The Original Mermaid: Rickets
Born Annette Marie Sarah Kellermann on 6 July 1886 in Sydney, Kellerman (her stage name) was diagnosed with rickets as a young child. Rickets is caused by vitamin D deficiency, resulting in the softening and weakening of bones in children. Swimming became part of her treatment.
In this excerpt from the documentary The Original Mermaid (Michael Cordell, Australia, 2002), Tara Morice narrates Annette Kellerman's story.
In her book How to Swim (1918), Kellerman talks about catching 'mermaid fever' at the Farmers Baths in Farm Cove, Sydney under the tutelage of Percy Cavill and others.
Athlete and silent film star Snowy Baker encouraged her to dive from the high platform, which no other girl had attempted. By the age of 16 she held the world record for the women's 100-yard swim.
In 1905 Kellerman and her father went to England where she took part in marathon swimming competitions across the English Channel as well as the Thames, Seine and Danube rivers. She called the race in France along the Seine in Paris, where she was the only woman in a race of 17 men, the 'thrillingest race I was ever in’. She came third and only four of them finished the race.
Kellerman was passionate about swimming as a great sport for women – for engendering strength and self-confidence.
She later wrote, 'My early physical misfortune has turned out to be the greatest blessing that could have come to me. Without it I should have missed the grim struggle upward and the reward that waited at the end of it all’.