Why I Swim or ‘naval brat’ learns to cope…

Seeing as this is a swimming drawing blog here is a brief history of my swimming childhood…and when I use ‘swimming’ I mean a recognisable competitive stroke over distance. 

1 NAVAL BRAT 1971-1986 and how I became a swimmer.

Actually I was born a swimmer. In our ear we all have a tiny primordial structure giving us our sense of balance and gravity the same as a fish. But nature versus nurture decreed that this fish met a ship and growing up i was ‘a naval brat‘. It is a term of ironic affection because it’s the military and order always prevails and as kids we followed orders.

Most research lumps Navy Army Airforce kids together as Military under the one Defence Force system. The origins of the term BRAT may have been British and meant ‘British Regiment Attached Traveller’.  Backronyms such as ‘Born Raised And Transferred’ and ‘Brave Resilient Adaptable Trustworthy’ are kind of okayIsh.

Both my parents were Naval Officers in Kings Cross Barracks in 60’s Sydney when they met and married.  My mother was one of the first married women allowed to stay on after marriage but then i came along and put an end to that.

Swimmer with fluffy toys
Swimmer with fluffy toys

I skipped crawling and walking to run at 8 months. As a toddler i spent hours jumping in and out of an empty bath tub. I become an over energetic skinny redhead (with my preADHD diagnosis tendencies) and I was encouraged to thrash out laps in a swimming pool to get rid of this energy. It also made me very very happy.

Did this energy channelling work? No.  According to family lore the swimming training just lead to more energy. Family lore also says we owned Potts Point in Sydney in the early colony. If only…

Showing complete contempt for geography.
Showing complete contempt for geography.

By 16years old I had moved through at least 8 different schools Australia wide and overseas as the Navy posted my family around the place chasing a ship. The above diagram shows the majority of travel I did with my family and places Perth WA at the globes heart for once. My mother says by the time she found a pool and a doctor it was usually time to leave again.

It went like this –

THEM ‘we are moving to blah blah blah’

ME ‘excuse me whilst I plunge myself into the nearest body of water and ignore you the world and the chaos of my outer life – ohh how nice and calm it is under here’.

This is a common story -an escape into the calm of a tempestual sea (or pool if in Canberra or on a military base or in temporary accomodation).

It also helped as a new kid at a new school to thrash everyone’s butts. I was a sprinter and i love freestyle. But by 13yrs old the many moves, bullying at training and an absence of support going into teenager hood meant I had quit swimming training.

What I did instead was secretly devise a career path that kept me attached to the water, see the Aquatic Office below, and so far it has worked. I have avoided a true desk job or office space to the best of my abilities. The plan has been altered as I adapted to changes and curses (in a nice way) to Ballard for dashing my childhood dream and finding the Titanic before me. 

The Aquatic Office a career plan JPotts aged 7+The option of ‘swimmer’ was not possible. And i’m okay with that. Here are some pools I have frequented growing up – Kevin Duffs East Fremantle, Brisbane somewhere near the empty new suburbs in 1978,  a high school pool in Palos Verdes, California which i’ve yet to track down, the swimming rock pool at Hanna Barbera’s Marine Land at Point Vincente, Palos Verdes CA, Woden ACT and a few that are just a cyanic chlorine blur.

I loveeeeed this place. It was really close to our house. They had this rock pool swim through exhibit with a glass window for onlookers and my mum convinced them i was fine to swim even though i was under height and underage. go mum!
Marine Land 1980 California. I loveeeeed this place. It was really close to our house. They had this rock pool swim through exhibit with a glass window for onlookers and my mum convinced them i was fine to swim even though i was under height and underage. go mum!

There is a lot of disruption to just regular life as a naval brat. The Other important things that get caught up in numerous transfers are school grades, adapting between different curriculums-there went chemistry and marine biology- and any form of consistency or connection to anything outside the immediate family group.

Instead, water is my bestie and I have a bower bird tendency to collect cyan coloured things -that old pool concrete shade. Again being in the water makes me really really happy. Whatever it’s mood.  I generally meet my friends in some water somewhere and they are usually surfers/swimmers/creatives.

In the process of writing this i googled ‘military brat’ for the very first time ever and read a few psych analyses, nodding along with ah ha’s and yep’s. My father was in the navy for 25 years. I did 16.

We ran a 24hr clock in our household, when dad shopped he bought enough food for a guided missile destroyer, it was not uncommon for our freezer to have 20 loaves of white bread lined up and staring back at you followed by several rows of frozen pies. Lollies were maccas, the toilet was the heads and if you stuffed up at school there was always Dads position and the Navy to consider. I was covered by the Naval medical benefits scheme till I left school. We had a language and a system running outside of civvy life.

Happiness and a deep grounding is ‘what the water ‘gives’ me’. (lyric by Florence and the Machine). That meditation practice i can never sit still for on dry land. And I continually seek those sensations and believe it or not this desire has a name and a history. It is The Swinbourne ComplexA term coined by the French phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard to explain why people like myself love the feel of the water and the sensual experiences it brings them. And that concept is the next longform topic. Its the complex you didn’t even know you had as you follow your swimming heart.

Swim on ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….



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