Frederick Claude Vivian  Lane was born in Manly on February 2 1880. He nearly drowned in Sydney Harbour when he was four years old, after falling off a punt. His  older brother saved him, but Fred  thought it might be wise to learn to swim (or perhaps it was his parents who thought  that).  Anyway, he turned out to be pretty good as a schoolboy, and just kept getting better.

A fine young chap! The future Obstacle Course Olympian.
A fine young chap!

In fact, as a young man he  won everything going, setting an Australasian record for the 100 yards and winning the mile race in the Murrumbidgee river  at Wagga Wagga. He was unusually small for an athlete; just 5′ 4″ and weighing in at a shade under 8 stone.

By the time he was twenty, Fred was competing in championships in England, and was therefore able to pop across  the Channel to compete in the  1900 Paris Olympics.  It was a relatively low key event in those days,  with only two Australians taking part. And so it was that Frederick Lane became Australia’s first Olympic swimmer.

The future Obstacle Course Olympian Fled Lane with fellow  club members.
Fred ( far right of front row), with fellow swimming club members..


The swimming events were held in the river, with strong currents and murky water to contend with.

Zoltan Halmay. Fred Lane's rival at the Obstacle Course Olympics.
Fred Lane’s Rival

Dressed in a rather fine costume of silk, Fred won the 220 yard race (200 metres)  from  Hungarian Zoltán  Holnay. After a break of only 45 minutes he then competed in one of the most bizarre events imaginable….an obstacle race over the same distance.  At the outset,  competitors  had to climb a pole, then clamber over a boat and  finally under a punt. Judging from the photo below, those manning  the boat got almost  as wet as the swimmers. 

Under boats and over boats! The 'obstacle course' Olympics.

Fred won this race too.  That early experience with a punt back in Sydney  must have given him the edge.  Oddly enough, negotiating  the obstacles only added 13 seconds to his time. The obstacle race was never held again. What a surprise!


The tradition of awarding Olympic  medals  did not exist in 1900. Instead, Fred received two bronze sculptures; one of a horse and one of a young woman called , ‘Farm Girl With a Rake’.   Another athlete at the Games received an umbrella, so our Fred did pretty well.  However, he was eventually presented with honorary gold medals.

Fred Lane the winner at the 'Obstacle Course' Olympics.
Olympian Fred Lane rises from the Seine – the winner!


Fred Lane was interested in far more  than just swimming.  He was an excellent sailor, pioneer surfer  and boxer, and later took up golf. He had a remarkable  collection of autographs, which he kept  at the bank  in a safety deposit box.  The signatures  included those of  Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Dame Nellie Melba, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the cricketer Jack Hobbs.  And perhaps there was the odd fellow  Olympian in the mix  as well. He also collected stamps  (swapping duplicates with King Farauk  of Egypt),  coins, models, and  cigarette cards. He was a friend of the artist Norman Lindsay, and even wrote a book about him.  When he returned to Sydney he opened a stationery shop in Bridge Street.

Just before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Fred presented all the Australian swimmers with a replica of his own gold medal.

Fred  the Olympian with his original gold medal and one of the replicas he presented to the Tokyo Olympic  swimmers..
Fred with his gold medal and one of the replicas he presented to the Tokyo  Olympic swimmers in 1964.

I wonder if Dawn Fraser still has hers?

There was a very sad end to Fred’s life. In 1968 his house  in Sydney caught fire.  All  his collections, and hundreds of his swimming   medals and trophies were destroyed. He died a year later, aged 89.  However, his long life had been rich and full.  He put his sporting success down to  avoiding alcohol and ‘Lady Nicotine’.   Oh yes….and eating brown bread and chicken.

UPDATE – JULY 2024. So here we are with another Paris Olympics about to begin amid domestic  political turmoil. There are even  plans to hold open swimming  races  in the river Seine; well, that’s if pollution can be reduced enough. 😨  How will it all unfold?


FOOTNOTE – Long before Fred was born, another Sydney based athlete captured the imagination of the public. It was said that The Flying Pieman could have been a very successful Olympian.



  1. Interesting tale. Modern Olympians go much faster but surely not as entertainingly.

  2. Another good story of a determined Aussie. Fred didn’t deserve his tragic ending to life. I would not have known about Fred, but you brought great memories of his life to my notice and to others. He deserves to be remembered for his all- round sportsmanship. I’m not sure about his longevity being down to brown bread and chicken. They tell us nowadays that anything with wheat isn’t good for us. I can’t quite see what we can eat because there’s so much about what’s bad that we’ll be down to eating a few food items.

    • Pauline

      It really was a sad end for him. As to diet, well I don’t think they have ever improved on the old advice we were given in primary school; ‘Eat a balanced diet’.

  3. It’s very sad that the rock pool that Freddie Lane created at Cremorne point, does not bear his name, north Sydney council named it after Mr. Mcallium just because he crawled to the aldermen. people that suck-up to councils often gets things named after them. corrupt councils yes we even had them back in 1930!

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