysing and reinforcing good technique.
“Get the skill right, and the speed will follow,” he said.
In 1989, Fred was awarded the Order of Australia and Member of the Order of Australia for his contribution to the sport of swimming.
When Fred retired from coaching and son Wayne took over the position he still continued to help at the pool, teaching skills to the younger groups until he was 88.
Fred had a wide range of interests, even though swimming was the central one. He loved fishing, and took the family on long trips to Shark Bay, to fish and surf at remote beaches, cheerfully accepting the sandy discomforts of spartan camping.
He also had a baffling interest in horseracing, a handsome animal suddenly appearing on the front lawn. The family never were told how he had acquired it.
Challenged to explain what he was going to do with it, Fred said that he that he would train it as he did his swimmers.
He went on to become a respected horse trainer.