Backward Glance: Stories of big seas on the Sunshine Coast
  • Wednesday 07 March 2018

The dedicated and highly skilled surf lifesavers on our beaches have been kept busy over the past few months, conducting many rescues due to high seas and strong currents. 

Unfortunately people do not always listen to advice from these professional rescuers who direct the public to swim between the flags or leave the water if the beach is closed due to dangerous conditions.

Most of the time the ocean is perfect for swimming at patrolled beaches, but when the big seas rise it is not a place for the inexperienced.

The sea is not always kind and at times when big seas have rolled in during cyclone season, lows causing massive swells have caused erosion undermining our beaches.

Recently the waves were perfect for surfers along the coastline and many took advantage of it. Some even travelled out to Old Woman Island by boat and jet ski.

Noosa and the points along the Sunshine Coast, including First Bay at Coolum and many beaches further south, were near perfection for the avid surfer.  

Surfers also assist when people get into trouble.

There have been many rescues on unpatrolled beaches where people get into trouble due to their inexperience.

The Sunshine Coast has produced some renowned surfing champions.

People like Gary “Kong” Elkerton who was inducted into the Sunshine Coast Sporting Hall of Fame in 2006, was a three-time ASP world title runner up, a multiple Hawaiian Triple Crown champion and three time ASP World Masters champion.

Born and raised in Coolum, Julian Wilson is one of the best surfers in the world and a long-standing member of the elite world tour.

He has given back much to his community by raising funds for the Cancer Council and recently by tutoring his adoring young fans.

Senior Alexandra Headland lifeguard Shane Bevan, who now calls the Sunshine Coast home, travelled to Hawaii and represented Australia at the Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships in 2017.

Shane won the 2016 Surf Life Saving Australia Lifeguard of the Year awards for an outstanding rescue on the Sunshine Coast and now patrols our beaches, as well as surfs when he can.

Local surf lifesavers, like the exceptional ski paddler Clint Robinson, Kristy Munroe and, of course, the very well-known Grant Kenny and his father Hayden Kenny, and many others have also assisted  and continue to play a part in promoting surf safety.

People like Frank Venning and Joe Betts from the Royal Life Saving Society must be acknowledged for their dedication as they shaped the future of life saving.

The Chamber of Commerce in Nambour invited Betts and Venning to take an instruction team to the holiday resort of Maroochydore, just after Christmas in 1915.

The lifesavers were introduced to about 2000 people enjoying the seaside.

The only lifesaving resource available was a length of rope and metal float near a rough sign stating “For Life Saving Only”.

Not long after, a brand new reel and belt for lifesaving purposes was handed over and on January 2, 1916, this equipment was used to rescue five swimmers caught in an undertow.  

The Maroochydore Life Saving and Swimming Club was formed due to the influence of the Royal Life Savers, as were many other lifesaving clubs. 

In 1926, timber bathing sheds were constructed in the Cotton Tree camping area and on the beach front.

These were for use by the public and members of the Maroochydore Amateur Swimming and Life Saving Club. 

Later that year, when big seas rose the dressing sheds were washed out to sea during cyclonic weather. We had a lot to learn about the force of nature.

There were record breaking cyclonic wind gusts and heavy seas that played havoc in the region between February 19 -21, 1954.

Many buildings sustained wind and water damage throughout the region and two lives were lost.

The cyclone hit Caloundra on February 20 and 21, 1954. The Bulcock Beach, Black Flat area bore the brunt of the worst winds and water erosion.

This cyclone was not named, but was referred to as “the great cyclone” as wind strengths were the worst recorded since the cyclone of 1893 that flooded Brisbane and put the S.S. Dicky on Dicky Beach.

In February 1957, after a combination of king tides, a cyclone stripped the sand from Maroochydore beach and exposed areas of coffee-rock.

The erosion endangered the foundations of the clubhouse, which had been officially opened three months earlier on December 16, 1956 by G.F.R. Nicklin, the Opposition Leader at the time and North Coast Branch president of the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia.

Under the leadership of Maroochy Shire engineer Mr Fraser, local residents, Rotary Club members and Maroochy Shire Council workers combined to sandbag the clubhouse against the next high tide.

On New Year’s Day 1963, a small cyclone struck without warning, flattening hundreds of tents between Caloundra and Maroochydore.

Several hundred campers sheltered in Mooloolaba Life Saving Club. 

Unfortunately the two surf boats from Mooloolaba Life Saving Club, named “Harry Hughes” and the “Jakeman”, were smashed to pieces as the seas rose and the boats were blown into the sea and destroyed.

In 1967, six cyclones approached the Queensland coast.

Cyclone Dinah buffeted the Sunshine Coast in January and Cyclone Glenda caused serious erosion to a number of coastal beaches in April 1967.

About four feet of sand was removed from the main beach at Maroochydore and the sand dunes were eroded up to a depth of 15 feet.

Two cyclones bore down along the Sunshine Coast within a week of each other during early February 1972, causing an enormous amount of sand and dune erosion along Sunshine Coast beaches.

Cyclone Wendy battered the coast around February 7, followed by Cyclone Daisy which menaced the Sunshine Coast February 11-12, 1972.

Erosion preventative rocks were exposed along Kings Beach during the rough seas produced by Cyclone Wendy. Cyclone Daisy replaced some of the eroded sand a few days later.

Wild weather was caused as Cyclone Zoe passed over the Sunshine Coast between March 12 -14, 1974.

Caloundra and Maroochydore felt the main force of the cyclone.

Winds reached 45 knots, high tides and continuous driving rain caused flooding in many areas, damaged houses and roads and washed tons of sand from the beaches, seriously eroding some frontal dunes.

The cyclone was the third to hit the Sunshine Coast in 1974.

In late January, Cyclone Wanda crossed the region and Cyclone Pam followed in early February.

A memorial titled “The Lost Fishermen Memorial” is situated on Parkyn Parade, at Fishermans Park Mooloolaba, to remind everyone about the great dangers of working at sea and the heartache felt by families left behind when fishermen are lost.

Created by Wayne Strickland this sculpture, unveiled in 2008, is dedicated to our professional fisherman who went to sea for their living and were lost in all weathers.

Plaques mounted on the pedestal are inscribed: “A fisherman braces himself against a coming storm,” “The sea calls us home,” and “The Fisherman's Prayer, In Loving Memory of those who were lost to the sea,” with names of our fisherman lost off the Sunshine Coast.

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

Image Captions

Hero - Sand bagging the dunes in front of the Maroochydore Surf Life Saving club house 1957

Image 1 - Spectators watching surging seas at Kings Beach ca 1954

Image 2 - Gale force winds and rough seas pounding the foreshore at Bulcock Beach, Caloundra, March 1974

Image 3 - Maroochydore Beach during cyclonic conditions, April 1967

Image 4 - Beach erosion near the Mooloolaba Life Saving Club buildings, Mooloolaba Beach, March 1936 

Image 5 – World-renowned surfboard manufacturer Bill Wallace participating in the traditional ‘mixing of the waters’ ceremony at the Noosa Festival of surfing, 1999

Image 6 - Maroochydore Beach looking seaward towards Mudjimba Island, 1930s

Image 7 – View seaward from Queen of Colonies Parade, Moffat Headland, Caloundra, ca 1965

Image 8 - View of the North Shore looking south towards Maroochydore from Mudjimba Island, 1990

Image 9 - Foam whipped up by wild seas at Mooloolaba Beach, Mooloolaba, 28 January 2013