Dawn Fraser is regarded as one of Australia’s greatest sporting legends but out of the pool, her life has been filled with immense pain and trauma.
While the 83-year-old has survived two rapes, domestic violence and even came close to committing suicide – the Olympic champion says there was another moment in her life that was even worse.
In 1964, when Fraser was just 26, she was behind the wheel in a car accident that killed her mother Rose.
Dawn Fraser (pictured) is regarded as one of Australia’s greatest sporting legends, but out of the pool, her life has been filled with pain and trauma
In 1964, when Fraser (pictured) was just 26, she was behind the wheel in a car accident that killed her mother Rose
The horrific accident, which occurred when Fraser slammed into a ute that was parked on a kerb, left the swimmer with fractured vertebrae and torn ligaments in her knees. Her mother was dead on arrival to hospital.
Despite the injuries, eight months later Fraser brought home gold at the 1964 Tokyo Games, where she famously tried to steal an Olympic flag as a souvenir.
She kept her pain hidden for so many years but in 2019, while at a camp for swimmers in South Australia, the memories came flooding back when the MC of the event asked guests to tell a story about their lives.
‘I burst out that I was driving the car that killed my mother. Everyone burst into tears and I cried with them. It got me over some sort of hurdle. I’d just locked it up inside of me,’ she told The Courier-Mail.
Before the freestyle swimmer became known across Australia as ‘Our Dawn’, she grew up on the working class streets of Balmain in Sydney’s inner west.
She even had a job after school as a runner for infamous SP bookmaker Lenny McPherson.
The Olympian has survived two sexual assaults, been the victim of domestic violence and even come close to ending her own life
Fraser won four gold medals at three Olympic Games. She is pictured showing her medal following a 100m freestyle win at the Olympics in Rome in 1960
But in her early 20s she would become the victim of sexual assault, when a man she met at a party ‘took advantage’ of her after she ‘had been drinking’.
Fraser was a virgin and fell pregnant after the attack.
Too ashamed to tell her parents, she confided in her late coach Harry Gallagher who organised an abortion.
‘That was one of the most horrific times of my life. So horrific I put it in the back of my mind and try not to think about it… It’s in the past and I don’t live in the past,’ she said.
Ten years later in 1971 she would fall victim again after a Polish sailor on the docks of Balmain locked her in a room and raped her.
She said she tried to fight but he held a knife to her throat.
Before the freestyle swimmer became known across Australia as ‘Our Dawn’, she grew up on the working class streets of Balmain in Sydney’s inner west
Australian swimmers Lorraine Crapp (left) and Dawn Fraser (right) at the Olympic swimming pool in Rome, Italy, before the 1960 Summer Olympics
Fraser had also experienced violence in her home after marrying Gary Ware in 1965.
He started gambling, going to nightclubs, playing cards and getting blind drunk until 4am, she said.
But the horror came to a head just one year into their marriage when Ware came home drunk and went into their baby daughter, Dawn-Lorraine’s, room.
‘That’s when all the rage came out. I picked up the (glass baby) bottle and I smashed it and I said, ”Now, leave her alone”. I said, ”You’ve got me to this stage now, Gary. You have to go. I don’t want to go to jail for murder, and that’s what I’ll do”,’ Fraser said.
After the divorce she admitted there were times when she was bordering on being an alcoholic and became depressed and suicidal.
But now she says she just wants to enjoy her life and leave her past trauma behind.
She’s now left Sydney for the Sunshine Coast in Queensland where she lives with her daughter, Dawn-Lorraine, 55, and her grandson, Jackson, 17.
Fraser says she’s eagerly awaiting the 2032 Olympics – which could be held in Queensland.
Fraser (pictured) now she says she just wants to enjoy her life and leave her past trauma behind