Tag Archives: James Pittar

A kind of magic

21 Feb

I’ve done the Malabar swim twice before today, but for some inexplicable reason, it’s never made it on to me blob.

There’s a bench near the beach at Malabar dedicated to the late Olympian Murray Rose AM, patron of the Rainbow Club and founder of the Malabar Magic Ocean Swim. The plaque from Randwick City Council reads ‘The magic of water overcomes all limitations’.

The magic had to work hard today.

First, there was the weather.  A bit too much water perhaps.

Mark Speakman, member for Cronulla, NSW minister for the environment and Rainbow Club patron promised this:

Malabar1

But instead, we got this:

Malabar2

Opinions among the punters on the meteorologic impact differed:

Malabar3

Malabar4

Malabar5

The swim takes place in Long Bay. The same Long Bay as gives its name to the Long Bay Correctional Centre just a little to the south whose inmates have included Jai Abberton, Rodney Adler, Darcy Dugan, Renee Rivkin and Robbie Waterhouse. If you look up Long Bay, Malabar on at least one internet search engine, you will be sent straight to the gaol. A perennial challenge for the Magic: postcode prejudice.

If it’s not the penitentiary that people are banging on about, it’s the pooh. Malabar is home to one of Sydney’s main deep water outfalls. The original ocean outfall was constructed in 1916 on Malabar Headland and by 1959 increasing sewage discharge had severely affected water quality at Long Bay. The Bay was allegedly off limits to swimmers from 1949 – 2000. In the 1990s, the sewer outfall was moved to deep water – out on the EAC. Yes that’s right, it’s been alright for 16 years now. Even on a day like today when the street run off was forming an enormous cascading waterfall off Bay Parade, most of the flotsam and jetsam in the water was actually just leaf litter. I did notice some pooh on the tundra under the tower and did a ‘whose scat is that?’ double take. While it crossed my mind that it belonged to a giant squirrel (see post), I think it was roo pooh, hardly surprising when large parts (larger since January this year when Mark Speakman gave back some commonwealth land) of the Malabar headland is National Park.

So, all those that look down their noses at Malabar should be shot. Perhaps on the conveniently located rifle range next door! But if you are reading this in future years wondering whether to sign up, here’s the real truth about exotic Malabar.

Malabar. Its name evokes images of vibrant iced cocktails. Before you dream of an idle afternoon getting quietly wrecked in the deliciously named suburb, you might like to know that it’s actually named after a wreck. The MV Malabar to be precise which came a cropper on the northern headland of Long Bay in April 1931. Altogether there have been 5 shipwrecks off Malabar – the St Albans in 1882, the MV Malabar in 1931, Try One in 1947 and SS Goolgwai in 1955 (and an unnamed barge in 1955). So a swim in Long Bay could have been in St Albans but for the fact that the MacDonald river settlement had already bagsied the St Albans moniker in 1847.

The MV Malabar was named after a region in the Indian state of Kerala once famous as a major spice trade centre. Nowadays, it seems that extraordinary wildlife and slimy spinach are more notable exports from Malabar.

Malabar spinach (Basella alba or ruba, a redder variety) is actually not spinach. When raw, Malabar spinach has very fleshy, thick leaves that are juicy and crisp and taste of citrus and pepper. When cooked, Malabar spinach looks and tastes a lot like regular spinach albeit a bit slimy if cooked for more than a short time.

Malabar spinach (Basella alba or ruba, a redder variety) is actually not spinach. When raw, Malabar spinach has very fleshy, thick leaves that are juicy and crisp and taste of citrus and pepper. When cooked, Malabar spinach looks and tastes a lot like regular spinach albeit a bit slimy if cooked for more than a short time.

image credit: Sinu S Kumar Also known as the Indian Giant Squirrel. It makes the European and North American squirrel look like dormice in comparison. http://www.arkinspace.com/2010/09/indian-giant-squirrel-secret-squirrel.html

image credit: Sinu S Kumar
The Malabar Squirrel. Also known as the Indian Giant Squirrel. It makes the European and North American squirrel look like dormice in comparison.
http://www.arkinspace.com/2010/09/indian-giant-squirrel-secret-squirrel.html

Malabar7 civet

Classified as Extinct 1978 the Malabar civet was rediscovered nine years later but there have been no published records of the Malabar civet for 10 years.

Malabar8 grey_hornbill

Malabar grey hornbill By Rathika Ramasamy Their loud calls are distinctive and include “hysterical cackling”, “laughing” and “screeching” calls

Malabar9 trogon

A Malabar trogon

Malabar9 parakeet

The Malabar parakeet

Gill and I wondered around trying to liken the punters to their nearest equivalent exotic Malabar threatened flora or fauna.

A gaggle of Can Tooers (from 2 years ago) screeching like hornbills!

A gaggle of Can Tooers (from 2 years ago) screeching like hornbills!

The Malabar parakeet with 2 of her SydneySwimmers coffee morning squaddies.

The Malabar parakeet with 2 of her SydneySwimmers coffee morning squaddies.

The Malabar squirrel (on the right) keeping a firm hold of his nuts.

The Malabar squirrel (on the right) keeping a firm hold of his nuts.

The third challenge of the day for the Magic, as ever, is people’s prejudice about disability. I have never understood this. Hearing how people excel notwithstanding a disability is one of the most humbling and inspiring privileges. In our Can Too swim squad, for some years now, we have been lucky enough to listen to stories each year from two Rainbow Club Patrons, Louise Sauvage and James Pittar.

Louise who can command a hefty speaker’s fee comes to talk to us as a favour because she’s in a book club with our Glenda although I think Louise’s book is yet to be read. To paraphrase Ian Heads

Louise Sauvage is without doubt one of Australia’s most talented athletes ever. But just as impressive as her undisputed ability are her humility, determination and tremendous will to succeed. She truly lives out the message that appears on the Sydney Harbour Supercat named in her honour: ‘You’ll never know what you can do or achieve until you try.’

What an adage! No wonder the Can Tooers go crazy.

We had Louise in stitches a few years ago mind you. A few of the Can Too boys were chivalrous enough to help Louise into the water at Malabar. After she finished her swim and the boys were carrying her out to her chair, a volunteer (truly because The Long Bay Life Saving and Amateur Swimming Club was disbanded in 1973 so all the water safety at the Magic is from other clubs) lifesaver ran down from the dunes panic stricken asking what had happened to Louise’s legs in the swim.

Let's get wet!

Let’s get wet!

We are also lucky enough at Can Too to hear from James every year whether it’s the story about how he mistook a log for a leg in the Amazon or being battered by ice in the Bering Strait. The man is astounding.

As for James’ long list of incredible achievements and swims (inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, first blind swimmer to cross the channel, achieved four of the Oceans Seven, World Open Water Swimming Association Performance of the Year Award, Australia Day Ambassador, Patron of the Sea’s the Limit, Ambassador and fundraiser for Fred Hollows and more), in my view, his most outstanding performance was asking my friend Jenny to marry him.

Not long after they met, Jenny was giving me a lift back to Sydney from a weekend in Jindabyne. James spent pretty much the whole journey complaining that we wouldn’t let him take his share of the driving. He was quite serious! I was in awe. It doesn’t surprise me though. Asked to nominate his most memorable Australia Day experience, James chose 2003 when he was the Australia Day Ambassador for Moree and was given the opportunity to drive the chaperone’s car in a paddock. He said “I didn’t know that you shouldn’t break at 80kms per hour and gave the passengers a bit of whiplash as well as taking out lots of dirt”.

What is it about young men going blind and driving!? Listen to this funny storytelling audio (the second one) from Canadian author Ryan Knighton. Neither Ryan nor James were born blind. They both suffer from Retinitis Pigmentosa diagnosed in their teens (for Ryan’s story read his hilarious book, Cock-eyed: A memoir of Blindness).

There’s seems to be no such word as can’t for James although some of my friends say that he sometimes struggles to find his way to the bar – who can say, he’s usually too busy talking. To get the measure of the man, watch this beautiful short video clip and listen here to James commentating on an international cricket test.

Anyway, enough of those 2. We all have our foibles to cope with.

Me and my pal Daniel 'Killer' Kowalski. Is that Killer after the famous Murwillumbah plumber Daniel or the Polish pro wrestler? Am I bragging that I might beat Daniel or asking him to get his mate Thorpie to challenge the Elouera Can Tooers to a Duel in the Pool next year?

Me and my pal Daniel ‘Killer’ Kowalski. Is that Killer after the famous Murwillumbah plumber Daniel or the Polish pro wrestler? Am I bragging that I might beat Daniel or asking him to get his mate Thorpie to challenge the Elouera Can Tooers to a Duel in the Pool next year?

I mean Daniel Kowalski’s had 4 shoulder surgeries and an eating disorder.

Mark Speakman’s a lawyer and a politician (although at least he didn’t have to worry about sharks today – why don’t sharks attack lawyers? Professional courtesy).

For myself, I’m scared of surf which ordinarily makes the Magic one of my favourite swims. No escape from the bump and the chop today though! No. Yes, Ferrety Ness, I agree it was hard (and great effort on your fundraising). Every punter that took on the swim today should be reet proud.

Do we really have to go?

Do we really have to go?

We swam head on into the chop, swell and current. Visibility (above the water) was variable switching to less than maybe 200 metres. It was impossible not to swallow water. My wave had to circumnavigate a large group of swimmers with a disability that started en masse in the water just ahead of us. Never have I seen a peloton behave so impeccably.

It wasn’t about our times today, it was about these guys. In these conditions, it was a marvel that they were in the drink at all. We all came to a respectful and very abrupt halt, arms flailing and legs sinking suddenly, resigned to the swimmers behind piling on top of us. In the tumultuous swell it was tough to circumnavigate the pod with courtesy picking our way carefully past the amazing and apologetic minders. All the while, the thunder was clapping and the lightening flashing, we were gasping for breath as the chop slapped our faces and the swell turned our stomachs and we were wondering (well I was) what on earth we were doing out there!

Pink laydees.  Hot on our heels.

Pink laydees. Hot on our heels.

It took forever to reach the turning buoy and then a short journey to the right, just relieved to breathe without a faceslap even though the rollercoaster was still going. And then nirvana. We turned for home and suddenly the water stopped fighting us and pushed us home.

Finally, some rhythm and a stretch out. Finally, a reprieve from the face slapping. Just a slight sweep to the right to correct for, sight the blue sails and home. Suddenly leaving the warm water to land back in the southerly downpour wasn’t so inviting after all. But all the same, it was a relief to be back in Mark’s constituency. A constituency Mark, I should mention, that includes a Can Too pod at Elouera I think. Pop in and say g’day.

Anyway, this correspondent was supposed to back up for the 2.4km swim. But we didn’t. Our mate Sista Glistener said it wasn’t as tough as the 1km (and that her brother is a wimp), but we doubt that (that it was easier, not sure about Dave).

Arriven (as os.c would say) on beach, we found devoted poor incapacitated shivering husband. Gill dislocated his shoulder in the surf 2 weekends ago and is awaiting surgery. What a convenient excuse to call it a day and take said shivering hubby home.

Poor Gill, he doesn’t enjoy being benched. But it was incredible of him to have come to support us all in the Magic. As ever, the organisers and volunteers did an amazing job and hats off to all the swimmers – tough day at the office. More than 860 came, swam and conquered, more than 1,000 reportedly entered. And for Murray Rose, who is now forever benched; thank you for the legacy; thank you for the privilege of experiencing the magic.