Days before his mate Ian Lindeman lost his battle with liver cancer in November 2019, Ben Johnston promised he would honour Ian’s legacy and continue to encourage Canberrans to get naked and jump in Lake Burley Griffin on the shortest day of the year to “wash away their negative energy”.
What started in 2017 with just five brave participants, including Ian, has become a highlight on Canberra’s calendar with this year’s Ian Lindeman Memorial Winter Solstice Swim expected to attract a record number of participants.
Ben, the event chairperson, expects more than 200 people to get their gear off and brave the freezing lake at sunrise on 22 June. All proceeds from the swim will go to Lifeline Canberra’s 24/7 Crisis Support Service 13 11 14.
“This is a beautiful thing Ian started, and taking part is a great way for people to respect and remember him,” Ben says.
“He really wanted the swim to continue and to keep supporting Canberra charities.”
Mental illness was close to Ian’s heart after his son Evan committed suicide.
“It’s really great we are building that relationship with Lifeline,” Ben says.
When Ben took over the Old Canberra Inn, he met Ian and his wife Gwenda who were regular visitors to the pub.
“Ian added a lot to the social fabric of the pub and always loved having a chat to everyone,” Ben says.
“When he decided to start the winter swim, we supported it as much as we could.
“The first year it was Ian and four mates and the second year it attracted about 70 swimmers. That’s when we thought, `great, this is a thing now’.
“Since then, it’s captivated more and more people in Canberra each year and raised $135,000 for local charities.”
An avid swimmer and traveller, Ian was inspired after taking part in a similar event that changed his life during a holiday in Tasmania.
He was passionate about running an event that not only captured Canberra’s community spirit, but also gave participants the opportunity to re-invigorate their own spirit in the new solar year.
“Ian believed jumping into a freezing cold lake during the winter solstice was an opportunity to wash away negative energy and could be a really transformative thing for people,” Ben says.
“It’s cold, there’s no doubt about it. At times it’s been minus two degrees, but people like to challenge themselves, knowing they are supporting a charity.”
The sound of bagpipes drifting over a mist-covered lake and fires crackling on the bank as the sun rises is a stirring experience for those brave enough to take part – whether it’s a quick dip in and out or a longer naked frolic in the icy waters.
Ben says it’s a magical and personal thing, where people leave their winter woes behind and start a fresh as the new season approaches.
“If you’re brave enough to get in the water, it’s a great way to recalibrate your mind and body – and a good reason to hassle your family and friends to sponsor you and support Lifeline.”
Ian’s mate Shane Toohey keeps the barbecue burning and hands out free sausage sandwiches for swimmers when they get out of the lake.
He says he does his bit in Ian’s honour and to support an “awesome cause”.
“Ian was just the sort of bloke that would give you the shirt off his own back. He was a really caring individual,” Shane says.
Shane and Ian shared many a beer at the Old Canberra Inn and went away on fishing trips together.
“He did a lot for me personally,” Shane says. “He was a generous man and very much a giver.
“After the passing of his son, which is why he put this together, he wanted to do something for mental health.
“It’s grown from strength to strength over the years and hopefully it will continue in memory of his legacy.”
At 7.12 am on Tuesday 22 June, swimmers will meet at Yarralumla Beach and share a sense of renewal for the upcoming solar year while capturing some of the exuberance, joy and verve Ian showed in his life.
Lifeline Canberra CEO Carrie Leeson says the event is a highlight on the organisation’s calendar.
“We are immeasurably grateful to everyone who participates to demonstrate true vulnerability and the power of community,” she says. “All funds raised go towards vital crisis support service here in Canberra.”
Every week we lose another Canberran to suicide. And every day, Lifeline Canberra telephone crisis supporters prevent the loss of many more.
For more than 50 years Lifeline Canberra has supported people in crisis and changed the lives of those experiencing thoughts of suicide.
Participants must register for the Ian Lindeman Memorial Winter Solstice Swim and, if you’re not quite up to stripping off at the crack of dawn, you can still support Lifeline Canberra by donating to the event here.
If you are experiencing crisis call Lifeline Canberra 24/7 on 13 11 14.