Armidale’s first Olympian, the legendary Australian backstroke swimmer John Monckton, has died peacefully at his Fisherman's Reach home (near Stuart’s Point) on the NSW North Coast, aged 79.
Monckton, who was married to fellow Melbourne Olympic swimmer, butterflyer, Maureen Giles, passed away peacefully in the early hours of this morning after a long illness.
A dual Olympian, Monckton won silver in the 100m backstroke at the 1956 Melbourne Games, before representing Australia again in Rome in 1960.
In between the boy from the bush, an apprentice carpenter, won double gold in the 110 yards backstroke and 4x110 yards medley relay at the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff.
Monckton was a celebrated member of the St George Water Dragons Swimming Cub and was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1999 and was also a member of the NSW Sporting Hall of Fame and the pool in Armidale is named in his honour – built just a stone’s throw from the family home.
At the Australian team camp in Townsville before the Melbourne Games, “big John” became the first person to swim the 400m backstroke in under five minutes.
Although it was not a regularly contested event at international level, it was a promising sign for the Olympics. He also set world records in the 110yds and 220yds freestyle events.
At the 1956 Games, the Australians, David Theile and Monckton were up against some daunting international talent, but the Australians bettered the Olympic record in both their heats and semi-finals. In the final, Monckton won silver behind Queensland’s Theile.
Before the 1960 Rome Games, Monckton was seen as a gold medal prospect, even though Theile was the defending champion. Monckton held the world record of 61.5 seconds.
Monckton led the qualifying in the heats and semi-finals. However, in the final, he misjudged the turn and broke a finger as he smashed into the wall, finishing seventh with Theile successfully defending his title. Monckton continued competing in the hope of reaching a third Olympics in 1964, but retired in the lead up to the Games.
He lived by the saying "Never give in" but post his swimming career his water battles were far from over with an authorised biography on the lives of John and Maureen Monckton (by Michael Brennan) nominated for the 2012 Don Grant Award with the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies.
After swimming the Moncktons went on to embark on a decade-long fight against the NSW State Government’s wetland conservation policy of the 1990s from their home of Nambucca Heads.
“The more I got to know John and Maureen, the more I realised what a great human interest story theirs was,” said Brennan.
“He [John] was born and bred around swimming in Armidale, while Maureen fought against childhood polio to get into the Olympic squad. I brought together all these different threads to create the book about the unique fabric of their lives.”
Self-published, the book captures the Olympic successes and agonies of political battles. Monckton is hailed as Armidale’s most coveted Olympian.
Details of the funeral service will be announced over the next 24 hours.