Book cap­tures love of swim­ming

Whanganui Midweek - - HEALTH & WELLBEING -

Swim by An­nette Lees Pub­lished by Pot­ton & Bur­ton

Re­viewed by Cass Alexan­der

Part journal, part his­tor­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Aotearoa’s swim­ming past, An­nette Lees’ Swim — a year of swim­ming out­doors in New Zealand will in­ter­est lovers of open water swim­ming as well as any­one who ap­pre­ci­ates our wa­terlov­ing cul­ture.

For one year of her life, Lees, who is a con­ser­va­tion­ist, swam daily, mostly in Auck­land. The only place she didn’t swim was in cov­ered swim­ming pools. Oth­er­wise it was ocean, lakes, rivers and out­door pools, wher­ever she could find the time.

“. . . it is sort of nor­mal that you stop for a quick swim on your way, so of course you’ll have damp shoul­ders and a cool look about you and a faint smell of river,” she writes af­ter turn­ing up with wet hair to a work meet­ing.

Swim­ming can be an iso­lat­ing ac­tiv­ity and Lees has cap­tured this well. Her writ­ing is sparse, emo­tive and ex­ploratory. She writes about learn­ing to swim and its dan­gers; swim­ming as com­pe­ti­tion, as fun, as ex­er­cise, as a fam­ily and so­cial ac­tiv­ity and the con­nec­tion of the water to tan­gata whenua and Pa¯ keha¯ , who mi­grated to a coun­try with an 18,000 kilo­me­tre coast­line and made the most of it.

Along with doc­u­ment­ing her per­sonal swim­ming ex­pe­ri­ence, the book is an an­thol­ogy of writ­ing from well-known writ­ers Janet Frame to Katherine Mans­field to tales from reg­u­lar Kiwi swim­mers, young and old.

She has also re­searched swim­ming feats of New Zealan­ders both na­tion­ally and internationally, in­clud­ing the lo­cal story of Bill Guzwell, whose goal was to swim the Whanganui River from Tau­marunui to Whanganui in 1953 but only made it “as far as Flow­ers Land­ing, just short of Ratana. There he aban­doned the swim for the com­fort of a warm car ride to Whanganui.”

So many as­pects of New Zealand cul­ture — bare feet, reg­gae and roots mu­sic, cars full of sand, sun­burn, road trips — are in­trin­si­cally linked to the open water — not some­thing to be over­looked when we con­sider who we are as New Zealan­ders. Lees has done a mag­nif­i­cent job of the moun­tain of re­search un­der­taken on the his­tory of swim­ming and Swim is also vis­ually stun­ning, with Lees’ own pho­to­graphs dot­ted through­out, as well as im­ages un­earthed from the past.

Swim is sold at Paiges and will be launched at 5.30pm, De­cem­ber 7, at the River­boat Cen­tre, Taupo Quay.

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