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Searching for joy and a sense of belonging, Charmaine found her tribe — and it’s a mermaid pod

Sirens, water nymphs, mermaids. They’ve captivated mere mortals for millennium. 

And now, they’ve washed up on an unlikely Australian shore.

The Newcastle Merfolk group is home to a range of enthusiasts from a street circus performer with a degree in environmental science to a teenage boy whose experience in a tail has given him the confidence to swim beyond the breakers.

The practice enchanted the Newcastle Merfolk pod leader Charmaine Lowe, also known as MerSharma, since she first tried on her sister’s monofin in 2020.

A woman with colourful hair and lies on her stomach with a tail flipped up behind her, cups her face with her hands and smiles

Charmaine Lowe has been in love with mermaiding since she first tried a monofin.(ABC Newcastle: Lillian Watkins)

“I hit the water and it was an absolutely wondrous and beautiful experience,” Ms Lowe said.

“I started collecting the skins and the fins and gathering all the accessories like the hair and the crown.”

Mermaids for mental health

Ms Lowe, who has lived experience with mental health issues, said mermaiding has become a sure-fire way to combat them.

A woman with a long colourful tail floats faceup with her hand resting above her head.

Ms Lowe says mermaiding helps her deal with negative feelings.(ABC Newcastle: Lillian Watkins)

“For me to get in my tail and put on my mersona, it really gives me a boost, it really gives me a feeling of ‘this is amazing’, it opens up who I am,” she said.

“It’s a form of creativity that I don’t otherwise get to experience. I get to come out here and dress up and I get to be creative with the process.”

A colourful mermaid tail folded on top of a bag

Mermaid tails come in all shapes and sizes.(ABC Newcastle: Lillian Watkins)

Ms Lowe is an ambassador for Mermaids for Mental Health, an initiative that drives inclusivity and acceptance in the hobby.

“When you’re struggling with mental illness, you can feel so isolated and alone,” Ms Lowe said.

“So it’s nice to go, ‘Hey, these people aren’t going to judge me for being queer, they’re not going to judge me for being different’.

“They’re actually here because they support me and they like me and they accept me for who I am.”

A woman in a brightly coloured tail, pastel long hair and crown making a loveheart with her hands

Ms Lowe is also known as MerSharma. (ABC Newcastle: Lillian Watkins)

Ms Lowe wanted to bring the online community to Newcastle’s shores and created the Newcastle Merfolk Facebook group in 2023.

While it quickly gained 100 members in just 48 hours, getting members to dive in offline has taken time.

“It’s taking a little while to build up and get to know people in the community [enough] for them to feel safe enough and brave enough to dress up, because not everyone feels ready to do that,” Ms Lowe said.

Flipper for tails

One of Ms Lowe’s unexpected recruits is her 15-year-old stepson Locklan Benson who first began swimming alongside her with a GoPro at mer-meets. 

A teenage boy sits at the end of a pool block with a long blue mermaid tail and flower crown.

Locklan Benson says mermaiding helped him conquer his fear of deep-water swimming.(ABC Newcastle: Lillian Watkins)

His curiosity won out and he swapped flippers for a tail, something he says has helped him in gain confidence in the water and out.

“I never used to go out past the waves and now I can go out into the deep without stressing,” he said.

“It takes a lot of courage to do it for the first time because … people my age, some of them think it’s not a good thing for a boy to be doing.

“But I think otherwise. I think whoever, like any boy who’s into this sort of stuff, just get up and do it.

“Don’t be ashamed of it.”

Folded mermaid tails line a bench with a boy wearing a flower crown smiling at the camera.

Mermaiding is a bonding experience for Ms Lowe and Locklan.(ABC Newcastle: Lillian Watkins)

Consistency is paying off with more and more merfolk now connecting in the coastal city.

Newcastle mermaid Rachel Dryden first became entranced by the practice from influencers like Hannah Mermaid.

As a performer with a degree in environmental science, she said mermaiding was a “perfect combination” of everything she loved.

Four women and one man sit on swimming starting blocks with long tails and flippers on their feet and legs.

The Newcastle Merfolk gather for “mer-meets” at the Newcastle Ocean baths.(ABC Newcastle: Lillian Watkins)

Ms Dryden feared she would have to go solo or drive for several hours to find people to explore her new-found passion with before she stumbled on Ms Lowe’s page.

“It’s incredible to be part of a mermaid pod,” she said.

“It makes a community, and that’s really what being a merfolk in Newcastle is, it’s community.”

Safety concerns

Swimming with a pod isn’t just for fun either. It’s an important safety feature for the Newcastle Merfolk. 

Royal Life Saving Australia warns that monofins and tails can be dangerous and increase the risk of drowning

Among other advice, the organisation said only experienced and competent swimmers should use the devices, and children especially must always be supervised.

Four people do a handstand in the water with brightly coloured tails and flippers sticking out

The Newcastle Merfolk pod is growing.(ABC Newcastle: Lillian Watkins)

“Orca” Jason Humphreys came on as “support crew” for the Newcastle Merfolk. 

While he also enjoys splashing around in a tail, he said his main priority was being the lifeguard of the group.

“I’m a nurse, so have some lifesaving experience and have been training in free-living and rescue techniques to make sure everyone is safe.”

Strong bonds 

Tarli Young, a research fellow at the University of Queensland specialising in wellbeing, said when it came to longevity, having a community was even more important than typical health factors like weight or smoking. 

Five mermaids stretch their tails out while holding onto a boardwalk

Mermaiding requires core and leg strength.(ABC Newcastle: Lillian Watkins)

Dr Young said this was particularly so when it came to mental health.

“There’s evidence out there that people with a history of depression, if they go and join two or more groups, they halve their risk of relapsing into depression, which is really amazing,” she said.

And according to Dr Young, the more niche a community is, the stronger the bond between members can be.

An orange, black and white tail flips water

Practising tricks is a fun part of mer-meets.(ABC Newcastle: Lillian Watkins)

“So if you meet someone else who’s into jogging or running, that creates some sort of bond, but it’s not that unusual,” she said.

“Whereas if you have something very unique, like two people into [merfolking], they have something that feels very unique to them. And that can enable them to form a quick and strong bond straightaway.”

Dr Young said the practice of merfolking also combined a range of wellbeing factors including community, exercise, nature, play and creativity.

Ms Lowe wants to make sure her pod members take their mermaid joy back to shore.

“It’s nice to think that when you put the tail on it makes you feel special,” she said.

“We need to take that special feeling with us even when we have our tail off.”

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Posted Yesterday at 12:11amSun 2 Jun 2024 at 12:11am, updated 23 hours agoSun 2 Jun 2024 at 12:53am


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