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In late nineteenth century Australia, Annette Kellerman, a child recovering from polio, yearns to play like other children. Her devoted father Frederick, who owns a music conservatory, gently asks her not to be jealous, but, instead, concentrate on her music. One day, the maid reports that Annette has run away and Frederick finds her swimming in a nearby river. She calms her worried father by telling him that she has taught herself to swim and the exercise has helped her walk without braces. Over the years, Annette continues to grow stronger and soon begins ballet, in addition to her daily swims. With her father's encouragement, she becomes a champion and eventually wins the New South Wales Women's Amateur Freestyle cup. Because of economic problems in Australia, Frederick is forced to close the conservatory and accept a teaching position in London. On the voyage to England, the Kellermens meet American promoter James Sullivan, who, with his friend Doc Cronnol, is training "Sidney," a boxing kangaroo. Jimmy is impressed by Annette's abilities and looks, and suggests that she let him manage her professional swimming career. While Annette is amused at the suggestion, Frederick is incensed and chastises Jimmy for the insult. When they arrive in London, Frederick finds that the music school has closed after the death of its owner. Without work, and with their funds dwindling, Annette is forced to pawn most of her swimming trophies. One day, Annette is visited by Jimmy and Doc, who have had bad luck promoting Sidney. Jimmy suggests that Annette do a six-mile swim to Greenwich as a publicity stunt for the act and offers her five pounds. Annette is interested, but suggests that she swim twenty-six miles. On the day of the swim, there are no reporters to see her off, but Annette goes into the Thames, with Doc and Jimmy rowing alongside. When the crew of a passing barge see Annette, word spreads of her swim and soon thousands of spectators cheer her on as she passes through London. Frederick, who has read of the swim in the newspaper, also cheers her on and warmly greets his exhausted daughter when she arrives at Greenwich. The next day, Jimmy is flooded with offers for Annette but turns them all down, telling her and Frederick that he knows Alfred Harper, owner of the New York Hippodrome, and proposes building a huge water ballet around Annette. With Jimmy willing to sell Sidney to pay for their passage to America, Frederick and Annette agree to go with him. In New York, Alfred turns down Jimmy's idea because Annette is not known in the U.S., but offers her a job as a showgirl. The disappointed Jimmy urges Annette to take the offer because they are almost broke, but Annette wants to earn enough money to buy Frederick a new conservatory and suggests accompanying Jimmy and Doc to Boston where she will do another marathon swim. In Boston, Annette shocks the prim locals by appearing in a one-piece bathing suit that shows her bare arms and legs and is soon arrested for indecent exposure on Revere Beach. The newspapers are filled with stories about Annette, and Frederick urges her to fight the "medieval" charges. At her trial, Annette convinces the judge that the one-piece bathing suit is necessary for championship swimming and he dismiss the case when she shows him a suit she has altered to include attached stockings. Publicity about Annette spreads throughout the world and she becomes a hit in a swimming and diving carnival show run by Jimmy. The two fall in love, and Jimmy is about to offer her an engagement ring when Annette considers a $500 a week job offer from stuffy Mr. Aldrich, who wants her to begin a dignified lecture tour. After arguing with her over accepting the offer, Jimmy thinks that she will leave him for better things and goes to Florida with Doc to work with a stunt flyer. That evening, Annette turns Aldrich down, but later receives a telegram from Alfred offering her a water ballet at the Hippodrome. Sure that there will also be a job for Jimmy, Annette goes to the carnival, but discovers that he has left without a word. Annette takes the job at the Hippodrome and soon becomes the headliner. Annette is still in love with Jimmy, but Frederick, who now leads the Hippodrome orchestra, tells her that Jimmy will only come to her when he feels that he has something to offer. Frederick dies the following season, a crushing blow to Annette. Some time later, Doc asks Annette to stop Jimmy from entering a dangerous cross-country flying race with a $50,000 prize. Annette arrives just before Jimmy takes off, but when she sees him kiss a pretty spectator, she becomes jealous and the two start to argue. Jimmy refuses to cancel his flight, so Annette has a policeman serve him an injunction, claiming that he absconded with $200 from their carnival show, not knowing that the money was for her engagement ring. Jimmy then dismissively gives her the ring and leaves in the plane. Alfred, meanwhile, has fallen in love with Annette and wants to marry her, but she will not give him an answer. Although Jimmy's plane goes down, he is not seriously hurt, but the he disappears before the worried Annette can speak with him. At Christmas, Alfred again proposes to Annette, and this time she accepts. They soon leave for Hollywood, where Annette will appear in her first film, Neptune's Daughter . On the train west, they run into Jimmy and Doc, who are trying to sell phony Indian blankets and hoping to get a German shepherd named "Rin Tin Tin" into the movies. Some weeks later, on the last day of filming the movie, Alfred looks forward to the start of his honeymoon with Annette, but is hurt to see that she still has Jimmy's ring. Soon after Annette dives into the water for her last scene, a crack starts to appear on the glass of the huge tank. Despite the desperate signaling of the crew, warning her of danger, Annette is trapped and swept onto the broken glass as the tank bursts. Newspapers around the world report the serious accident and two weeks later, her prognosis is still in doubt. When Alfred sees Jimmy, who has secretly come to the hospital every day, he takes him up to Annette's room. Before they can see her, however, the doctor tells them that she may never walk again. On the doctor's suggestion, both men leave, but Jimmy sneaks back to her room. Seeing Annette's depression, Jimmy urges her on, saying that Alfred is a "terrific guy" and that she can overcome her injuries just as she did as a child. Just then Alfred comes into the room and, seeing the love that Jimmy and Annette share, wishes them well and gives Jimmy the ring. As Alfred leaves, Jimmy puts the ring on Annette's finger and they kiss.