Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wylie, Wilhemina (Mina) (1891–1984)

by Warwick Hirst

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Wilhemina (Mina) Wylie (1891-1984), swimmer, was born on 27 June 1891 in North Sydney, second of three children of Irish-born Henry Alexander Wylie, house-painter, and his Queensland-born wife Florence Ann, née Beers. Henry Wylie was the Australasian distance-diving champion in 1896. Mina attended Caerleon College, Randwick.

At the age of 5 Mina joined with her father and two brothers in an aquatic act, in which she swam with her hands and feet tied. She competed in the first New South Wales ladies’ championships in 1902, coming second in the under-10 27-yards handicap. In 1907 her father built Wylie’s Baths in Coogee, where she trained with her close friend and rival Fanny Durack. Her training consisted of swims of half to three-quarters of a mile daily from September to April. She set a world record of 1 minute 15.8 seconds for the 100-yards freestyle event in 1908. The following year she was among the first three women in Australia to be honoured with the Royal Life Saving Society’s award of merit (silver medallion). Five ft 4 ins (163 cm) tall, she weighed 8 st. 4 lb. (52.6kg).

In 1912 at the Olympic Games in Stockholm, swimming events for women were included for the first time. However, neither Wylie nor Durack was selected in the Australasian team because a rule of the New South Wales Ladies’ Amateur Swimming Association forbade women from competing in the presence of men. Furthermore, it was claimed that there was only enough money to send male representatives to the Games. Following a public outcry the rule was relaxed and sufficient funds were raised to send both women to Stockholm. Wylie won the silver medal in the 100-metres freestyle. Durack, who had broken the world record in the heats, won the gold medal. The only other event for women was the 4 x 100-metres relay; both women offered to swim two legs each in order to compete but permission was refused.

In 1918 Wylie and Durack travelled to the United States of America but, as the tour had not been sanctioned by the Amateur Swimming Union of Australia, they were unable to compete. Next year they were again in the USA but their amateur status was threatened when they insisted on the payment of their manager’s expenses. After competing in several carnivals they returned home but the tour was not a success.

Despite being in the shadow of Durack for much of her career, Wylie was a champion in her own right. Between 1906 and 1934 she won 115 State and national titles and held world records in freestyle, breast-stroke and backstroke. In some years she was outstanding in every event at the Australian championships and in 1922 won the New South Wales 880-yards title by an extraordinary 110 yards.

From 1928 to 1970 Miss Wylie taught swimming at Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Pymble. In 1975 she was elected to the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Never married, she lived most of her life in the family home at Coogee. She died on 6 July 1984 at Randwick and was buried in the Church of England section of the local cemetery. A sculpture of her by Eileen Slarke stands at the Coogee pool and Mina Wylie Crescent, Gordon, Canberra, was named to honour her.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Atkinson, Australian and New Zealand Olympians (1984)
  • M. Coleman, This is Pymble College 1916-1991 (1991)
  • H. Gordon, Australia and the Olympic Games (1994)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Feb 1973, p 15, 11 May 1975, p 55, 15 Mar 1980, p 4
  • P. Cochrane, ‘“Too Much Boldness and Rudeness”: Australia’s First “Olympic Ladies Swimming Team”’, Ozhistorybytes, no 6, National Centre for History Education (http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/41545/20051209-0000/www.hyperhistory.org/indexbc50.html?option=displaypage, accessed 8 Nov 2010, copy held on ADB file)
  • International Swimming Hall of Fame website (http://www.ishof.org/honorees/75/75mwylie.html, accessed 8 Nov 2010, copy held on ADB file)
  • Wylie papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Warwick Hirst, 'Wylie, Wilhemina (Mina) (1891–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wylie-wilhemina-mina-15656/text26851, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 28 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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