Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Gary Arthur Chapman (1938–1978)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

Gary Chapman, by Organising Committee for the XVIth Olympiad Melbourne, 1956

Gary Chapman, by Organising Committee for the XVIth Olympiad Melbourne, 1956

Public Record Office, Victoria, 10742/P0

Gary Arthur Chapman (1938-1978), swimmer and fisherman, was born on 12 March 1938 at Brighton-Le-Sands, Sydney, eldest son of Australian-born parents Arthur James Kennard Chapman, sports store proprietor, and his wife Gladys Alma, née Deller. As a youngster Gary was mischievous, even wilful, and loved outdoor life, especially tree-climbing. Told that he must learn to swim before he could boat and fish on his own, at the age of 7 he reluctantly mastered the art at Ramsgate baths and was soon coached by Steve Duff.

While still at Kogarah Boys' Intermediate High School, where he excelled at most sports, in February 1953 Chapman won the Australian 440 yards freestyle title in the record time of 4 minutes 42.6 seconds. Leaving school and coached by Frank Guthrie at the Enfield pool, in the Australian championships in early 1954 he broke the records for 440 and 880 yards freestyle. At 16 the brown-eyed, husky youngster—nicknamed 'the big horse' or 'Gazzar'—was 6 ft 2 ins (188 cm) tall, weighed 13½ stone (86 kg) and could wrap his hand around the handles of two tennis rackets. He swam 55 yards in thirty-seven strokes, six fewer than most of his contemporaries.

In the British Empire and Commonwealth Games at Vancouver, Canada, in August 1954 Chapman won gold medals for the 440 and 4 x 220 yards freestyle events. Resting in 1955, he kept fit by playing tennis. At North Sydney on 18 February 1956 he set a world record of 2 minutes 5.8 seconds for the 220 yards freestyle; in November he won the bronze medal at the Olympic Games in Melbourne, finishing behind his team-mates Jon Henricks and John Devitt in the 100 metres freestyle. After a lean year in 1957, in Brisbane on 3 May 1958 Chapman (with Devitt, John Konrads and Geoffrey Shipton) set a world record of 3 minutes 46.3 seconds for the 4 x 100 metres freestyle; in July at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales, he won a gold medal in the 4 x 220 yards and a silver in the 110 yards freestyle.

A fine sportsman, with an unaffected and happy nature, Chapman retired from competitive swimming in August 1959, despite prospects for the 1960 Olympics. 'A person who wants to be a top-line swimmer has to make too many sacrifices', he said, 'I've spent the last nine years of my life doing nothing else but eating, sleeping and swimming'. He resumed his education at St George Technical College, worked in his father's Rockdale sports store and concentrated on his great love—fishing. A member of the St George and Sutherland Shire Anglers' Club and of the Port Hacking Game Fishing Club, Chapman held many records and was New South Wales rock-fishing champion in 1964. At St Paul's Anglican Church, Kogarah, on 10 February 1962 he had married Dutch-born Audrey Bosma; they were to have three children.

On 23 September 1978 he and a friend Ronald Nelson set out in Chapman's powerboat to fish off Maroubra beach. The upturned boat was found next day, but their bodies were never recovered: the coroner returned a finding of accidental drowning. Chapman was survived by his wife, son and a daughter; his estate was sworn for probate at $75,378.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Besford, Encyclopaedia of Swimming (Lond, 1976)
  • People (Sydney), 28 July 1954
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21, 25 Feb, 16, 27, 28 Mar 1953, 8, 11, 17 Jan, 9, 12 Feb, 26 June, 18 July, 6-8 Aug, 6 Sept 1954, 1 Aug, 20, 23 Nov, 18 Dec 1955, 1, 9, 19 Jan, 4, 19 Feb, 30 Nov, 1 Dec 1956, 21, 23 July, 16, 18, 21 Aug, 8 Sept 1958, 9 Aug 1959, 29 Aug 1969, 25, 26 Sept 1978
  • Herald (Melbourne), 11 Aug 1954, 23 Aug 1958, 3 Oct 1978
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 2 Feb 1978
  • Sunday Press (Melbourne), 1 Oct 1978.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Chapman, Gary Arthur (1938–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 13 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Gary Chapman, by Organising Committee for the XVIth Olympiad Melbourne, 1956

Gary Chapman, by Organising Committee for the XVIth Olympiad Melbourne, 1956

Public Record Office, Victoria, 10742/P0