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Friday, June 18, 2021

Go jump in the Lake: Streakers swim on the solstice

Wanted: Hardy souls brave enough to bare it all for charity, and jump naked into Lake Burley Griffin in the middle of winter. Will you take the plunge?

Intrepid Canberrans will dare the icy waters on the morning of Monday 21 June, the winter solstice, to raise money for Lifeline’s Crisis Support Service.

Organiser Ben Johnston said that since the pandemic, many Canberrans have been struggling with mental health. Like bathing in the Ganges, swimming in Lake Burley Griffin on the winter solstice could be spiritually cleansing.

“The whole idea of the swim is to start the new solar year by washing away the negative energy,” Mr Johnston said.

“Some people go in with a mindset that this is an opportunity for rebirth and renewal, and our association with Lifeline and mental health feeds into that as well.”

The Winter Solstice Swim is held in honour of Ian Lindeman, the event’s late founder. Inspired by Hobart’s Dark Mofo nude winter solstice swim, he organised the first swim five years ago, raising funds for cancer research and Lifeline.

Mr Johnston met Mr Lindeman when he took over the Old Canberra Inn six years ago.

“Ian Lindeman came with the pub; he was very much a fixture there – an absolutely wonderful man, who was the ultimate local that you wanted in your pub. He was a very friendly, affable, generous person who would talk to anybody at any time, and helped out people a lot. A lot of young people really looked up to him, and he made friends with everybody over the years there.”

Mr Lindeman died in 2019, but the swim continues. The first swim held after his death was a tiny event, due to COVID restrictions in 2020. Only two people, Mr Lindeman’s brother Peter and his friend Geoff Arney, could take part, and they were not allowed to swim. Nevertheless, their photo shoot raised more than $19,000.

This year, Mr Johnston hopes 350 to 400 people will swim; 90 Canberrans have already registered. “We’re throwing it wide open, and people are responding in record numbers.”

But what can they expect? The lake is a chilly -2 degrees: brass monkey weather. “But it’s not what you think gets cold,” Ian Lindeman used to tell people. In fact, brother Peter said, your feet are the coldest.

He doesn’t linger in the water; the actual dip only lasts a minute. “I’m in pretty quick – head under, in, turn around.” But even for those 30 or 40 seconds, his feet really feel the cold. “I’m still feeling it that afternoon; at 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock, my feet are starting to thaw out.”

The water may make his feet cold – but Peter Lindeman doesn’t have cold feet about the swim. Nor does Geoff Arney. “You feel invigorated!”

Besides, Mr Johnston said: “You don’t have to swim very far. It’s not about a swim, it’s really about the symbolism of getting in the water and washing the negative energy away. It’s really up to you how long you spend in the water.”

Swimmers cannot huddle together to keep warm, as they could pre-COVID, but there will be plenty of fires, hot coffee, and a free sausage sizzle. And a naked bagpiper.

“It’s not quite going into war, but it is a little bit of a battle for people to get in there,” Mr Johnston said. “But once you’ve committed, people just tend to follow each other in there.”

Ian Lindeman’s son Rohan considers the swim a distinctively Canberra challenge.

“I don’t know if there’s anywhere colder in Australia where you could do something like this; it’s a cool thing that’s unique to Canberra.”

Cool may be the word for the water – but the people in it are warm-hearted.

For more information about the Ian Lindeman Memorial Winter Solstice Swim, to register, or to donate to Lifeline, visit https://wintersolsticeswim.com/. All donations are tax deductible.

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