History Student (almost) Becomes Polar Bear

Website: Cronulla Polar Bears Major Project

My journey of learning the histories of a swim club and almost becoming an affiliate member nears it’s final chapters.

The Cronulla Polar Bears is a club rich with over 70 years of history. The stories and memories of the club are all shared and cherished between members both past and present. Oral histories have been a key component of the club’s incredible sense of camaraderie. With the honest and casual nature that oral histories provides, it’s dependence on memory proves as it’s greatest hindrance. Through my work with the club, I began to realize the beauty in talking to members about their experiences and then learning to respect and understand the culture of the club. The downside of course is investigating particular years proves challenging on some of the older members and reignites those memories. Nonetheless, the process of being welcomed into their homes and discussing some of their most cherished memories was incredibly heartwarming as merely a daughter of the cook. Through my work this them, I often caught myself claiming membership to the club by saying ‘our club’ or ‘our members’ which in itself is a testament to their hospitality. Te Bears were very keen to have their stories in the physical form, in addition to leaving the website in my hands and taking it in any direction I saw fit. More importantly, I understood and respected that some stories were better left to be appreciated between members not for publication purposes.

The website is focused on showcasing the camaraderie and rich history of the club for not only members and their family or friends, but also those looking to join the club. Ensuring there was a means of contact was important to me as I wanted people to finish navigating the website and want to become part of the family. That was my aim in relaying their history and stories, for people to see themselves joining the club and actively being able to.

Considering the countless successes of the club since foundation, there are still many men who describe their swimming as ‘floating like a brick’. Of course, in true character and humour of the club, these gentlemen still continue to swim every Sunday regardless of ability. By removing that sense of competition and introducing the handicap system, they put a greater onus on the mate-ship and character of the club, which proves the uniting force behind its success. Working with this group has been an honour, to not only learn their stories but also help them make their own history for years to come.

Through the website I created, I hope it will be a platform that is easily adaptable for any further work I will be doing with them. For example, in the next few months I’ll be writing summaries about life members and significant characters of the club. I can’t wait to continue my work with the club and help them create something they can be proud of; it’s been a pleasure helping them preserve their history.

Cronulla Polar Bears circa 1960, photo provided by the club.

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