Vale Barbara Donnet – central to a diving dynasty


Commonwealth Games Australia joins the Australian diving community in mourning the passing of Vancouver 1954 gold medallist diver Barbara Donnet at the age of 91.

Barbara was a central figure in the Donnet diving dynasty. The mother and coach of two-time gold medallist Jenny, the sister in law of Irene who won gold in at the Empire Games in Sydney in 1938 and life partner of Tom Donner Jnr, who was Barbara’s coach and also mentor to a generation of Australia’s top divers.

At the 1954 British Empire Games in Vancouver, then Barbara McAulay won two medals, winning gold in the 10m platform, and silver in the 3m springboard. Before going on to represent Australia at the Melbourne 1956 Olympics, where she finished 13th in the 3m springboard and 14th in the 10m platform. Sadly, an ear infection during the competition at the Olympics impacted her performance which saw Barbara miss qualifying for the finals by 0.001 of a point.


Barbara competing during the Vancouver 1954 British Empire Games. (CGA Archive)

In a 2019 interview with the Sunshine Coast Daily, Barbara reflected on her career representing Australia on the international stage.

“Oh it was wonderful, such an honour. All people are proud to represent their country and I was the same,” she said.

“Hearing the national anthem, I bawled my eyes out and sang it as loud as I could.

“Every time you hear the anthem, it is something special. But knowing they’re playing it because you have won something. It’s the greatest.”


Barbara competing during the Melbourne 1956 Olympics. (National Archives of Australia)

Shortly following the 1956 Games, Barbara would marry her coach, Tom Donnet Jr., becoming a mainstay of the famous Donnet family dynasty of Australian diving.

Husband Tom’s father, Tom Donnet, was a famous diving coach, tutoring both his son but also his daughter, Irene Donnet, who was Australia’s first female diving gold medallist at the Commonwealth Games, when she won gold in the 3m springboard at the Sydney 1938 Empire Games.

Barbara won her medals at the 1954 Vancouver Games, then Tom and Barbara’s daughter Jenny Donnet, would go on to become one of Australia’s greatest divers and become the first woman in any sport to represent Australia at four Olympic Games and was honoured with the role of Australian team flag bearer at the Barcelona 1992 Olympics opening ceremony.

Barbara congratulating daughter Jenny at the Brisbane 1982 Commonwealth Games. (CGA Archive)

Jenny would compete at three Commonwealth Games, winning gold in the 3m springboard at the Brisbane 1982 Games, silver in the same event at the Edmonton 1986 Games, and a second gold in the 3m springboard at the Auckland 1990 Games. All while Barbara was coaching her, as well her sisters, Beverley Donnet-Riley, who represented Australia at the Christchurch 1974 Games, and, Barbi Donnet Carver, who was an Australian diving champion and junior world champion at age 13.

Interviewed during the celebrations of her 90th birthday in 2019, Barbara said the secret to her long life was chocolate, but also staying active. For her birthday, Barbara requested money to use towards a new computer.

Commonwealth Games Australia joins Diving Australia in extending our condolences to Barbara Donnet’s family and friends.




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