Gold in the Water

The life and story of Andrew Murray ‘Boy’ Charlton is a fascinating look at a true Olympic champion and a most remarkable man. Born on Aug. 7, 1907 Charlton’s love of the water was evident from a very early age and by the time he was 13 he was beating most every challenger in races from 220 yards to the mile.

Though he would go on to win only one Olympic individual Gold Medal (his country‘s first), he would represent Australia in the 1924 Games in Paris, again in 1928 in Amsterdam and finally in Los Angeles in 1932. What made him a champion was the manner in which he won and sometimes lost, both in the pool and in the ocean competing in some of the earliest surf (lifesaving) carnivals in South Australia. 

Boy Charlton was known as a most gracious competitor and a true friend to many of those he competed against both at home and on the international stages of the Olympic Games and many exhibitions around the world. He as a reluctant and modest hero, brought out of ‘competitive retirement,’ to represent the green and gold colors of his beloved Australia  for both the Games of ‘28 and ‘32.

Andrew’s life ambition was to become a sheep farmer but his talents in the pool and surf racing were too extraordinary to be ignored. After winning the 1500 meter Freestyle in the Paris Olympiad Charlton enrolled in an Agricultural college to learn the business and work involved to become a farmer. Indeed, after finally retiring from competition in 1935, Boy Charlton would realize his dream and become a successful farmer working with his father-in-law acquiring the many acres necessary to raise sheep. 

His swimming career was nothing short of outstanding. The history of Australia’s legacy of winning the Olympic 1500 meter swim began with him. Grant Hackett’s foreword to this text give testimony to that fact. Charlton’s main rivals throughout his career reads like a who’s who in the swimming world of the era with the likes of the Swedish champion Arne Borg, the legend Duke Kahanamoku of Hawaii, the amazingly talented Johnny Weissmuller of Chicago and leading up to and in Los Angeles, the great Buster Crabbe.*

A wonderful inclusion in this fine narrative of Charlton’s life is the telling of the travels to and from each of the three Olympiads and the selections and results of the other Australian Olympians.  Many of the anecdotal stories of what happened aboard the extended ship board passages are interesting, humorous and sometimes a bit sad when the occasional tragedy would occur during their travels. 

The book ends with a wonderful poem describing the life of this man among men, a humble champion and true Australian Olympic hero.  There are seven verses of which here is both the first and last…

With barrel chest and fine physique

Raw talent that was quite unique

A quiet, handsome, suntanned youth

Who uttered not one phrase uncouth

Whose shyness showed in every word

Made former records look absurd.

Come swim with me the water’s clear

And later on we’ll share a beer

Fear not defeat, fear not disgrace

The fun is there for all who race,

To win or lose is both a joy

The name is Andrew-call me Boy.

*All four of these swimming stars including Charlton are enshrined in the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale.