Interview with: Doris Suosaari (nee Cooper)
Date of Interview: 1 March 1985
Transcribed by: Colwyn Boulton
Doris talks about the Neptunes who were a Brisbane based ladies' life saving club operating at the Ithaca baths where F.O. Venning was lessee from 1922 to April 1946. They competed for and won the Neptune Cup at Mooloolaba Beach on 1 April 1929. Other teams who competed were the Mooloolaba based LadiesTeam (trained by Arthur Parkyn) and a team based at Alexandra Headlands. The Maroochydore Life Saving Club did not participate in competition, though some of their local girls were involved with the Mooloolaba and Alexandra Headlands Clubs.
Images and documents about Doris Suosaari in Sunshine Coast Libraries Catalogue.
Image: Doris Cooper in her bathing costume at Maroochydore, 20 September 1931.
Doris Suosaari oral history [MP3 24MB]
SB: When did you first get interested in joining the Neptune Team?
DS: Well, I was in a swimming club at Ithaca Baths – the Otter Ladies – and they decided then. They asked different members if they would be interested in forming a lifesaving team to compete against – well, there used to be schools and all that sort of thing. Still water. So yes, we held a meeting then, and they formed the Club, 1928.
SB: Did you have to do much training to be in the Club?
DS: No, we used to have one night a week. One night a week that was all. From the baths. And then of course when we got into it more we went down to Redcliffe then, for belt and line work and did a bit of longer swimming you see like that. We never used the belt in the baths. It was too short for that sort of thing, so we never used the belt then. But Redcliffe was to get us into that way of using the belt, reel and line work.
SB: What sort of training did you have to do? What things did you learn?
DS: Well you had to learn your drill and the rescue, different ways of rescue. And then the resuscitation, because we had different methods to what they do now. They’ve changed it, you see.
SB: What resuscitation did you do?
DS: Well it was resuscitation, but we did it from the back. They were on their stomach and did it that way. They did it for a long while, oh for years, and then they changed that one altogether, they did. Then they started the mouth to mouth resuscitation. I think there’s a photo here too, of resuscitation; that one of my husband. (SHOWS PHOTO) See how they do it from the ribs, used to have to come forward.
SB: When did you first go to the surf?
DS: I couldn’t tell you the year, but I suppose it’d be two or three years after we competed a couple of times in the still water. We did alright too. Still water. We competed and then there was another club formed, a commercial club known as the Commercial Ladies. And they competed too, in the still water.
SB: Where did you compete on the North Coast?
DS: Mooloolaba. Yes we used to come Easter time, always at Easter time, at Mooloolaba. And there was a Mooloolaba team first but they only lasted the one year, one season, and then they couldn’t get a team together you see. But Alexandra Headlands could always get a team. They were tough too.
SB: Their ladies team?
DS: Yes, oh yes, they were pretty good too.
SB: Did you ever compete at Maroochydore?
DS: No, never had. No they wouldn’t allow the ladies in those days. They didn’t like them to use the belt actually. They didn’t think it was good for the ladies.
SB: Why is that? Was there any reason?
DS: Oh well, I suppose the bust and that sort of thing and all. It used to pressure it too much, yes.
SB: Did many people come and watch you compete?
DS: Oh yes, yes quite a few. Yes, oh yes, and sometimes we used to compete too, when the men had a carnival. If they were down there you see, we’d have a carnival too.
SB: Was it unusual for there to be ladies lifesaving teams?
DS: Oh well at that stage there were, yes. But soon after I left they had one in Victoria. They formed a team. We’d never heard of them but I read in the paper that they were the first but whether they were we’d never heard anything about it. But we were the first in Queensland, yes. They have Australian championships now.
SB: What costume did you wear?
DS: Oh well it was more of a woollen costume, and it was maroon with white stripes on skirt front and then we had a badge with Father Neptune on the front of it. They weren’t quite as long as some when I first started swimming, but they’ve got shorter now of course, yes, more modern.
SB: How would you come up to the Coast?
DS: Well we used to come by train and then catch a bus at Palmwoods. Phillip’s Bus it was called. Well we used to come for the weekend. I was in a gymnasium club and Mr Betts, instructor, he was one of the original ones that was in the lifesaving movement. They formed Maroochydore up here. Betts and Vennings and a few local boys and then that fell down when they got older. See that fell through and the Suosaari’s started the next lot. The next addition started with them and the Petersons.
SB: So you’d get a bus down.
DS: Yes, get the bus down to Maroochydore, from Palmwoods down to Maroochydore. We used to stay in Betts yard, camp in Betts yard and we’d have the weekend, well Easter over you see.
SB: So you’d really only be coming up for that Easter weekend every year?
DS: Yes, well we use to come up regular with gymnasium members but the team itself used to only come at Easter time.
SB: Would Betts supply the tents and everything?
DS: Yes. Well the gymnasium supplies the tents you see. He was the instructor for the gymnasium, so that’s how we come to know him.
SB: You said you came up other times. Did you have a place to stay when you came up?
DS: Well, a boarding house. Yes a boarding house. And then I went to Bli Bli, to Vic’s home then, you see. There used to be a boarding house opposite where the Cotton Tree Caravan Park is: used to be “Seaspray”. That they name, “Seaspray Boarding House”.
SB: Can you remember how much it would be to stay there?
DS: Not very much but I just cant remember…. Fifteen shillings and that was meals too.
SB: That was three meals?
DS: Well we’d arrive. I used to come up on a Friday, Friday night and then he’d (Vic Suosaari) collected me at the station, Palmwoods. He’d stay at the club, Lifesaving Club, and I’d stay at “Seaspray” that was Saturday breakfast, lunch and then the mean at night. And then breakfast, well I don’t know whether we bothered lunch much then. After that he’d have to take me to catch the train Sunday night, going back again. It was a terrible road – it used to take them, oh, four or five hours by road, you see.
SB: it was a dirt road was it?
DS: Oh yes, dirt road, and it used to follow more or less the railway down. It was more inland that what it is now.
SB: What was the costume colours of the Maroochydore club? Do you remember them?
DS: Well, they had a dark one first with a red band around the waist. I don’t think I’ve got a coloured photo in this lot. Anyway they got pale blue in the finish. They ended up with pale blue ones. (SHOWS PHOTO). It doesn’t show, but they had a band around the first. Those were their first costumes.
SB: With the star in the front?
SB: Did they have a formal costume as well, not just a swimming costume?
DS: No, we just had the same. One costume. Of course, later on you had your swimming costume too, a lighter one for swimming. That was all.
SB: Was there any entertainment or social occasions which the lifesavers would put on?
DS: Oh well, we never bothered much down in Brisbane. Never at all. Course the lifesavers did up here. There was the dancing hall and all that here in those days. They had one hall up town known as O’Connor’s Hall and they had Nugget Evans built another place, a picture theatre and all down at Cotton Tree and they used to hold pictures and dances down there. But that was the only form of entertainment. When we went to the beach at Bribie for training and all, we had just ourselves, just entertaining ourselves, just the girls. Course Bribie itself was very small then. There was nothing there at all, when we used to go, only the beach, a few houses on the surf beach, and a few where the boat landed. That was all.
SB: Did you used to go to any of the dances up here?
DS: Oh yes, yes we loved the dancing.
SB: What sort of dancing did you do?
DS: Oh modern stuff, all modern – oh and a few old ones too like Barn Dances and that, the Waltz and Quick – Steps and Foxtrots and that sort of thing.
SB: What do you mean by modern dances?
DS: Well I’d say the Waltz, Foxtrot and Quick step. But the older ones were Barn dances and Pride of Erin and things like that.
SB: Did you ever do the Charleston?
DS: No, not much at all. No that was when I was in Brisbane. Not very much, no.
SB: What were the fashions like in those days?
DS: Well, we had the low-waisted dresses. They were low waisted in those days. Something similar to what they’re wearing today. And then they got up to, well just up to the waist.
SB: Were they short?
DS: No, not really short. No. No. They weren’t real short. We never had the real short ones at all. They were usually… when you got older they went down. That was all. Oh, just an ordinary length I’d say. Some just to the knee and some a little bit lower, that was all.
SB: We’re very worried about sun these days. Was there much concern?
DS: No, none at all. Never spoke of sunburn; we used to get sunburnt and all that. No, never. Course we did wear hats and that occasionally, but it never worried us at all, the sun; sunbake and all that sort of thing.
SB: And didn’t you have any creams?
DS: Oh yes, you’d put a little bit of cream on. Zinc cream mainly.
SB: Even then it was Zinc cream?
DS: Yes, even then it was zinc cream. Yes, it’s been going for quite a while.
SB: Was there ever a problem with sharks?
DS: Well I don’t know. I never saw one in the surf. You don’t sort of worry about them. There were sharks there. Oh yes, they’d have an occasional run of sharks. But I don’t know. You don’t seem to worry about them. Course when you compete they have the boat out there where they put the buoys. They have the boat out anchored there. They attend to things then. Well that doesn’t seem to frighten you then. But you wouldn’t get me now.
SB: Did you win many competitions, the Neptune Team?
DS: Oh yes, we did pretty well. Oh yes, we managed – I think they beat us once. It was by about a sixteenth or something, of a point, very close. Then we won all the others. And then it just fell to pieces. They still entered in Brisbane, but this up here fell to pieces. And then the new ladies, they started at Currumbin. They decided to go to Currumbin and they’ve built, in the river like, at Currumbin and they patrol the beach there at the river. I’ve never been to their club house, never called in at all. They often wonder who I am, “Who’s Suosaari?” Phyl Wells who was my best friend, well she tells them like who I am.
SB: So they actually do rescues now?
DS: Oh yes, they do rescues in the river only, oh yes they have patrols and all that now.
SB: So you never had patrols?
DS: No, we never had patrols at all. It was only holiday time that we came up here.
SB: When did you move to the area?
DS: Up here, 1932. So I’ve been here ever since. That was to Bli Bli. Vic had the cane farm and then he used to do a bit of mechanical work too.
SB: How did you find moving to the country after growing up in cities?
DS: Well my parents – Mother, she was a country girl and she had a sister at Kenilworth, McGinns, married a McGinn. I used to come up to the country there, you see, so I got used to it – I like it and all.
SB: You knew what to expect?
DS: Oh yes.
SB: Did they have electricity up there?
DS: Oh not for years we didn’t , no. Had a wood stove, then the electricity came. Course we got it straight away there. But I had – I don’t think I had all the children – I had eight children altogether. I know most of them had to do homework in the lamp light, we had an alladin lamp hanging from the ceiling. That used to shine a good light, we thought, in those days. They did all their homework anyway from that.
SB: Well 1932, that was in the Depression wasn’t it?
DS: Yes, just after I think. Just after the Depression.
SB: Was there much hardship up here, in terms of, for example, Vic selling his produce quite well and that.
DS: Oh well he didn’t sell produce at all, only sugar, sugar cane you see. Oh yes, that was always got rid of. And then used to find it a bit hard because some months before the beginning of the season, well you don’t get any payment you see. You get it all, every month you get so much, and then at the end you don’t get any at all. You had to work it out, so he used to do mechanical work as well, you see, and that used to tide things over. We had a car. That was the only way of transport too. Oh, there was a bus. There was a bus from there and I think our bus is in the village over here now. You go over the David Low Bridge and along to the Village along there. They have all old items there. They have the old ambulance. Well I believe our first bus is in there too. There was no bridges neither, no bridges. We used to have either – well Vic’s brother had a boat he used to have to punt the cane. The cane was on that side of the river. They used to have to punt the cane up to a certain point and then put it off, get horses to pull it off. And then the loco used to collect it from there and take it to the mill. Not our cane. Our cane used to have to be on the tramline before the cane loco came and the railway used to go right through the property like that. But he used to have to catch horses and slide it down to a winch, winch it up, put it on the cane trucks and then put in onto the rails ready.
SB: Did they burn the cane?
DS: Yes, burnt the cane. But they used to cut a lot of green cane in those days; not burn it, just cut it green. But that was harder. It had all the trash on it see. But of course now they burn the lot. They burn everything unless they want plants of course. They cant burn the plants.
SB: Was there much problem up there with snakes?
DS: Oh yes, we had snakes, plenty of them. Huge things – black and brown. Even when we left up there we had carpet snakes. (LAUGHS)
SB: And were the insects a problem?
DS: Mosquito’s. Not inside. We never bothered, well we had a coil or something going if they were bad and then usually shut the windows at night time to keep them out. At times mosquito’s were bad, outside yes.
SB: You’d just used a coil?
DS: Those coils yes.
SB: Tell me a little bit about the basketball. You said you were competing in Woombye?
DS: Yes, we were in National Park basketball team. That was formed from the gymnasium. We formed the National Park team. Then Mrs McGregor-Lowndes she was our patron and she got onto them up here. We heard they were playing basketball. So we arranged a meeting up here. So we used to come – not all the time – but once a year anyway up and stay the weekend there then come to the beach on Sunday. Yes they used to bring us down to the beach on Sunday.
SB: And where would you stay?
DS: Oh just a boarding house in Woombye. Yes, there used to be a house in Woombye, used to take us. Or privately, some of them went private, but mostly the boarding house.
SB: Can you remember any of the people that were in the Woombye team?
DS: Oh yes, Pringles. There used to be two Pringle girls and they were tall. They were over six foot. Because that was basketball in those days. It’s netball now. It’s not that hitting of the ball – not that one – it’s the throwing and throw to one another. It’s netball now.
SB: So in basketball you used to bounce?
DS: We didn’t. No. We used to play, well they called it basketball in those days because there wasn’t that other basketball but then they changed it. Basketball come along from America I’d say. And then they called it netball after that. Its known as netball today you see but I call it basketball. But its not really basketball, no. They were a bit too good for us sometimes, the Woombye team. We won occasionally, but not too often. They were very good. There were two dark girls too, Aggie and Amy and they were good too.
SB: Were they Kanakas?
DS: I say their father would be, probably, yes. But they were very nice people, very nice people.
SB: So you’d spend Saturday at basketball and the Sunday at the beach?
DS: Yes, when we came up here. Yes, we used to come in the morning train, Saturday Morning train, play basketball in the afternoon and then have the night there. Oh they’d have something for us at the hall, dance or something like that.
SB: You’d have a dance at Woombye hall?
DS: Yes, at the Woombye Hall. It’s been up a long while too. Course they’ve kept it well and all too, done improvements and all that. And then they’d have a bus – well a lorry really – just a table top thing and chairs on top and down we’d come for a swim.
SB: Would the lifesavers go to Woombye for the dances?
DS: Oh no, not necessarily. Well the Pringle boys – the brothers of the girls that used to play – they were in the Alexandra Headland lifesavers, and of course Vic used to come along to with some of the boys like that when they knew different ones were coming, well they come along too.
SB: They’d go in cars, not horses?
DS: Oh no, cars. They had a car. Yes we had the one trip down here and they had the canvas chairs like they used to have in the theatres and put them on the trucks and anyway one collapsed at the back. One of our girls was injured. They had to take her on the stretcher back and then we went by train. They had to put her in the guards van to take her down. The seats gave way at the back from the rough roads and all.
SB: Was she treated by ambulance up here?
DS: Oh yes, she was. It was her back you see and a doctor saw her.
SB: She fell right off the truck?
DS: Oh yes, right backwards. She was the only one injured. There was a couple of others but they seemed to escape. But she fell flat. We were in the seat ahead of her. She got over it though. She was in hospital quite a long while, but she got over it in time, hurt the spine, managed to pull through alright.
SB: And you’d come down by road to compete in the carnival?
DS: No. Vic would, but not me. I never swam after that. No, I never swam after that. The babies came and that was it; too much to do.