Sarah Watt, William McInnes and their watery worlds


I didn’t know Sarah Watt and I don’t know her husband, William McInnes. But for a few reasons I feel a bit connected to them.


At different times when I have been looking for inspiration or solace I have found it in their TV characters, films and books. Back in 2000 when I was writing a story about my love of swimming and water, I was struggling to find an angle.  I found it watching William as Max Connors in the ABC-TV series, Seachange.  Gazing over Pearl Bay, magistrate Laura Gibson (Sigrid Thornton) asks Max what he believes in.  

“Swimming,”’ he says. “I believe in swimming. Wherever I am – when things are good or bad – that’s what gives my life meaning.”

Forster Ocean Baths

I had been struggling to articulate my feelings about swimming and there was William on the small screen saying it for me. He gave me my angle and opening lines to my story.  Five years later when my father was going through chemotherapy treatment for secondary bone cancer I went to see Sarah’s film, Look Both Ways. I had taken the day off work and went to the movies to try and relax and escape the dread and worry. When I sat in the Palace Theatre that afternoon, I felt like Sarah’s movie starring husband William and Justine Clarke was made for me; was talking to me.  It was a sad but uplifting movie about cancer and death and grief. It was also funny at times and filled with hope. I emerged from the darkness of the theatre feeling comforted and more relaxed.

Annette Kellerman Aquatic Centre, Enmore

A few years ago when I started writing about swimming pools I came across an article by William about the Footscray Swimming Club at Maribyrnong Aquatic Centre. I enjoyed the piece and related to his sentiments about the community spirit of a local swimming club and the characters who make it worth turning up each Sunday morning.

Northbridge Swimming Club

More recently, on one of my post-working-at-home-all-day-walks to Norton Street, Leichhardt, I discovered Sarah and William’s new book, Worse Things Happen at Sea: tales of life, love, family and the everyday beauty in between published by Hachette Australia. I had heard that Sarah wasn’t well with secondary bone cancer after reading an article and listening to an interview with William on ABC Radio National’s Life Matters.



I flipped through their book and had to buy it – it was so beautifully designed –  full of touching and funny stories from both of them. It also featured Sarah’s photos – a number of water and pools.  And then last night I read a chapter towards the end of the book from Sarah entitled Cloudy Days, where she describes her love of water.


“I can’t be sure when or where my love of the water – watching it, being in it, painting it – began,” she writes. “But I can’t imagine it ever being unimportant to me. I love its cycle, moving from rivers and oceans, to clouds then rain, tides linking to the phases of the moon and the moon to the stars. If I can’t figure out what everything else in the world is about, I can always be calmed by the simultaneous predictability and unpredictability of water and the weather. Walking along a beach is the most soothing thing I can do.”

She also vividly recounts her love of swimming and the local pool.  So as a tribute to Sarah who died last Friday aged 53 and a thank you from me for your creative inspiration, here are a few more of her watery words (from page 210-211):


“…I lived for the pool opening day each spring and the worst punishment my mother could hold over me would be the denial of my season ticket to the pool. In the water I felt as fast and smooth as a seal or a penguin.  I loved it, loved so many things about it. Being weightless, unwatched. I felt graceful as I dived beneath its surface and curved like a dolphin through the deep, before pushing off and leaping out of the water briefly to dive back under to the quiet.

Moruya Memorial Pool

“I also loved swimming competitions – no talking, no one to witness my fierce competitiveness or giggly laughter, depending on the day. Swimming fast, swimming faster. No ‘Who’s got the ball?’, ‘Pass it to me, to me!’ or team selection, where I would stand unpicked and, in my mind, unloved. Instead, it would just be me up on the blocks, looking ahead, diving and swimming as fast as I could. Nothing but the black line, aqua water and the patterns and shadows of my movements on the pool floor.”


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  • Therese, that is a beautiful tribute to the lovely and talented Sarah Watts. I remember watching Look Both Ways and being so impressed and moved to see real Australians on the big screen. It’s a great loss that she is gone, but how lucky we are that she was around at all.

  • I agree Therese, a beautiful tribute. I really enjoyed reading it. It reminded me of all the reasons I have always loved water. One of my earliest dreams was about being on the ocean on a sparkling day in a blowup boat. I must have been about six. Thanks.

  • Thank you John and Fi. I knew I wanted to write something about Sarah and William but wasn’t quite sure what – until it came to me very clearly in that 10 minutes or so after I had turned off the light and started to go to sleep. So I turned the light back on and wrote – and like water it just flowed. Maybe it was a bit of creative inspiration from Sarah. I love that image Fi of your dream – sounds like the start of a beautiful story. Happy swimming and floating about. Love Therese

  • I grew up swimming at the pool with Sarah – our families swam together for years – morning’s training at the local pool followed by afternoons languishing on the grass in the summer heat. She was a beautiful swimmer, a great creative soul, a joyful, fun girl, understated. We all waited for that pool to open in October! I also have a deep love of swimming, a lifelong passion, borne out of those days swimming with the Watts! Over a decade of happy summers were they ..

    • That’s a lovely memory Barb! Sarah wrote beautifully about her love of swimming and like you waiting for the pool to open in October in her book with William, Worse Things Happen at Sea. Which pool did you swim at? I share that deep love of swimming that started early in life like you. Thanks for taking the time to comment and happy swimming. All the best, Therese


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