By Melanie Ward

As an old uncle of mine used to say, there’s nothing new under the sun. We live in a world where public decency is affronted daily, taboos are broken and millions made by ‘influencers’ telling us how our lives can be improved by this diet or that fitness regime. And yet, it’s all been done before.

Take Annette Kellerman. You’ve probably never heard of her – I hadn’t, until I came across a postcard that she had written to Irish writer Katherine Tynan while browsing in the Heritage Section of Enniskillen Library. This remarkable woman was a champion swimmer, a million dollar movie star and health and fitness guru over a hundred years ago.
But Kellerman herself saw her greatest achievement as the invention of the one piece bathing costume for women – and was arrested the first time that she wore her design in public (beat that, Madonna!).

Annette Kellerman was born in Sydney, Australia in 1886, to Frederick Kellerman, a violinist, and his wife Alice, a pianist. As a child Annette suffered from rickets and had to wear heavy leg braces until the age of seven. Doctors advised that she take up swimming to strengthen her leg muscles and in the water she was to find freedom – and her life’s purpose.

By the age of 16 Annette was women’s record holder for the 100m swim. The family moved to Melbourne, where Annette gave swimming and diving demonstrations, performed in a mermaid act and did two shows a day swimming with dolphins at the local aquarium.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own