Glenaeon Rudolf Steiner School

Sportsmanship Is More Than Sport: a Story of Australia and Hawai’i

Last week I attended the 2018 Kolisko Conference at the Honolulu Waldorf School, Hawaii, and enjoyed four days of inspiring talks, workshops and meetings around the intersection of education and medicine from perspectives working out of the impulse of Dr Rudolf Steiner. The theme was Truth, Beauty and Goodness, the classical ideals that inspire so much of our work as a school and I will be reporting on the content of the inspiring lectures over coming weeks. At the time though, it was the Hawaiian-Australian connection that was on my mind, coming as it did while the Winter Olympics were dominating the headlines. So I told this story to the Year 7 to 12 Assembly last Wednesday…

At the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, only the fifth in the modern era, there was a remarkable connection forged between two swimmers, an Australian and a Hawaiian in the US team. The Australian was Cecil Healey, a boy from Bowral who had moved to Sydney to become a member of the Manly Surf Life Saving Club. He was Australia’s fastest swimmer in the 100 metres and represented his country in the Stockholm games. Race times in those days were very rough, so none knew exactly who was in the running for medals, but Cecil was regarded as a clear candidate for a podium finish.

Duke Kahanamoku was the Hawaiian in the US team, a big powerful man whose strength had been honed in the surf of O’ahu, his island home. He was of Hawaiian royal descent, hence the name, and practiced longboard surfing, a traditional activity of the Hawaiian elite. He was also a powerful sprint swimmer. Cecil had watched his performance in the warm up trials and recognised a swimmer who would be almost impossible to beat.

Both Cecil and the Duke got through to the semifinals. On the morning of the semifinals, Cecil easily won his race and was regarded as a certainty for a medal. But at the time of the second semifinal, the US failed to appear. An official had got the time wrong! To everyone else, this was Cecil’s moment: if the Duke didn’t swim, Cecil would get gold. The rest of the Australian team was ecstatic at the prospect, but not Cecil. He appealed to the Olympic judiciary, saying it was not fair that the Duke was disqualified from swimming because of a procedural error by an official, not his own failure to follow the rules. The committee upheld the appeal, and the semifinal was held over until the US team arrived. The Duke won his semifinal by a wide margin.

In the final, the placings were what everyone had expected: the Duke came first, and Cecil came second. The Australian team were disappointed, but on the podium there was a beautiful resolution. After the medals had been awarded, the Duke reached over, took Cecil’s hand, raised it aloft and proclaimed: “Here is the true Olympic champion!”

He was recognising Cecil’s sportsmanship, that essential quality of respect, fairness and generosity that marks the true sportsman from the ordinary. Cecil lost a gold medal, but he won the respect of the Olympic community and a place in Australian Olympic folklore.

He also won a friend for life. The Duke told Cecil that if there was anything he could ever do for him, he would be happy to oblige. As a Manly surfer life saver, Cecil was keen to see the strange and fabled Hawaiian sport of longboard surfing, so he invited the Duke to visit Manly, which he did at the end of 1914. The Duke camped in bushland next to Freshwater beach, and over the New Year period he cut down a tree and fashioned a longboard from the softwood.

Word had got around, and on a Sunday morning in January 1915, a crowd of 200 people gathered on Freshwater Beach to see the Duke paddle out the back of the surf on his new longboard. He turned, caught a wave and rode in to shore. The crowd went wild at this very first demonstration of surfboard riding in Australia. The rest, as they say in the classics, is history, as Australian surf culture begins in this moment in time. Surfing took off and within a year, boards were being manufactured all along the northern beaches.

The 1915 Freshwater event is well known of course, but the back story and how it came to happen is not. Cecil Healey’s generous act of sportsmanship, of respect for a competitor and of fairness in contest, is buried in Australian Olympic history. It should be retold every time the Olympics roll around and the media is full of stories of the best and the fastest. Last week I stood in front of the larger than life bronze statue of the Duke at Waikiki beach and took a moment to remember this beautiful story of sportsmanship, and friendship, across the Pacific.

Passing of a Pioneer

At the end of January the last of the school’s founders, those adults present on the very first day, passed away in a Sydney retirement village. Vera Laycock was both the sister of Sylvia Brose, our founding teacher, and the mother of Linda St Clair who began on Day 1 in the first Kindergarten class of 1957. Linda’s sister Pamela attended the school later and went on to become our current English Faculty Coordinator, while Linda taught English at Glenaeon for over two decades, and was a long term School Council (Board) member, supporting the school in many and varied ways.

Vera’s husband Ron Laycock was the founding Treasurer of the School Council and remained so for many years, and was also chairperson for many years. Vera herself founded the body for parents to support the school, what was then called the “Mothers Club” which later became the Parents Association, so she was in fact the founder of the GPA.

Vera’s entire life was entwined with Glenaeon: her grandchildren all attended the school and she remained in touch with school matters through to the end. The family made substantial financial sacrifices to support the school in those early years. Our 60th Anniversary last year remembered these founding pioneers. We send our condolences to Linda and Pamela for their loss, and salute a life of service to Glenaeon.