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Australia’s indigenous heritage at the heart of the Sydney Harbour Splash

Andrew Reid explains why he finds it important to incorporate the indigenous heritage into the Sydney Harbour Splash on Australia Day.

The Sydney Harbour Splash is held annually on Australia Day with the 2024 event being its eighth.

Not only does the event allow participants to enjoy an iconic swim at Rose Bay with the Sydney Harbour Bridge as its backdrop, but it also provides an opportunity for participants to immerse themselves in Australia’s indigenous heritage.

Popular Bondi Rescue lifeguard, Andrew ‘Reidy’ Reid, is the organiser of the Sydney Harbour Splash event and it has become important to him over the years to incorporate indigenous heritage into the event, starting with a smoking ceremony and welcome to the country.

“I think it’s really important to recognise our indigenous heritage because the aboriginal people have been around in this country a lot longer than we have,” said Mr Reid.

“And because of that, I believe we need to educate ourselves on their heritage and how they managed to survive in this country for all those years, especially on our national day.

“This is one of the reasons why we have been performing the smoking ceremony and welcome to the country for about four years now, after I contacted the local aboriginal land council, who put me in touch with First Nations Elder Brendan Kerin.

“Brendan and I have formed a great relationship and for the last two years now he has also designed the artwork for our finisher towels, which is just another way we can add an indigenous aspect to the event.”

Since the start of Sydney Harbour Splash eight years ago, every participant has gotten a special finishers towel to represent their experience swimming in the iconic Sydney Harbour and this year’s towel is one of the best yet, with Brendan Kerin designing it himself.

“Each year we have tried to wow our swimmers with a special finishers towel to commemorate the event and give them something to remember their achievements by,” said Mr Reid.

“This year’s towel tells the story of Whale Dreaming, which is about the Cadigal people who lived in harmony with nature while being guided by their ancestors’ wisdom. They were blessed by a whale named Gawura, who inspired them to respect the ocean and only take what they need, while also giving back.

This year’s finisher towel design: The Whale Dreaming

“The towel represents a beautiful story and Brendan has done an amazing design that really represents the story behind it, so it’s a way of educating people on the indigenous culture while also celebrating their achievement of the swim.

“Prize winners in the different categories will also receive a small version of his artwork on paper, which they can take home and frame to showcase around their house.”

The Whale Dreaming story

For those who are tackling the Sydney Harbour Splash for the first time, we asked Reidy to walk us through what you can expect for the smoking ceremony and welcome to the country.

“The smoking ceremony is one of the best parts of the day and heaps of people love it,” said Mr Reid.

“It’s a beautiful culture and something you should experience at least once.

“We start it by getting Brendan to talk about the land that we stand on and the story behind the towel, which this year will be about the Whale Dreaming and the Cadigal people. He then goes on to do the smoking ceremony, which is performed because the Aboriginals believe that it is really important for everyone to be cleansed before they enter the way. Then Brendan will play the yidaki which is also known as the didgeridoo, but yidaki is the indigenous name.

“It’s a great way to set up the day for people and get all the swimmers thinking about the history and culture of this country, which I think is important on the morning of our national day.

“Really, at the end of the day, my goal for incorporating indigenous aspects into the event is to hopefully educate more people about the culture of our land, which hopefully, sparks a bit of change.”

For those swimmers that are wanting to experience the Sydney Harbour Splash and are coming from the Northern Beaches, Reidy is putting on the Manly Express Ferry to make it easier for you to get to Rose Bay. Visit the Sydney Harbour Splash website to secure your spot on the Ferry.

For more information on the event visit the Sydney Harbour Splash Listing.

Events discussed in this article

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  • Harbour Swim

Sydney Harbour Splash

  • Thu, 13 Jun 2024
  • Rose Bay NSW
  • Written by Suzie Ryan on 16 January 2024
  • (Updated on 16 January 2024)
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