A Soggy Saga: Being so near and yet so far

Fettes Falconer was part of a team attempting the 2022 Rottnest Channel Swim. What happened??

On February 26, 2022, long term GPAG member, Fettes Falconer, braved the waves as part of Team "Old with Attitude" to attempt the annual South32 Rottnest Channel Swim. The team goal was to be the oldest combined age mixed team to finish the swim. Fettes' additional goal was to raise money to help save Gilbert's Potoroo. Here is his story of what happened...

Above left: The “Old with Attitude” swimmers from left Fettes Falconer, Liz Dunn, Graham Cragg, Linda Cragg. Above right:  The full “Old with Attitude” Team- Skipper Mike Wren in his boat, on the ground from left Paul Plant (the Paddler), Linda Cragg, Graham Cragg, Liz Dunn (our leader who organised us all from her Roleystone home, Fettes Falconer (the one still swimming against the tide of extinction and for the Gilbert’s Potoroo). Photos provided by Fettes Falconer.


‘If you have not reached the 18 km by 2.30 pm you must head straight for Rottnest with all swimmers on board.

Repeat: the race will be abandoned for you if you have not reached….


The Race is Abandoned for all swimmers who have not reached the 17 km by …..’ came the dreaded call over the radio.

Quick calculations showed we could do it.

We put in our fastest swimmer; ex Senior State Swimming Champion, Graham Cragg, now all of 67 years of age.


Another call over the radio. ‘Here is an upgrade of our previous announcement. The distance and time is changed. If you have not reached the 17 kilometre mark by 2 pm your race is over!’


‘Oh no! We are only 300 metres from the marker. Please allow us. We want to hold the record for the oldest mixed team to have swum to Rottnest! We have an average age of 70! Let us old codgers through’ I shouted into the wind and waves.

But the wind did not listen to me. We were swimming as hard as we could during each of our ten minute legs, but the current, waves and wind had slowed us. We were moving forward, but at half our original pace.


‘Look! There! I can see a house on the hill above Kingston Barracks! I know it well. There over the top of flat Phillip Rock….the big ro-rock (rocking boat caused this stutter) blasted flat by the Army during the Second World war so that Rottnest search lights could pick up enemy ships in the dark.’


Our courageous 52 year old paddler, Paul – from Wyalkatchem - had, this time, obeyed our instructions and paddled alongside our boat to tie up. He was as sick as a dog. He had been sea sick as early as the 2 K mark!

Above: “Old with Attitude” swimming to Rotto. The Canadian flag is to honour family members of some of the team who live in Canada so could not come along to support their “oldies”. Photo by Aussies in Action.


I dived in for my leg. ‘Maybe Paul would recover with a small spell of rest and recuperation to then paddle next to us over the line?’

I swam without a paddler alongside.

Disorientation set in. Where is Rottnest? Where is my boat?!


There it is above me!


With my feet I thumped myself away from the prow of our boat with no name, but with the race number 797.

It was sort of drifting in the heavy nearly two metre swells capped with furry white streamers.

Our boat skipper, Mike, was having problems controlling his boat. He had to reduce the boat’s speed to nearly 0, for now we had our kayak tied alongside. Paddler Paul was sitting limp in it retching out his stomach lining.

Lizzie was feeding the fishes over the other side.


What a fool I am! Why did I inform would be donators to donate to the Gilbert’s Potoroo Action Group if and when we successfully reached Rottnest Island?

It is just there!


The next swimmer tagged off me. ‘Go Lizzie,’ I shouted. Or was it Linda?


The official big yellow race-control boat came up behind us, and through a loud–hailer pointed at us, came the instructions:

‘The conditions are too dangerous. We are abandoning the race. Sorry! No ifs or buts. Collect your swimmer, and head straight for Thompson Bay.’


We did as we were told. Four of us are ex-teachers. We know all about obeying instructions.


Around Phillip Rock we went and headed straight for the big, oh so beautiful, beach.

Paul the Paddler could not wait. He dived in to swim the last 15 metres and hauled himself on to dry sand.

Paul collapsed…. exhausted.


We were gutted.


If you are still considering donating to the Gilbert’s Potoroo Action Group… Please! Please do so.

There are only 100 vitally important Gilbert’s Potoroo left on the planet, deliberately separated and placed in four different safer sanctuaries east of Albany.

Any amount of money will assist the Gilbert’s Potoroo Action Group in their cause to save our precious Western Australian Potoroos.


You can donate on the GPAG Rotto Swim page: https://rottnestchannelswim22.grassrootz.com/gilbert-s-potoroo-action-group or at any time via the Donate Now button on this website www.potoroo.org

Dear donators;

If donating through the website Donate Now Button please put in the subject line Rotto Swim – ‘Old with Attitude’ in order for GPAG to keep a tally of donations.

Thanking those who have donated, and those still to donate. You too are precious.

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