Capital Punishment

25 Nov

Yes, yes, I have been absent a while.  You see, former partner (now husband) Gill brought back an unexpected souvenir from an overseas trip last year.  Nasty thing.  Nearly killed him.  6 months’ recuperation and no swimming!  So last year, I only managed my two ‘home’ dips, Dawny’s and the Captain Christie.

Happily this year, he is 100% recovered and we are both back for another fix of Can Too orange and vitamin sea.  Or should I say lake (for the moment).

You see, I have come up with the daft idea (I blame that movie Driven and Donal Buckley) that I might have a marathon swim in me. It frightens me to even broadcast that goal but now I’ve gone and put it on me blog – %^&*!

Step 1. A capital swim – 9km across Lake Burley Griffin. This Sundee. I am bbbbricking it! There are a number of reasons why I should bbbail and that might have me bbbblubbering before the weekend’s out – here’s just a few:

Brass Monkies

According to the Awgies of the Sri Chinmoy National Capital swim, the average temperature in Lake Burley Griffin in mid-November is 17°C – 21°C, though water temperature can vary markedly from one part of the lake to another. Competitors have the option of wearing a wetsuit or swimming newd – that’s newd not nude for those unaccustomed to the expression being just in your togs, not in your birthday suit.

I don’t own a wetsuit that I can swim in so that was an easy choice.

Cold water carries heat away from the body 25 x faster than air of the same temperature. In water temperature of 15.5°C – 21°C, it reportedly takes 30-40 minutes for the body to lose dexterity and between 2 and 20 hours for exhaustion and loss of consciousness. Ok for all those rock star channel swimmers close to the course record of around 2 hours then. But I am a slow swimmer and, if I make it at all (to date, the farthest I have swum in one go is 5km), expect to be in the water for 4-5 hrs.

Hmm. So, all those dollars invested in a beer belly had a purpose after all. I think I will revisit my loob post.

Blue-green algae

Lake Burley Griffin is well known for her frequent algal blooms and resultant closures.  Blue-green algae or cyanobacteria are a type of microscopic, algae-like bacteria which inhabit freshwater, coastal and marine waters. In fact, locals harp on about it all the time – unfairly giving this jewel in the capital’s heart a bad rap.

That said, blue-green algae is known to cause skin irritation, and in severe cases the toxins can cause liver and nervous system damage.


Swan Lake -Photo: Bruce Gray, DSEWPaC

The water quality is constantly monitored and reported on.  In mid-2014, extreme levels of the blue-green algae strain, anabaena circinalis were detected. The Captain Cook Memorial Jet in Central Basin was turned off.  It was feared that winds would create fine mists and cause jet water to travel to areas around the lake, exposing the public to algae through direct contact or through inhalation of the mist.

And, I hear anabaena circinalis pongs.  It produces a particular odour compound called geosmin.  Reportedly smells like wet dirt and has Canberrans sometimes dubbing their lake Lake Burley Sniffin’.

Still, it could be worse. In 2007, an accidental sewage spill in Queanbeyan meant the swim had to be moved to Lake Ginninderra.


I’ve swum in Lakes before and wondered about what lurks in the lake.  Amongst the usual urban detritus of discarded bicycles and shopping trolleys, Lake Burley Griffin or LBG as it is known to the locals apparently harbours bath tubs from a time when bath tub races were held on the lake and the remnants of fanciful flying machines from the much loved and patronised birdman rally held from 1985 – 1992 at Regatta Point.

But there are also more macabre and fearsome things.  When I swam across Lake Macquarie the first time, my inner critic started streaming pictures of laydees in lake tragedies like Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks and Ophelia who, over dating Hamlet, drowned herself in a lake. Many have sadly met with misfortune and their remains have been pulled from Lake Burley Griffin.  LBG even harboured the cadaver of Irene Angley strapped into her car for 14 years before anyone found her.  A veritable cold case as the Canberra Times reported.

The Lost Undertaker

Photo: Jeanne Mclauchlin

The lake is apparently popular as a final resting place for the ashes of loved ones.  Bizarrely, in July this year, a man was spotted dressed as an undertaker on a stand up paddle board that looked like a coffin.   The man bore a strong resemblance to Tom Simmat, a Sydney man suspected to be the identity behind the Lost Undertaker.

What if I spy him coming towards me out of the mist on Sundee morning like some sort of Grim Reaper telling me it’s time to hang up my goggles?

The good news though as I sit here, desperately trying not to itch, covered in jimble kisses from a swim on Sat’dee in Cabbage Tree Bay and conscious of the alleged bull shark sighting before Sundee’s swim at Dawny’s, is that LBG’s a freshie.  Freshwater being generally bereft of the swimmer’s aquatic menaces of jellyfish, sealice and men in grey suits. Carp, cod, trout and the odd shortfinned eel is the most I have to worry about in wildlife terms.  Except that is, for the bunyip.


Yes. According to local folklore, there’s a bunyip called Burley living in the lake. Sounds almost lovable but let us not forget that in aboriginal mythology, bunyips were devils or evil spirits lurking in billabongs, creeks, lakes, riverbeds and waterholes and known to be fond of dining on women and young children.


If the cold, an algal bloom, bunyip or the undertaker don’t get me, then there’s the swans to worry about. I’ve been suspicious of these ill-tempered behemoths of the bird world ever since one of them attacked our coxswain at university and broke his arm. Black ones considered to be a witch’s familiar in European culture, ubiquitous on LBG, must surely be worse than their white cousins. Why else would they lend their names to reports of unexpected but catastrophic events. The black swan – Cygnus atratus – native to Australia is known to be aggressive and dominant by nature.  I suspect them of fowl play.  I’ll be swimming like Alexander Popov if I catch one of their beady eyes looking at me like I might be fair game.

Black dogs

Aggressive avian

Aggressive avian

No, no, we’re not back on the topic of dog swims again.  I’ve had more than my fair share of melancholy lately and anyone will tell you that it eats away at your self-esteem and makes you question your ability to do anything. Barking then really that I should sign up for a swim usually frequented by many accomplished swimming legends like Penny Palfrey and many aspiring ones like Vladswim’s English channel squad.

I’ve had a tremendous amount of support in my hopefully not altogether half baked and relatively late in the day training regime. Apart from my fellow swimmers and coaches at Can Too, Big Blue, and Sydney Swimmers, I also want to acknowledge (if that’s the word for it!) Jai from Vladswim who put this stupid idea jump in the lake2
in my head in the first place.

Most of all though, whether I get to the end or not, I want to thank two gentlemen from Lake Burley Griffin canoe club who have volunteered to be safety kayakers for Gill and me.  They have sent us wonderful humorous emails with top tips for logistics and taper plans.  Even though we have never met them. It’s humanity like this that is so inspiring that for so long as there are people like this in the world, I challenge anyone to let the black dog win out.

When I was researching a little about Lake Burley Griffin, I came across Paul Jurack’s website.  About 5 years ago, Paul was diagnosed with testicular cancer and after an intensive and nasty bout of chemotherapy, he decided to take up kayaking on LBG.  More of a plumber than a photographer (so he says – you be the judge) this transported Novocastrian turned Canberra ambassador started snapping away as he slid across the water every day in the Capital capturing spellbinding images of the beathtakingly beautiful lake and Canberra’s stunning aquatic surrounds.  Known now as the kayakcameraman, Paul blogs, tweets and has even had a column in the Canberra Times.  He’s won photography awards but most of all, he’s an inspiration to every cancer sufferer and to this blogger.

One of kayakcameraman's stunning photos

One of kayakcameraman’s stunning photos

According to the Cancer Council, every 4 minutes one person in Australia receives a cancer diagnosis.  That means that while Gill and me are swimming on Sundee, 60 more Australians will be diagnosed.  That’s more frightening than blue green algae, bunyips or black swans!

Many of you know that one of the inspirations behind Can Too is Eleanor Roosevelt’s words ‘You must do the thing you think you cannot do’.

Well Eleanor, LBG, here I come.

6 Responses to “Capital Punishment”

  1. macleay2013 November 26, 2015 at 6:30 pm #

    Good piece, my concern is the water quality of LB Griffin – not the distance – cheers

    On Wed 25/11/15 11:24 PM , lizziecantoo sent: > > > lizziecantoo posted: “Yes, yes, I have been absent a while.  You see, > former partner (now husband) Gill brought back an unexpected souvenir from > our swimsurfari to Fiji last year.  Nasty thing.  Nearly killed him.  6 > months’ recuperation and no swimming!  So last year, I only ” > >

    • lizziecantoo November 26, 2015 at 9:13 pm #

      Thanks John. The water quality is monitored weekly and reported on Friday afternoons
      I will check later but last week was looking good and warmer than recently too so fingers crossed!

      • Anna November 27, 2015 at 4:36 am #

        Good luck Lizzie – will be thinking of you!!

      • lizziecantoo November 27, 2015 at 5:50 am #

        Thank you gorgeous Anna. I might give squad a miss on Monday but hopefully see you on Wednesday!

  2. ros November 28, 2015 at 7:24 am #

    Please, please, please keep writing!!! You are not only a brilliant writer but a very, very brave one as well. Will be thinking of you tomorrow….I have no doubt that you will make it…thinking of you on your epic journey. Ros xoxo

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