March 16th, 2023Move over Icebergers, we’re the Polar Bears
In the weeks since it was publicly floated as a thought bubble, the Calembeen Polar Bears swimming group has quickly caught on as Creswick’s inland answer to the coastal Icebergers.
You know them. That early morning hardcore swimming set that enjoys crisp
dawn dips in the sea – even if it’s mid-winter with a wind chill factor of minus three.
Clunes’ Paul Payne, a keen cold water devotee himself, came up with the idea
and took to local online community notice boards, inviting others to join the new
Calembeen Polar Bears swimmers.
The Bears roll up for early morning dips in Creswick’s Lake Calembeen at 9am
Wednesdays and 7am Sundays – regardless of weather – and all, going swimmingly, will
continue doing so right through the year.
“I didn’t realise there’d be this much interest and I’m a bit humbled to be honest,”
“We couldn’t believe there wasn’t a group established already.
“I put an ad on the Clunes and Creswick (online) noticeboards and there was a
big response. We’re getting about 15 people now, but I’m there every day at dawn.
“I got through to May last year. But this time we’re hoping to egg each other on
and keep going as it cools off. The whole idea is that it’s a bit social.”
As with the Iceberger groups well established in coastal parts, the Polar Bears
note the accepted science that a brisk encounter with chilled water – aka cold water
immersion therapy – is really good for one’s general wellbeing.
“Cold water immersion therapy triggers the mammalian dive reflex,” Paul says.
You can look it up, but effectively it means that being exposed to a chilly dip in
nowhere-near-warm H2O really makes you know you’re alive, slows the heart rate and
Those who regularly practice it like the Bears and the ‘bergers swear by the
glowing mood boost and enduring positivity that follows such brisk encounters.
While it’s a known fact that Creswick gets frosty in winter, Paul and the other
Bears – even ones like Creswick’s Rowena Miller who just quietly admits “I hate being
cold” – are prepared.
“I have lived in North America and I lived in New York for 20 plus years,” Paul
“I used to show up every New Year’s Day to take part in the big swim to Coney
Island. It’s good for the skin. It’s really good for everything.”
Among the regulars to show up lakeside on a recent mid-week swim is trauma
psychologist Louise Earnshaw.
Louise is currently residing at Sandon, and knows more than your average person
about cool – and healthy – ways to enhance one’s sense of wellbeing.
“The tropics are my natural habitat. I’m from northern New South Wales but my
house in the Byron Shire was destroyed in the floods,” Louise said.
“You could say I am an aquatic nomad. This is for my wellbeing. When cold
water triggers the mammalian dive reflex the parasympathetic system kicks in.
“Thirty seconds with your face in a bucket of iced water will calm one’s emotional
overload. It’s an aquatic meditation.”
Paul says Lake Calembeen is a great little swimming spot as it’s reputed to have
some health-giving mineral qualities.
“And the steep drop-off means there’s no frozen mud to wade through in winter.”
The group now has its own Facebook page and the Bears say all are welcome to
get along and experience the pleasure for themselves.
Words & image: Eve Lamb