Mina Wylie – Coogee’s pioneer Olympian

The 1912 Stockholm Olympics were the first Olympics to include women’s swimming in the program – to the shock of many. And a plucky girl from South Coogee called Mina Wylie got there, despite the odds stacked against her.

To mark the centenary of Mina Wylie’s gutsy swim and silver medal, and to celebrate the London Olympics in July, Randwick City Council will present an evocative exhibition of photographs and memorabilia from her illustrious career. Highlights of the exhibition include one of Wylie’s swimming costumes and her Olympic silver medal, on loan from the State Library of New South Wales.

One hundred years ago, the announcement that women could participate in the Games was met with opposition in many quarters, including the NSW Amateur Swimming Association, which had already named their seven man team. But they hadn’t reckoned on the spirit of two extraordinary young women — Mina, and her friend and swimming rival, Fanny Durack.

The two young women received very little official support but managed to raise their own funds and harness the support of the press and the public. Despite almost unimaginable obstacles and opposition, the girls thrilled their supporters and the nation when they got to the Stockholm Olympics. Durack won the gold medal for the 100 metre freestyle, with Wylie claiming the silver.

Wilhelmina ‘Mina’ Wylie was the daughter of Henry Wylie, who built Wylie’s Baths in 1907, which are the oldest remaining sea baths in Australia. The Wylie family lived in South Coogee for many years, with Mina a regular at the Baths.

Randwick Mayor, Councillor Scott Nash described Mina Wylie as a spirited character and wonderful role model. “Randwick has a proud history of producing sporting champions, and Mina’s story is a fascinating one to tell. She faced challenges and opposition to her dreams. But she persevered and went down in history as one of the two first Australian women to take part in swimming at the Olympics. It’s wonderful to imagine her training at Wylie’s Baths, such a spectacular and iconic feature of our City.”