Ask anyone with a Stockton postcode about the Australia Day Newcastle Harbour Swim and they’ll tell you it’s the stuff of legends.
Born off the back of larrikinism, the annual fundraising event is an ode to the former steel city’s working-class past.
And, while competitors in Australia’s richest ocean race might not be aware of its cheeky heritage, Stockton Surf Club president Paul Bernard says it’s one they can chuckle about nonetheless.
“It’s Stockton folklore that when the ferry stopped operating on a Friday night in Newcastle and the Stockton locals had had a drink or two and couldn’t get home, let’s just say they’d find their own way home,” he explained.
The annual event, held on Australia Day, has attracted thousands of competitors in its 28 years of existence.
Participants will swim across the Hunter River from Queens Wharf to Stockton Wharf and back hoping to win a share in generous cash offerings.
There are two swim categories on offer – a 700m Single Crossing and a 1.4km Double Crossing.
“This is the only time the harbour shuts down for swimmers,” Mr Bernard says.
“And, of course, now we have licenses and permits and the support of Port Waratah and City of Newcastle.”
This year’s event will take place on Thursday 26 January.
Competitors will vie for cash prizes of $1000, $500 and $250, for first, second and third place respectively.
“I’d encourage anyone to have a go at the 700m social swim,” Mr Bernard says.
“Self-assess before you decide to jump in, you can wear a wetsuit and use flippers to aid in the crossing and there will be plenty of water safety teams in the water.”
The Australia Day Harbour Swim began in 1995.
“It has only been cancelled twice since it started,” says Mr Bernard.
“Once during COVID and once because of poor water quality.”
Undeterred by the possibility of strong ocean currents, the race continues to attract ocean swimmers from across the continent.
“We’re back to record numbers this year,” Mr Bernard added.
“In fact, we’ve had to cap the number at 500.
“This year we’re expecting very mild 24-degree water temperatures and because we’ve had no rain the water quality should be ideal.”
And, who is likely to take home the crown?
“Local ironman Daniel Collins is always a strong favourite, Stockton’s own Justin Norris is also looking good, and so is Nicola Owen. We’ll have to wait and see who is strongest on the day.”
Over the years the swim has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Stockton Surf Life Saving Club.
The funds are used to purchase and maintain rescue vehicles and equipment, nippers’ uniforms and education for lifesavers.
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