Book captures love of swimming
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.