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Olympic swim star makes surprise visit

By Caroline McMorran

Dawn with the family: Left-right (back) Christina Gill and Charlie Winning (front) Dawn Fraser, Barbara Shillinglaw and Bella Winning.
Dawn with the family: Left-right (back) Christina Gill and Charlie Winning (front) Dawn Fraser, Barbara Shillinglaw and Bella Winning.

AN elderly Australian former Olympic swimming star has paid her first visit to the Sutherland village from where her father emigrated last century.

Multiple gold medallist Dawn Fraser (74) was in the UK with her grandson Jackson Fraser (9) to watch the London 2012 Olympics.

She took advantage of a break in-between the swimming and track and field events to make a surprise three-day trip north to Embo, arriving with Jackson on Friday, 3rd August, and staying until the following Monday.

Dawn’s father, Kenneth Fraser, was born at 14 King Street, Embo, but emigrated to Australia as a young man.

However, many members of the extended Fraser family still live in Embo and the surrounding area.

Dawn first met one of her Fraser relations at the age of 23, following the 1960 Rome Olympics, when she won the 100m freestyle.

She flew to Edinburgh with her gold medal and presented her team mascot, a koala bear, to her aunt (her father’s sister), Mary Ann Fraser, who at that time was living in Gorebridge.

Her success in the Rome Olympics was recorded in the September 2nd, 1960, edition of The Northern Times. Interestingly, the article states that her father was also an excellent swimmer.

During her Embo trip, Dawn met up with her three Fraser first cousins, Christina Gill, Barbara (Barrie) Shillinglaw and Bella Winning, all Embo. Christina lives in the old Fraser family home at 14 King Street.

Dawn and her grandson stayed with Christina’s daughter, Liz Robertson, and her husband Struan, 9 King Street. Dawn and Liz are first cousins, once removed.

Liz said: "I’ve been in touch with Dawn for a while and I knew she hoped to visit Embo while she was in the UK, but I didn’t tell my mother or aunts in case it fell through.

"It was a complete surprise for them and they knew nothing about it until I picked Dawn up at the airport."

During their three days in Embo, Dawn and Jackson enjoyed a meal with immediate family and then a barbecue attended by a mixture of friends and family.

Continued Liz: "Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to see all the Embo clan this time round, but she hopes to come over again and catch up with them then."

She added: "Dawn is a very interesting person. She’s got lots of great stories and knows a lot of people. We were in the airport when we saw a biography of Elton John with his picture on the cover and she said she knew him and that he was a really nice guy."

Widely regarded as one of Australia’s greatest Olympians, Dawn was encouraged to take up swimming because she suffered from asthma.

She won the same Olympic event – the 100m freestyle – three times in succession.

She won eight Olympic medals in total – including four Gold medals – and six Commonwealth Games gold medals. She also held 39 records.

She is the holder of an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) and OA (Officer of the Order of Australia).

After her competitive career was over, she worked as a publican, swim coach and politician.

In 1979, a movie – "Dawn!" – was made of her life and career.

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