Make no mistake it was a race. The prize? To be the first Australian man to swim the English Channel.

John Koorey was the hare to Des Renford’s tortoise but unlike Aesop’s fable there was no ingenuity or trickery, just two big Sydney personalities from opposites side of the Harbour Bridge doggedly trying to be the first.


Koorey was sleek and fast and couldn’t be beaten over 15 km’s while Renford was famously big, barrel chested, and slower, but could go all day. Koorey got off to England first but was struggling to get the job done. His first four attempts failed, an on one occasion he was pulled out of the water just 200 meters short of the shore, but while Renford was home training at Coogee for his first go it was to be the hare, not the tortoise, that won the prize.


John Koorey swam the English Channel from France to England on 6 September 1969 in 10 hours and 32 minutes to become Australia’s second English Channel swimmer. He would go to claim the world record for the Cook Straight between the North and South Islands of New Zealand becoming just the fourth person to claim that double. 


Interviewed some 5 decades later for a business magazine, Koorey’s persistence and sense of self determination remained obvious- 


I create my own world. I behold to no one, and even if it stuffs up I can just say, “Oh well, let’s move on; there is no use dwelling on it.” Sometimes when things just don’t work out, you learn from it.’


The world that he created for himself post his channel swim was indeed a rich and varied one. He became, and remains, a hotelier and when his staff had trouble making and cleaning under beds, he took himself to his garage and started playing with a trolley table and invented Ezi-Maid Bed Lifting System for which he took a patent and appeared on The ABC’s New Inventors. 


Once a channel swimmer, always a channel swimmer and no doubt the lessons learnt finally getting from France to England all those years ago have served John Koorey very well.

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