Backward Glance – Remembering our sea saviours
  • Friday 28 February 2020

The origins of Surf Life Saving can be traced back to the actions of Mr William Gocher, at Manly Beach in September 1902. He defied the laws by bathing during the prohibited time (daylight hours) and forced the laws to be changed. This very popular recreational and sporting pastime is now entrenched in the Australian way of life.

As another very busy and popular holiday season is behind us, it is timely we honour our sea saviours of today and yesteryear for the untiring service they have given to keep us safe on the beaches and in the water, often at their own peril.

Glancing back Des Dwyer in his oral history recollected, “It was certainly an honour for me to have held the position of Captain of the Metropolitan Caloundra S.L.S.C., it was a very exciting time of my life. There were only maybe three or four local members of the club and the rest came up from Brisbane on a Friday night, mainly on a coordinated rail and bus service, spending the whole weekend together.” 

When Des first joined the Club, the main equipment used was the reel and line, the resuscitation technique was “Schaeffer Resuscitation” as well as the “Eve Rocker” and later another method called the “Holga Neilson”.

Jack Spender recalled his experience, when he saw two heads in the water after patrol hours had finished. He yelled out “Rescue” and swam out to hold a woman up until the beltman could come and assist and, in this instance, it was Ben Bennett. As it turned out the lady was Lady Cilento who went on to become known as “the medical mother”.

Surf Life Saving competitions were, and still are, exciting events where clubs vie for supremacy. In April 1928, the Nambour Chronicle reported more than 1000 persons were present on the beach at Alexandra Headland on Saturday afternoon to witness the lifesaving competition for the “Champion Surf Club of Queensland”. Six teams competed and the march past of all teams carrying their reels with pennants flying in the breeze presented a magnificent spectacle. 

The report continued “quite a thrill went through the onlookers at sight of the bronzed figures as they marched by – the stalwarts of the surf, the young athletic volunteers who risk their lives in an effort to save others, the sun worshipers of our golden beaches. These men were undoubtedly of splendid physique and undoubtedly fitted for the honorary tasks they have undertaken.”

During the competition, Vic Laxton was swimming for the Mooloolaba Club when he was seized by a cramp in the leg and back. The alarm was raised and three teams sent beltmen out to rescue Vic. He was speedily brought back to shore and recovered and undoubtedly quipped that if you were going to have a problem – during a surf lifesaving competition would be the time!

On the Sunday, with an immense crowd spectating, was the competition for the champion beltman of Queensland. Thirteen competitors presented themselves with Axel Sousaari of the Maroochydore Club winning with Brother Joe securing second place. Maroochydore club gained the most points so claimed the title of “Champion Club of Queensland”.

“Boaties” are an Australian icon and rescue boats have changed radically over the years. In January 1931, the Mooloolaba Life Saving Club was handed their first surf lifeboat from builders Messrs Kuskopf Bros. More than 1000 people lined the beach to watch the official Christening. Cr JT Lowe officiated at the ceremony and “The Spray” was launched out into the foaming billows manned by a surf crew. The boat was the first to be acquired north of Brisbane.

At the 1936 surf carnival at Mooloolaba, the greatest thrill of the day was the surf boat race between the “Swan” (Maroochydore) and the “Spray” (Mooloolaba). The “Spray” got off to a good start with the “Swan” being caught unaware, however they soon made ground. At the buoys anchored more than 500 yards from the beach, they turned together. Eventually both boats shot to the beach with the spray giving the crowd a great thrill. They sped towards the beach with Mooloolaba winning by the narrowest of margins.

It was not just men impressing at carnivals, in 1930 the Mooloolaba ladies surf lifesaving team secured the MJ Kirwan Cup for the champion ladies’ lifesaving team of the State with the only other competitor being the Neptune (Brisbane) team. 

In 1932, three teams competed, the Neptunes, City of Brisbane and Mooloolaba and on this occasion the Neptune team was victorious. The Nambour Chronicle reported the march past proved a very pleasing and spectacular event with the three teams marching with pennants flying, carrying their reels, attired in uniform club costumes of bright colours and being highly applauded. The personnel of the teams gave one the impression that they were the cream of Queensland’s young womanhood. 

In 1951, a record crowd attended the North Coast Surf Carnival at Alexandra Headland which was opened by the Acting Premier, Mr V Gair. It was reported that this carnival marked the “Coming of Age” of the North Coast Branch of the Lifesaving Association of Queensland and was attended by eight clubs with a numerical strength of 270 members.

The dedication of these men and women through the years is outstanding and is emphasised by Jack Spender and Des Dwyer in their stories. Jack Spender recalled “as soon as we finished work at noon on a Saturday, we raced round to Roma Street to catch the train from Roma Street to Landsborough, meet the coordinated bus and as soon as we hit the club house we would be into our togs and into the water and put up the flags on the beach.

We started patrols at 4pm and went until 6pm. The next morning our patrols were put on the beach at 6am and they stayed there until 4pm when we had to put the gear away to catch the bus back to Landsborough to get the train back to Brisbane.”

Des Dwyer recalled “it was a wonderful time, there would have been 20 to 30 fellows regularly of a weekend. I worked with Mr. Skipper in the main street and there was a bakehouse next door and when members had their club swims they would find out who was coming up for the weekend and Noel Heywood would ring me on the Friday or I would ring him to find out how many loaves of bread were needed which I would order from the baker next door. It was always about 20 loaves if I recall. Members were rostered for cooking and other duties. Sometimes you got good meals and sometimes you didn’t.”

Thank you to all our present-day sea saviours who have built upon an illustrious history!

Thanks to the Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage Library staff for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.