Interview with: Jack and Betty Spender
Date of Interview: 2 December 1997
Interviewer: Dianne Warner
Transcriber: Beth Tucker-Paul
Jack Spender OBE known as ‘Mr Life Saving’ in Queensland after setting up the SLSA headquarters in Brisbane.
Image: Jack Spender, member of Metropolitan Caloundra Surf Life Saving Club, 1999.
Jack Spender oral history part one [MP3 73MB]
Jack Spender oral history part two [MP3 10MB]
DW Where did your love of water come from?
JS Well, actually I don’t know that it was a love of water that really persuaded me, but friends of mine were going to a local swimming pool to learn how to swim and they suggested I come along, which I did and of course in those days in Scotland one didn’t learn to swim overarm to begin with, everybody had to learn how to swim breast-stroke to start. When we came to Australia in 1926, I continued to swim down at the local pool in Toowong. Which of course you swam in water which came straight from the Brisbane River in those days, because the Brisbane River was quite clean in those days. I swam there until I was approached in 1936 by a chap called Doug Mabin, whom I had met at the YMCA. I was playing soccer football for the YMCA. This chap Doug Mabin was a member of the YMCA and he came to ask me if I would like to join the life saving club. I said, “Well I don’t think I’m really good enough as a swimmer to join the life saving club.” He said, “We’ll have a look and see.” So I was tried out, you had to swim 400 metres in no longer than 8 minutes. I found I was able to do that very comfortably.
DW What happened after you tried out?
JS A friend of mine in the office, the two of us came up to Caloundra together.
Metropolitan Caloundra Surf Life Saving Club
DW This was when you were in?
JS In Brisbane. He invited us; he invited us to join this club at Caloundra, Kings Beach, and this chap called Doug Mabin, who is now dead. A friend of mine, Norm Cooper and I came up for a weekend to see if we liked it. I liked it, Norm Cooper’s girlfriend didn’t fancy the idea of going away every weekend to do life saving, so he bailed out, but I continued on and that was in November, 1936. I have been a member of the club ever since.
DW Of Metropolitan Caloundra?
JS Of Metropolitan Caloundra, yes.
DW When you first came up, what was your first impression of early life saving days?
JS Well I thought it was wonderful. Of course, the beaches were not nearly as crowded then as they are now. Kings Beach was further out to sea than it is now, because over the years the effects of cyclonic erosion have meant that the beach has shifted back and back and back. Originally there were sand dunes behind the patrolled area at Kings Beach. Which was what we called the Bowery, which was a grove of trees really, before you even came to The Esplanade and it was a lovely spot? I thoroughly enjoyed coming up weekends and I came up regularly and in fact of course when I finally got married in 1942, we married in December, and to my wife’s chagrin we came to Caloundra and I put in part of our honeymoon patrolling Kings Beach at Caloundra.
DW So the early days at Kings Beach, can you describe what it was like? You have just told me about the beach. Was there plenty of trees and bush around?
JS There were a lot of trees, as I said there were sand dunes behind the beach itself, going right along to where the groin now is and in behind those sand dunes a grove of trees until you got to what is now The Esplanade. Over the years it was an old wooden club house in those days, it had been erected by the club with the assistance of the then Landsborough Shire Council for a cost of about 215 pounds. We had to shift the club house back twice because of the erosion that the beach suffered through cyclonic weather. Ultimately the effect of these movements and the effect of the white ants getting into it finally destroyed that old wooden club house. Of course those trees no longer exist.
DW What type of trees would they have been?
JS Well I really couldn’t tell you, but I do know that Clarry Burn, Commander Clarry Burn, who owned a house a bit further along said that some of the trees on those sand dunes were 60 years old.
DW Those days, the crowds on the beach, describe a normal sized day crowd at the beach, when you came on patrol.
JS Well, it really is very hard to say. Nowadays they do keep checks on crowd numbers, in those days we didn’t. We went on patrol at 6 o’clock in the morning; they go a little bit later now. Those days we patrolled from 6 in the morning until 6 in the afternoon over the holiday periods. At weekends, we didn’t arrive here in Caloundra; we come up by coordinated service, by train from Roma Street to Landsborough and by coordinated bus from Landsborough to Caloundra. So we didn’t arrive in Caloundra until about 4 o’clock because we all worked on Saturday mornings. There was no Saturday mornings off in those days.
DW So as soon as work was over you would be on your way?
JS As soon as we finished work at 12 o’clock, we raced round to Roma Street to catch the train from Roma Street. We had received concession fares from the Government, we didn’t pay the full fare and we ‘d catch the train from Roma Street to Landsborough, meet the coordinated bus and we would be, 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. So we started patrols at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and went until 6. The next morning our patrols were put on the beach at 6 o’clock in the morning and they stayed there until 4 o’clock in the afternoon when we had to put the gear away to catch the bus back to Landsborough to get the train back to Brisbane.
DW What bus would that have been?
JS Now let me see; those buses were run by an old Caloundra identity called George Watson. He has been dead many years now. He had the first, I understand they were the first coordinated bus service between Landsborough and Caloundra.
DW Those buses, would they have been packed, coming here with lots of people?
JS Well they were packed enough with people. Well there weren’t too many cars in those days. The easiest way to get to Caloundra was by train and by bus.
Landsborough Shire Council
DW Were you very welcome when you came to Caloundra? Were the locals glad that the life savers were here?
JS The Landsborough Shire Council was very keen to have the beach patrolled. Patrolled beaches always improved the value of land round about. People naturally prefer to build or rent where they have access to patrolled beaches, rather than to unpatrolled beaches. So from the point of view of increasing the value of allotments it was important for the Landsborough Shire Council for the beach to be patrolled. They assisted the club in a small way with whatever they could afford. Of course at that time, in 1936 there was no Government subsidy to life saving clubs, so we had to exist by what little help we got from the Landsborough Shire Council plus by what money we were able to raise. That is by holding beach concerts over the Christmas, New Year and Easter holiday periods and by taking the box around when we staged carnivals on the beach.
DW The contests that you held, the things that you did at the beach to promote and make money for the life savers, describe what you did on these occasions?
JS How do you mean?
DW Well you just said that you had beach concerts.
JS Oh yes, oh yes, we staged beach concerts with ourselves as the entertainers.
DW And many people came along?
JS They were very popular.
DW What did you do?
JS Well, we would get a truck and mount a PA system on the back of the truck. We’d sing, one of the local residents, a chap by the name of Ray Leak used to tell jokes. You see, whatever talent we could get, we would invite people from the crowd. If someone wanted to come in from the crowd to help out.
DW Like a talent quest?.
Sir Frank Nicklin
JS Really, sort of a talent quest, it was all designed of course, from two points of view, to entertain the public and to raise money for the club. It wasn’t until 1938 that Frank Nicklin, the Leader of the Opposition was able to persuade the Government of the day that the clubs deserved to be assisted financially. The Government of the day bought in what was at that time a 37 ½ percent subsidy for every pound that we raised, they would put in 37 ½ percent of that.
DW When you passed the hat around on the beach on carnival days, was it met with a good response?
JS Well, not really, the response to the beach carnivals wasn’t very great. We got much more from the beach concerts than we did from the carnivals. I remember the then Governor, Sir Lesley Wilson, who had a holiday home here in Caloundra, launched a public appeal for funds to help the life saving movement. He went on radio to talk to people and he had an article in the Courier Mail at the time, appealing to people to help with the movement. Really it could have been more successful; it deserved to be more successful.
Royal Life Saving recruitment
DW What age were you when you first entered the life saving movement?
JS I was 25, which was pretty old for people starting off in life saving. Nowadays they start off much younger than that, and of course no doubt, had I been invited earlier I would have been in it longer. It was through my association with YMCA in Brisbane and meeting Doug Mabin, that I really was invited to go along. Frankly, I had thought my swimming wasn’t strong enough to qualify as a life saver. I found that it was stronger than I thought it was.
DW Would you have done your Bronze Medallion and everything else that was needed before you got into life saving?
JS Well no, in those days, it was a pre-requisite of taking your Surf Life Saving Bronze; you had to qualify for your Still Water Bronze, which was awarded by the Royal Life Saving Society. Prior to 1930, there was no Surf Life Saving Association in Queensland at all. All of the clubs up until that time, apart from some clubs in New South Wales, which were affiliated directly to the head centre of the Surf Association Association of New South Wales. All the clubs were affiliated to the Royal Life Saving Society and so the rule of the R.L.S.S. society made it a condition that every person wishing to take their Surf Bronze Medallion had first to take the Still Water Bronze Medallion. I joined in 1936, but I didn’t actually get my bronze medallion until 1937, because of the fact that I had to qualify for a number of Royal Life Saving Awards.
DW I have heard that that took about 12 months.
JS That’s right.
DW That early life saver that I know from Mooloolah, Wally Warner, said that he started out at seventeen, and by the time he left Caloundra and went to Cooroy, and joined the Noosa life savers it had taken him 12 months to achieve.
JS It was 12 months with me too, I started in 1936 and I didn’t qualify for my surf bronze until November, 1937.
Caloundra – the early days
DW Describe Caloundra in those early days, what was the township like?
JS I can really go back further than that, because I first came to Caloundra in 1929 as a lad. The chappie with whom I worked, his father owned a launch and they were very kind, they invited me as a little Scot’s laddie.
DW You had an accent I suppose?
JS Oh, I did. I had come away with them for trips over New Year or Easter and we would cruise around the Bay. On one occasion we went down to Southport and anchored in the basin there. Another occasion, we came up to Caloundra that would have been in 1929. Of course, Caloundra in 1929 was just a little fishing village. The main street of course was Bulcock Street, but it was occupied mostly by homes, by houses with only a couple of shops. There were two shops that I can recall being Rinaldi’s grocery shop and Traill Brothers butcher’s shop, which was opposite where the old post office was, up at the corner of Canberra Terrace.
DW Was there many people around in those days?
JS Well, it was a very small fishing village at that time. Even when we came up in 1936, while it had grown quite a lot in those intervening seven or eight years, it was still a far cry from what it is like today.
DW What time of the year were the patrols held, when did they start?
JS Yes, the patrols started on the first weekend in October and finished, at that time, on the first weekend in May, which was a holiday weekend. So we went right through from the first of October until the first of May. They have altered it a bit slightly. Now they start a bit earlier. They start in September, but they finish a bit earlier too, because they finish on the 30th of April.
Royal Life Saving instruction
DW What would you have had to do, to obtain your still water and everything like that? Who were your instructors?
JS Well, our still water instructor in Brisbane was a fellow who belonged to Metropolitan Life Saving Club, Metropolitan Royal Life Saving Club. It was really Metropolitan before it came to Caloundra. It was a chap called Noel Morrison and he was the one who not only instructed us, but later on examined us in our Still Water. A chap called Jack Corkery was the Captain of the Metropolitan Caloundra Life Saving Club at that time. He was also a Surf Instructor and he examined us for our Bronze Medallion examination together with another local, Ben Bennett. Ben Bennett was a local member. They were the two examiners who took us initially for our Surf Life Saving Examinations.
DW How were they, were they fairly strict with everything?
JS They had to be fairly strict in the levels of proficiency they expected. It was after all that they were having to qualify people who were ultimately going to be responsible for rescuing other people.
DW So when you arrived in those early days, and the early life saving days in Caloundra, what was waiting for you? Was there much equipment?
JS There had been a reel along the beach. Of course, you found that out from the gentleman from the Royal Life Savers who came down from Mooloolah. There had been a reel put on the beach in the 1920’s, I knew that. I knew that there had been a reel there and in fact there was one when we came. There was still a reel in a small wooden box on the beach at Kings Beach for anyone who could use it.
DW I read and just documented in 1911, I believe, the council put the first reel there and that people virtually had to save each other.
JS Exactly, that’s right, because it was just the case of somebody being able to swim getting into the belt and swimming out and hoping that the people who got on the line knew how to pull them back in again.
DW Describe what the belt would have been like?
JS Well, the belt in those days was a different type of belt entirely from what it is now. The belt in those days had big corks all the way round it. The idea being of course to maintain flotation. In later years, that type of belt was scrubbed because when you swim, you don’t really need anything to assist your flotation, you see. So they scrapped that and had a single piece canvas belt. Later again, that single piece canvas belt was scrapped because a number of life savers had been drowned with this equipment because a line became fouled in rocks when they were being pulled in, they were dragged under and they couldn’t get out, it was so tight, they couldn’t get out. So they introduced what was called a safety release belt. This was a pin, so that if the life saver does get caught, he can pull the pin out and the belt comes apart.
DW And that was much more successful and felt much better?
JS Oh, of course it was. That’s what was used. Nowadays of course in life saving they don’t use life saving reels at all. They are an obsolete piece of equipment. They use torpedo buoys, surf boards and surf ski’s and rescue boards and things like that!
DW Did you recruit other life savers once you became a member of the life savers?
JS Not very actively, really. Some fellas would, if they had a friend who thought they might like to come up and try out, and then they would invite them to come. It wasn’t an active sort of recruitment.
DW I see. So recruitment was only from what you have told me that the Governor put it over the radio and put an article in the Courier Mail about the life savers.
JS That was a billing for finance, but certainly helped to publicise the movement.
DW What age were people eligible to join the life savers?
DW You had to be at least 16 years of age before you could get your Surf Medallion and you wouldn’t be a fully qualified life saver until you did get your Bronze Medallion. People could take what was called the “qualifying certificate” at 14 years of age. That was a stepping stone to being a fully qualified life saver. They were allowed to assist people holding a qualifying certificate and were able to assist in rescues. They couldn’t take the belt out. They would assist on the line or on the reel if need be.
DW A bit like the cadets now?
JS Well we didn’t have cadets in those days, but similar to what it is now.
DW Did you have women at all in the early days of life saving?
JS There were no women in the surf life saving movement at that time. We did have some ladies clubs that came to Caloundra in those early years, but they were affiliated with the Royal Life Saving Society, not with the Surf Life Saving Association. Of course, the Royal Life Saving Society did have a Reel and Line medallion. The examination conditions of the Reel and Line medallion were very similar to the Surf Bronze medallion. In those days the Surf Association had never heard of affirmative action and so women were not admitted to life saving rules. It was felt that they were not strong enough to contend with, it was fairly strenuous rescue that had to be affected. I have seen myself taking part in a rescue on the line and my fingers would be cut to ribbons from the sand on the lines as you pulled them in. My hands would be bleeding.
DW So on those lines, pulling that person in, did you have to do it at a certain pace?
JS Exactly, and this is why as I said earlier, it is very important that anyone pulling on the line knew exactly what to do. Because, the patient, when the beltman reached the patient, he puts his hand up to signal that he has got the patient, and they start to haul in. But if a wave is coming towards them, which is going to break, you have to stop, because you are still hauling them in, you can’t go forward into that wave, he has got to hold his patient, in a grip like that, and when he sees the wave coming he goes forward into it, you see so they don’t get washed back. So when a wave was coming, you had to give the signal for the people behind you to stop hauling until that wave had gone and you would start hauling again. If you pulled them in and got tangled up in the wave, they could get line wrapped around them and they could drown.
Rescues – Lady Phyllis Cilento and others
DW Yes, you were saying that in some rescues your hands would be cut to pieces. Can you describe any of those early rescues?
JS I can describe several incidents, one of the most memorable ones was we had finished patrols for the day, the reels had been put away at 6 o’clock. I had gone round behind the club house into what we called, the Barrier, that grove of trees, I mentioned earlier. That was where the outdoor toilet was, you see. I was coming back around the front of the club house, and the fellas were already sitting down to dinner. I was coming around the front of the club house and I saw two heads out in the surf, in that area near the rocks. There’s a sweep, where those rocks went out. There was then, and I think still possibly, a constant sweep running out there. I saw these two heads in the water, where there ought not to be any people at all because it was after patrol hours. So I yelled out rescue, rescue. I ran down the beach and pulled off my shirt and kept my shorts on, but pulled off my shirt and swam out. By the time I got out to them…….
DW With no belt or anything?
JS No, no, well this is one of the essential things about life saving in those days, you didn’t wait for the beltman to get there, if you saw someone in trouble. Obviously you can swim much more quickly if you are not pulling a belt than if you are. So someone would always race out to hold him up till the beltman came and that was what I was about to do you see. So by the time I got there I saw the couple were a man and a woman. The man was a bit further out, but I went to the woman first because you always did that. So I went to the woman first.
DW You always went to the woman first?
JS Yes, well you expect the man.
DW Woman and children first I suppose.
JS Well exactly, so I got to the woman and held her up until a belt could reach me. Benny Bennett who was a local identity. He had heard the rescue and he came out just after me. He went and got hold of the man. They got the two reels out of the club house and they got them down and two beltman came out. One took the lady from me and the other took the chap from Benny Bennett. Ben and I swam in down the beach a bit, not swimming against that current, down the beach and came in. As it turned out the lady was Lady Cilento who became known as the Medical Mother, she was the wife of Sir Raphael Cilento. The man was a newly appointed Professor of Human Movement at the Queensland University. He was a professor, a chap called Iva Burgh and he had never been in the surf before. He was a house guest of the Cilento’s; of course they had their little cottage up there. It had been hot and they had gone for cooling surf. Of course they went in where they ought not to have gone. Then they got into trouble, you see.
DW What year would that have been?
JS It was before the war, I couldn’t give you the exact date.
DW Late 30’s?
JS Yes, the late 30’s it would have been.
DW So that was a fairly famous rescue?
JS Yes, well, as a matter of fact many years later my wife and I joined a square dancing club out at the University at St. Lucia and Ivor Burgh as it happened was the caller of the square dance club you see. I said to him one night, “By the way, do you remember getting into trouble in the surf at Kings Beach at Caloundra”. He said, “Do I ever.” I said, “You were with Lady Cilento.” He said, “That’s right”. I said, “I gave the alarm when I saw you two people in trouble and I went to Lady Cilento and Benny Bennett came out to hold you up.” The next night before he started the square dancing calling, he said, “I’ve got an item of interest to tell you, if it were not for Jack Spender, who recently joined the club, I wouldn’t even be here tonight because he was responsible for me being rescued at Kings Beach a long, long time ago.”
DW Wonderful and any other rescues?
JS Well that one stuck in my mind.
DW It certainly would.
JS We did have, I can remember rescuing a chappie who ultimately became an Inspector of Police, a fellow called Miles.
I had a problem on one occasion, there was an old farmer type, and he was a big strong man. He was surfing outside the flagged area and he got into trouble and we had to race along with the reel you see and I hopped into the belt when we got there and swam out. He was panicking you see and he was trying to climb all over me. Of course, part of your training was to deal with people like that and I managed to get him turned around and onto his back. Once you get them turned around onto their back and the swimmer can feel your arms underneath, supporting them like that, they quieten down. He gave me a lot of trouble until I got him turned onto his back.
DW Nearly drowned you?
JS Well he didn’t actually nearly drown me because I was trying to calm him down before I actually grabbed him you see.
DW Now days you have got those boards that you can get between you and them, can’t you?
JS Exactly, but you had to talk to them and try to quieten them down, they are not easy to quieten down when they think their drowning.
DW Yes that’s true. Your years when you travelled up to Caloundra from Brisbane, how long did you stay living in Brisbane before you moved to Caloundra?
JS I did my patrolling the whole of the time from Brisbane because I didn’t come to Caloundra until quite some time after I retired. I didn’t come to Caloundra to live permanently until 13 years ago.
DW So you would come very weekend?
JS Every weekend.
DW Did the family come?
JS Well, I didn’t have a family in those days. I joined as I said in 1936, we were married in 1942. I continued to patrol for quite a number of years after that. Until the family started to grow, you see we had six children, until the family started to grow.
DW Especially twins!
JS Exactly. I felt I had to give up active patrolling, but I still maintained an association with the club. As a matter of fact that photograph that is there is taken in 1957 when I was Deputy President of the club at that time. However I was no longer an active patrolling member then.
DW They look a fine bunch don’t they, in 1957? How many members would there have been at that time?
JS It is hard to tell. They have many more members now than we did then. You required six people to form a patrol. We used to try and give not more than two patrols over a weekend. So we used to do, at that time four hour patrols. We would only do two hours on the Saturday. On Sunday we would do a four hour patrol from 6 until 10, another one from 10 until 2, then the third one would be a two hour patrol, from 2 until 4. As I said, we had only expected to do one patrol on a day, so you would have six for the Saturday, they needed six for the first patrol, six the second and six for the third.
DW So there was at least eighteen bodies?
JS We looked to have about eighteen to twenty four if we could have it. Eighteen was a good number to have.
DW What sort of bathing apparel did you wear, did you have a uniform?
JS No, we had no uniforms; we all had to wear Speedo costumes.
DW The full piece, like in the boat photograph?
JS That’s right. Costumes not trunks, costumes. They had the club badge on them and the costumes had to be skirted.
DW For modesty I was told?
JS Exactly, so we didn’t have any of the kind of gear that they’ve got now, but as you will see there we all wore blazers. For one thing, for fellows’ hitch-hiking and some of them did hitch-hike, it was much easier to get a lift if you could be identified as a member of the life saving club.
DW You had no problems getting a lift?
DW Everybody wanted to help the life savers?
JS That’s right, people knew they weren’t running a risk in picking up someone who was wearing a life saving blazer.
Surf Life Saving competitions
DW Did you visit other clubs and compete?
JS Oh yes, we did, because we still had life saving carnivals we attended. You would find that over the season there would be probably one carnival at each of the beaches, in what was then the North Coast Branch. It is now the Sunshine Branch and the clubs in the branch at that time were at Bribie Island, Met Caloundra, later on North Caloundra. North Caloundra didn’t come in till around 1950. There was a club at Mooloolaba, Alexandra Headlands and Maroochydore.
JS Noosa and Coolum.
DW So you would all compete and visit those clubs?
JS That is right.
DW How did you get to those places to compete?
JS Well we’d usually hire buses, or either buses or trucks. In some cases of course I can remember going down to compete in carnivals down along the Gold Coast occasionally and we went on an open truck, with just wooden seats on it.
DW And would you pick that truck up in Brisbane?
JS If we were going to the Gold Coast, we would pick it up at Brisbane.
Soady Carrying Company
DW I have heard that the Soden’s, they were transport people were they?
JS Soden. You see, old pop Soden was the patron of the club at that time. He was the principle of the Soady Carrying Company; don’t ask me how they got that name. He was the MD (Managing Director) of Soady Carrying Company. His son Les was one of the very early life savers here in Caloundra. He also became President of the Royal Life Saving Society of Queensland and also the Surf Life Saving Association of Queensland, after me. When I joined, the President, in those days the President’s weren’t active, weren’t former active life savers. They were business men or professional people, you see. Frank McGrath, who was President of the Point Lookout Branch, was a solicitor by profession, but he was not a life saver.
DW Like patrons were they?
JS Well they were Presidents, and then they became patrons. Pop Soden was President of the State Centre of the Surf Association, as I said he was the principle of Soady Transport Company. He had never been an active life saver but he was interested in the movement because his son was.
DW So the trucks or buses would take you to different carnivals?
JS Trucks were always preferable going to carnivals rather than buses because a bus had a trailer to carry the reel; you had to take a reel with you. But with a truck you could put the reel on the truck and sit around.
DW Cliff Croughan told me a story of the early days when they would get off at Landsborough and they would come in with King’s who provided transport to and from Caloundra. The young life savers would be very low in the pecking order, the younger ones, and they would have to hold onto the outside of the car on the way to the beach. It was such a long trek from Landsborough to Caloundra.
JS Oh yes, it was a dirt road all the way.
DW So you would have experienced those slow roads as well?
JS Oh yes, when we used to get to the top of Little Mountain, we would always be looking towards the sea to see if there was surf there. We would see it, then “Whacko”.
DW You were happy with good surf. That was the first picture, the first glimpse of the sea?
JS When we got to the top of Little Mountain.
DW A big cheer would come out of you all.
JS Everybody would be looking to see what the surf was like.
DW So every weekend of those patrolling times you were in Caloundra until later on and your family came along?
JS Yes that’s right.
Club House tales
DW I know about the club house where they rolled it back with the surf coming so close and bad weather and everything. Describe to me what the club house was like?
JS As I said it was built very cheaply, I think it cost 210-215 pounds. I was interested to see in one of those things I gave you, one of the members of the club, whose name was I will think of in a minute, he tendered and his quote was 5 pounds more than the winning quote that didn’t get the job, and yet he was a member of the club. Dud Ryan, that was it, now he was a builder and he put in a quote which tendered which was 5 pounds more. It was a small wooden building, facing the surf, built longways, with a veranda along the front. Coming in from the side we had a bit of a ramp which came into, what was then, the dressing room, small dressing room. That dressing room opened into the dining room and the middle of that wall, the far wall of that dining room was the opening which leads to the bunk house. There were tables on both sides of that opening and on the right, on the other side of the wall from the dressing room, was the kitchen where the meals were prepared, and we used to take it in turns in those days to cook meals. Mind you some of them weren’t so good, but still. Later on we were able to graduate to employing a cook.
DW In that photo, the cook is in that photo.
JS Yes that is right, Cock Sullivan. We had one before him, a chap called Stemp, he was an ex British soldier and he was the cook before we had Cock Sullivan. But they cooked for us. As I said there were two tables on the other side with forms along the sides and you could seat quite a number of people at the one time. Then you come in, into that sleeping area and there were two tyred wooden boxes on either side of that passage way and another passage leading off there so people could get round. There were bunks along the side of each wall, the front and rear walls.
The boat house was attached to the end of that clubhouse, the far end from where you entered and at the rear of the boathouse were the showers. The toilets were outside near the Barrier, but there were showers there, with two tanks, two water tanks, and 500 gallon water tanks. I don’t know whether I should tell you this, over one Christmas there had not been a very heavy rainfall and we ran out of water, no water at all even for cooking and we were in a bit of a quandary. The then Captain of the club, whom I shan’t name for obvious reasons, he went up to the old School of Arts in Canberra Terrace. Now they had big water tanks underneath the old School of Arts, there where two tanks, two 500 gallon tanks and he tapped them, you know how you can tap tanks and they were both full. So he said, “Listen we’re doing a service for the community, I really think was entitled to take some of that water”. So he organised a bucket brigade from the School of Arts down to our club house. We had got a number of buckets from somewhere and we would only cover a short distance and pass the bucket onto the next fellow down. There would be a bucket up that way and there would be a bucket coming back this way. We, well how shall I say, commandeered some water from each of the two tanks to replenish our own water supply!
DW To assist the life savers?
JS Well, as I said we didn’t have any water to do any cooking.
DW How far would that have been how many people would have been in that chain?
JS Frankly I couldn’t tell you, it probably would have been two dozen I think.
DW And all of them young life savers?
JS Yes, well of course it was at the dead of night.
DW With no one around, with someone on Cockatoo I suppose.
JS As I said, really the School of Arts didn’t need much water, it was a very small amount of water really and we still left them with at least half of their water supply.
DW Where was the School of Arts?
JS The School of Arts was up on Canberra Terrace. Do you know where the Eagle Boys place is now, there’s a block of units backing up to that and the road running down. Well, that was where the School of Arts was.
Shark Attack - Kings Beach
DW You had quite a bit of a hike! Where there any heroes in the life saving movement at that time?
JS Yes, well, there were and I probably mentioned in the history there, one of the fellows in our club, a chap called Bruce Richter, he would have received an award for that, an outstanding ordinary rescue, that’s just one removed, and he didn’t bother about that.
DW That’s what Wally said from Mooloolah. He said you just went out and did it, you didn’t worry about sharks, there were plenty of fish for them to eat.
JS Another one who deserves a mention who is dead now, is a chap called Fred Riddle, we had a shark fatality at Kings Beach on Boxing Day in 1948. I just arrived from Brisbane and I was getting undressed in the dressing room when I heard the shark call go. I raced out and Jack Clark who was the then Secretary of the club, who was a good mate of mine, he was just coming in. There was a big spreading pool of blood out in the surf. A chap called Sammy Keys, he was a Life Saver but from Miami, he wasn’t a local Life Saver, but he was holidaying up here with his wife, his new wife, his father was up at Mooloolaba. He had been taken by this shark, it took all of his left buttock and femoral artery and as the doctor said you would have bled to death in 60 seconds with the ripping of the femoral artery. Fred Riddle was the one who went out to help, to bring his body back in again.
DW He went out to try and get him?
JS Yes, they bought him in. They put him on a stretcher and as I said I was still getting changed when this happened. I went out and found what had happened and we put him into the casualty unit in the private club house area. I’ll have a look at that photograph and that history of Jack Winders and show you where it was. His wife of course was very distraught.
DW He was only a young man?
JS Yes, they weren’t very long married. And we took her into the bunk house and gave her a bunk and I got from her that Sammy Keys father was holidaying in Mooloolaba. We rang the police of course and the police came down and I took the policeman.
DW So he was dead even as you got him out of the water?
JS Oh he was dead before we got him out. As I was no longer Captain, a chap called Kip McGrath who was Captain, he took over from me. I sort of assumed responsibility at the time and I had to take the policeman to show them the body and when the father came to identify the body I had to take him in and show him his son’s body.
JS I took the policeman to look at the body and then I took this lads father. I rang through to Mooloolaba and bought him down and took him to identify the body. I had taken the precaution of sending up to the local hotel for some brandy because I thought we might need to give his father some brandy to nurse the shock, and I took a swig myself. I escorted him out to his car afterwards and of course the paparazzi had got word of this at that time and there were a couple of photographers there wanting to take photographs of the father going out. I shooed them away. I had to then come back and get his wife and take her out to the car. It was unfortunate, I had left the window of the casualty room a little open to let some air through, where his body was lying on the bed and she saw it as we were going past and of course she broke down again, and we got her calmed down, and she broke down again. We got her out to the car and ultimately the police arranged for the body to be taken away to a morgue. So it was a rather depressing Christmas. We put out shark hooks on a buoy to try and catch the shark, I don’t think that we did to be honest with you, but we did try and catch it. And of course it really killed that Christmas because people weren’t game to venture into the water where there had been a fatal shark attack. It is understandable.
DW And of course there was no netting.
JS Oh, there was no netting.
DW So that man Fred Riddle was very brave who went into that water.
JS He was indeed.
DW With the blood and everything in the water. Did he ever get recognised for that?
JS I don’t know whether he did or not, I couldn’t be sure about that.
DW What was his name?
JS Fred Riddle.
DW Where was he from?
JS From our club.
DW From Metropolitan Caloundra?
JS Yes, he is dead now.
DW Can you recall on the beaches around here the early bathing boxes?
DW What about the diving boards?
JS There were diving boards out at Bulcock Beach. Yes, they were there then, they are not there now of course. It was all right at some stages of the tide, at other times of the tide they were dangerous. And of course there was no patrol at Bulcock Beach in those days; the patrol was only at Kings Beach.
DW Do you think in those times, the level of competency of people swimming that they wouldn’t have been that strong as far as their swimming skills went?
JS Well I don’t think swimming was as universally important then, as it is now. Nowadays of course, kids going to State School are taught how to swim. That didn’t apply in those days. They had to wait awhile before they could actually learn how to swim. Schools in those days didn’t have swimming pools at all, if any of the school children were going to be taught how to swim, they had to be taken to public pools.
DW I suppose families, the mother and father coming down to the beach in the early days, there wouldn’t have been many amongst those early folk that would be strong swimmers at all?
JS I wouldn’t have thought so.
DW So you would probably have double problems, not only the early days with not much equipment, but with people not being able to swim that well?
JS There were quite a number who really couldn’t swim at all and they would only go into the water up to their knees and they would be all right as long as they didn’t try to catch any waves.
DW How did the people on the beach respond as far as the Life Savers saying you must swim between the flags?
JS In most cases they were very good. Now and then you would get some strapper character who objected to being directed to swim between the flags. “I’ll go where I like,” sort of business. Of course they were the people who got into trouble very often entirely through their own fault.
DW How much were your dues, how much did you pay?
JS Well it wasn’t very much really, we used to have to pay a membership fee every year, it would be hard for me to accurately quote, and we did pay a membership fee, probably around 5 pounds.
DW So when you came to Caloundra to go on patrol?
JS We paid our own fares.
DW Yes and you were saying you got subsidy as far as the railway, did you get any help from that transport company that transported you from Landsborough to Caloundra?
JS I don’t know to be honest with you, I don’t know, I think when you bought your ticket at Roma Street that included the transport by co-ordinate services, included the transport from Landsborough to Caloundra. I used to have to go around Friday to collect the tickets needed for the following day.
DW You needed to book?
JS Yes, well we had to order the number of tickets needed you see, concession tickets.
DW Les Hardcastle’s wife wrote to me the other day and she told me the story of one day coming back from the beaches here and getting trapped with mud and bad weather and getting to Landsborough and having to wash her legs and she had special surf shoes on. She just whipped her shoes off and put her stockings on. But she said there were no seats left on the train, so they all had to pile into the guards van and sit in there.
JS We always managed to get a seat on the train somehow.
DW It must have been a bad day; it must have been a Christmas crowd.
JS We used to pass the time, we’d play poker, threepence poker.
DW How long would it take you to get to Brisbane on the old steam train?
JS Well, the old steam train, coming up the train left about 1o’clock, would get to Landsborough around about 3 o’clock, round about a two hour trip it was and then from Landsborough it co-ordinated with a bus into Caloundra.
DW How long did that take?
JS Oh, that would be around half an hour.
DW The roads must have been better then?
JS The roads weren’t too good, and of course when you came into Caloundra, we came around Canberra Terrace and then down to our Club House from there. Because the street that you go along to get to the Club House didn’t exist then. You had to go around Canberra Terrace, then pass the lighthouse and down Edward Street to come down to where the Club House is now.
DW Any cyclones, bad weather instances you might recall?
JS There where quite a lot of cyclones in those days.
DW Each year you would get one or two?
JS In fact on some occasions the cyclones were so prolonged they whipped up froth and you could wade through this froth up to your chest. Froth on the beach left by the pounding of the waves. I remember on one occasion in July, 1954 we used to have an annual club dinner once a year and we would have it at the old Hotel Francis around near Shelly Beach. The old Hotel Francis was starting to fall apart at the time, and a cyclone hit the place in July, a cyclone hit us. I was sitting at a table and I brought my raincoat with me and I had to put it on as the water was coming through the room and down the back of my neck and they had to put buckets around the floor to catch where the drips were. It was the last time we had any function at the Hotel Francis. One of the hotel staff, a chap called Jackson; we called him ‘Pearshape’ because of his weight.
DW Pearshape Jackson?
JS Pearshape Jackson and he was carrying two jugs to put on the table, two jugs of beer, and suddenly the floor gave way underneath him and he went through the floor up to his waist and being Pearshape he didn’t go any further. Only the top part of him showing but still holding the two jugs of beer.
DW Did the boys finish the beer off?
JS He didn’t actually drop it.
DW He was all right as a waiter wasn’t he?
JS That was the last time really that they were able to use the Hotel. It was closed not long after that when they built the new Hotel Caloundra. Pat and Paddy Stewart were then licensees and transferred from the Hotel Francis to the Hotel Caloundra.
DW Did the life savers have a lot of activities there? Did they use the Hotel Caloundra for venues after that?
JS We used it for entertainment and after a patrol for a little quite noggin or two.
World War II
DW When the war came the Life Saving movement died back a lot them?
JS It died back to such an extent we had to suspend activities for a bit from 1942 until, we reopened again around 1944, because we got young people who weren’t old enough to enrol in the war.
DW Once the war was over people came back with renewed interest?
JS Quite a number of the former life savers came back, some of them didn’t because of the fairly traumatic experiences during the war. They had been away long enough, they had left the wife behind; they didn’t want to leave the wife behind again going out to patrol at Caloundra. So quite a number of ex-serving personnel didn’t come back but as I said in the later years of the war there was an influx of young people still too young to enrol. By the time the war was over there was no need for them.
DW Once you were married and started your family off, you didn’t go off on patrol in those early days.
JS I did for a while, even though we had a young family, but once we had four under four years of age my wife thought, and I couldn’t but not agree, “That the time had come the walrus said, to give it up”. I still maintained an active administrative role as that photograph would show, but I didn’t take any active life saving role.
Surf life saving history – North Coast Branch
DW Can you tell me what your role was over the years where you started off as a young life saver? Could you then tell me what area you went into?
JS I joined in 1936, in 1937 an old chap called Joe Bett’s who was the then Secretary of the Surf Life Saving Association. He had followed the YMCA Soccer Club who played out to Kalinga, and followed this YMCA Soccer Club so he became interested. In fact he became my sort of mentor, he certainly pushed me forward. In 1937, one year after I joined the club at the meeting at which was the then North Coast Branch, he knew that I had been involved in the administrative side of the YMCA soccer club as well as in a playing capacity. He suggested that I be one of the three delegates from, what was then the North Coast Branch to the State Centre of the Surf Life Saving Association. We had three delegates from the Branch at that time. I became one in 1937 and my co-delegates were a chap called Luge Hoffen from the Maroochydore club. Who was a little former Swiss fellow, still with a Swiss accent and a chap called Jo from Coolum. We were three delegates from the Branch to the State Centre.
I started taking an active role in State Centre then. I became the registrar whose responsibility is to collate all the examination results that come in. Look after the issue of the Bronze Medallions, the number of the Bronze Medallions and their inscriptions to be sent out to all of the clubs. I was registrar for a number of years until I became Deputy President of State Centre, under a chap called Frank McGrath who came from the Point Danger Branch. I have got the years there in that history. I succeeded Frank McGrath as the President of State Centre. I became president of the State Centre from I think, 1958 to 1961. I also in that time represented Queensland on the National Council of the Surf Life Saving Association as the Queensland delegate. So, I did play quite a number of roles in the administrative side even after I finished my active Life Saving days. I can get the dates, they are all recorded in that Jack Winders history, the years I was President, Deputy President.
DW So you were still active in regards to the administrative side of things, even though your family had come along at that stage?
JS Yes, that’s right.
DW Was it Brisbane based?
JS It was Brisbane based. It didn’t necessitate coming up to Caloundra. It meant going up to Branch Meetings, but that was only once a month. As I mentioned to Ron Renkin recently at a Branch Meeting. On a Sunday I lived at Paddington at that time, originally when I was first appointed in 1957 before I was married, I had to come by tram from Paddington via Roma Street Station. I had to catch a train from Roma Street to Woombye and catch a bus from Woombye to Maroochydore where the Branch Meetings were held. Frank Nicklin was then the President of the Branch. The meetings originally, in those early days were held in the Traveller Sample Room of the old Maroochydore Club Hotel which was on the banks of the Maroochy River. An old wooden two story pub. They were held there for a number of years and later on they were held at Maroochydore Life Saving Club itself, downstairs. Then ultimately when the new Alexandra Headlands club house was built it was switched to the Alexandra Headlands group, that was more simple, and we went there for a long, long time.
DW It all sounds very colourful and you certainly did do a lot in those early days. Describe some of the older methods of life saving, like resuscitation?
JS Oh yes, there have been a number of different methods with resuscitation. When I first joined, the method then used was the Shaefer Method, where the patient was laid in a prone position, face down and you straddled the patient and applied pressure to the lower area of the back on either side of the spine. And the theory behind that was by pressing the back in the lower area of the spine, it forced the diaphragm up to the heart and took the pressure away from the heart, the diaphragm would come back. So in fact what you were doing was applying pressure at the rate of 15 per minute to the heart itself, but you weren’t directly putting the pressure on the heart.
Later on they switched to what was called the Eve’s Rocker and this was merely a stretcher on a tripod and the patient was strapped to the stretcher with a little carbon dioxide flask attached to his nostrils. The idea being that carbon dioxide is a stimulant, we’ve all got carbon dioxide, and it’s a stimulant gas to the medulla oblongata, at the base of the brain which stimulates breathing. So the, that stimulated breathing, the rocker movement, with the head down, all the abdominal came to the diaphragm, put pressure against the heart. When the head was lifted, the abdominalis went away again and came away from the diaphragm to release the pressure. So what you were really doing was compressing the heart, but purely externally, that was the Eve’s Rocker.
The Holger-Neilsen method was the patient lay on supine position, that is face upwards and the arms raised above their head to expand the chest and brought forward and pressed down against the chest to once again compress against the heart.
In 1960 or 1961, I can’t remember exactly which one, it was too many years ago, there was a major Life Saving conference that convened in Sydney that had people coming from all over the world to this conference. A fellow called Peter Safar came from the States and he had pioneered the ER (Expired Air Resuscitation) which super-ceded all the others. That was where the patient laid on his back, his head tilted back to provide a clear airway and the rescuer either breathed into the mouth or into the nostrils, because there is still a fair amount of residual oxygen still left in expired air. Breathe into his mouth or into his nostrils to help to revive. That was a fore-runner to CPR (Cardiovascular Pulmonary Resuscitation) where you actually applied pressure to the heart itself. At that time of course it was thought that Expired Air Resuscitation could be taught to anybody, but Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation could only be applied by qualified medical people or paramedics because of the risk of damage to the heart by applying pressure to the wrong area, and that was in 1961. At that time there were no Oxy Vivas. Now you are able to give a direct oxygen flow through a mask to the patient. But that’s a big advance to what we had in those days.
Boat builder – Norman Wright
DW Can you describe any history regarding the surf boats?
JS Yes, I can as a matter of fact. The very first surf boat that we managed to get at Caloundra, we bought second hand from Bribie Island Club. Bribie Island was really our progenitive act here at Caloundra. They had a two oared surf boat; it was a double ended surf boat, but only two oarsmen in the sweep. I was one of the crew on this boat when we first got it at Caloundra. I know that Jack Corkery, who was then Captain of the Club, was our sweep initially because he was the only one who knew anything about sweeping a boat, I can’t remember how it was run, stroked, and I can’t remember who was bow behind me. I was tickled the first time we took it out, and Jack Corkery, there’s a photograph, that’s Jack Corkery.
DW The big fellow in the front?
JS He couldn’t get that gut of his over the gutter and so we were falling about, another chap and I were falling about laughing in the boat when Cork tried to get in, we finally had to back paddle to let him get into the boat to take us out again you see.
DW How was he about that?
JS He accepted the handicaps, I’ll put it that way. We used that for quite a while until we were able to raise funds to have a boat built specially for us by Norman Wright, the boat builder down at Bulimba in Brisbane. There is still a Norman Wright boat yard. Norman Wright is long dead. But, that boat there.
DW The boat that’s in the photograph that Jack has lent to us.
JS That was built about 1938 by Norman Wright at Bulimba. That boat was commandeered by the Navy in the early part of the war. When they finally relinquished it, I had to go down to the Naval Base at HMS Moreton at New Farm to take official delivery of it from the Naval Lieutenant. He said to me, “how much would that boat have cost?” I said, “Without oars it cost 100 pounds”. “As much as that, 100 pounds!” he said. Nowadays it would cost around $15,000.
DW So they just asked for the boat and you had to give it up?
JS They commandeered it, we didn’t have the option. The Government ordered it.
DW Did they only take your boat or did they take other boats as well?
JS I don’t know, I don’t know. I know a chappie from Maroochydore, a chap called Theo Thynne and he was in the Navy, operating in the islands, where they took this boat. He came across this boat there.
DW Up in the islands, it actually got there?
JS It actually got there. He came across this boat.
DW What sort of condition was it in when you got it back?
JS Well actually it wasn’t bad, they looked after it quite well.
Sir Leslie Wilson
DW Would that have been the boat that took Sir Leslie Wilson out in? Cliff Croughan was telling me the story of the boys taking Sir Leslie Wilson out.
JS It could well have been. Sir Leslie Wilson had his term extended; see he came out as Governor in about 1936, something like that. Because of the war he had his term extended twice. We had that built in 1938, so I don’t remember us actually taking Sir Leslie Wilson out, although.
DW They apparently put him out on a big wave, that’s in Cliffs memoirs, he remembers that. The boys made sure it was good wave that they put him on.
JS He was very friendly with Colonel Dan Evans who had a house up on Landsborough Terrace. He was from the family Evans Deakin and his daughter is Kathleen McArthur.. Dan Evans would invite some of us, a few Life Savers, up to his house. Whenever he threw a party, he would invite some of us up. I can remember Sir Leslie Wilson being at those parties. I can remember early in the war at one of these parties and Colonel Evans said to Sir Leslie Wilson, “Can’t you use your influences Governor to have me passed fit for service?” He wanted to get into the Navy, he worked in Engineering, you see. I remember Sir Leslie Wilson’s retort, “Dan your much too important building ships for Australia, as compared to what kind of service you could render being at sea on one!”
DW So he never got to go?
JS He never got to go. He did a cartwheel on the floor to show how fit he was, you see.
DW Was that after a couple of drinks?
JS That didn’t influence Sir Leslie Wilson at all.
DW After that boat, can you recall any other boats that came along after that? I have heard of a local boat builder that may have helped make some surf boats.
JS There was another one; in fact I think the next boat we got was from a builder in Sydney. In Queensland here there were Boyd brothers who built boats. But of course, by the time that had all that happened, I was more or less out of the active side of the club.
DW Did you encourage your children to follow on in Life Saving as they got older?
JS Yes, yes I did. All of our four sons all became members of Metropolitan Life Saving Club. They all obtained their Life Saving and Bronze Medallions with Metropolitan Caloundra. The last one of course, Craig who was the baby, he became interested in Surf Ski Racing, competing at carnivals. They were all active Life Savers. There was Bruce, Don and Neil who also became a Captain and President of the Club in succession to his old man and Craig the youngest. They were all active Life Savers for Metropolitan Caloundra.
DW When the children became older, you started coming up here for holidays with the kids?
JS Yes, we continued to come up for holidays while the children were growing up.
DW So where would you have stayed?
JS We stayed at a number of places. We stayed up at a house at New Haven up in Canberra Terrace for a number of years. It belonged to someone who was related to someone else who worked with them, that’s how we got onto that. We stayed for a number of years at a block of flats called Boronia Court which has since been replaced with another block of units that starts with an “m”, up there in Warne Terrace; I can’t remember the actual name of those. The house we used to stay at around in Malojah, “Betty what was the name of the house that we stayed at round, was near Malojah Avenue, next to Cape View. It belonged to the Robinson’s?”
BS Toorak. We also stayed at Odds and Ends, in Saltair Street.
JS Oh yes that’s right, we also stayed once at Vigo Flats, we had to knock all the cockies out of the corner and the house next to it was Rangatoto, so we stayed in a number of places.
DW You would have been busy with all those babies and those twins Mrs Spender?
BS I was rather.
DW Would you like to come in for a moment?
JS Remember you are on oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
DW How did you feel about this young husband of yours when you first got married? Coming up here on your honeymoon and newly married and with him going on patrol?
JS That’s the wrong question to ask, that’s the wrong question!!
BS Well, I had mixed feelings because he was away a lot. I would get a bit browned off sometimes.
JS But she put up with it.
DW What a wonderful life history we have just heard. All of those brave things the young life savers did in order to assist people. There is going to be a big display later on this year, something to do with the Art Gallery. That’s what started me off, when I realised there wasn’t a lot of history on the life savers.
JS Modesty prevented me from mentioning something up until now. I was awarded the OBE, (Order of the British Empire). I became an Officer of the British Empire in 1965 for my services to both Surf Life Saving and Royal Life Saving.
DW Were you very surprised about that?
JS I was indeed.
DW How did that come about?
JS Well, obviously I had been nominated jointly by the Surf Life Saving Association and by the Royal Life Saving Society, to be worthy of some recognition of the amount of work I had put into surf life saving from 1936 up until 1965. I received a notification from the Governor General actually, that I been nominated. They find out whether you are prepared to accept because if you are not prepared to accept then it doesn’t go forward. If you are prepared to accept it, it goes forward. I certainly had no objections at all in becoming an Officer of the British Empire.
DW When did you go to Brisbane?
JS I had to go to Government House.
DW And you both went along in all of your finery. That was wonderful. I think we have gone through lots of early memoirs and picked up a lot of history, is there anything else you might like to add.
JS Frankly you must have asked me so many questions I have run out of ideas.
DW What about you Mrs Spender? I can see all these, we’ve got the Royal Life Saving Society, and the Commonwealth Council has awarded the Bar to Service Cross. What was that one Jack?
JS And the World Life Saving.
DW What is that one, were talking about the World Life Saving now?
JS There is an international organisation called the World Life Saving Association and because of my long service to all aspects of Life Saving I was given an award by Alan Welpkin who is the President of the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia. I meant to show you this, the original.
DW Jack is passing to me a report on examination, dated 5th December 1937 for Metropolitan Caloundra and on that list…
JS These are the Bronze Medallion, there are only two still living there, that’s myself and chappie called Chicka McNamara.
DW The other people mentioned are James Henderson, Henry William Cobb and Eric Arnold Sprott. The funeral for Sprott is this week. Honorary Examiners there signatures were J.M. Corkery and Ben Bennett Probationary, per J..M.
JS It was Jack Martin, he copied that from the original, you see because he has got this copper plate writer. When he got the examination results he agreed to write in his own handwriting so that they were reasonably legible, he put the names down and then put J.M underneath.
DW I see, that’s all very well, I think that is about all we were going to talk about. We have talked about social events, fund raisers and all of the different things over the years.
DW Mrs Spender you came to the area before you married Jack?
BS We used to stay at Christmas for the weekend.
Jack Spender interview Page 22 of 25
DW Before you two were married?
BS Yes, she would meet the bus and she would come out and say, “Single or double?” Still single!
DW We are talking about Miriam Westaway at the moment?
JS Aunty Miriam was like a foster mother to all of the members of the Metropolitan Life Saving Club.
BS And to me!
JS She helped them whenever she could and really we called her Aunty Miriam because she was so good to us for so long. When the club recognised my service with a sort of, ‘This is your life set up’, they got me along to the club house on the pretext of making a presentation to Aunty Miriam. Who at this time was in a wheel chair to recognise what she had done for the club. You see, that was true, I did make a presentation to Aunty Miriam, but that wasn’t the real reason for them getting me along, they got me along because they had assembled all our children, people from the Branch who I didn’t know were going to be there and that was when they gave me that replica of the Bronze examination results.
DW Could you tell me who this person is?
JS Cock Sullivan he was called, because he was a real London Cockney. During the First World War, he worked on Q ships. Q ships were decoy’s to attract German submarines. They were constructed in such a way that they had a concrete wall running along the side and designed as war ships, with stokers and engineers on either side of the concrete wall. The idea being that if a German submarine torpedoed them, the submarine would always surface, rather than risk a second torpedo, they would surface, and if they weren’t sinking, they would sink them with gun fire. When the submarine surfaced, the ship would run up the white ensign, they would lower the disguise on the cannon they had on board, and try and sink the submarine. Cock Sullivan had the ribbon on this shirt amongst others and on one occasion when Sir Leslie Wilson was having dinner with us down at the Club House, as he did every other New Years Eve. We would invite Sir Leslie Wilson the Governor to have dinner with us at the Club House and he looked at the ribbons on Cock Sullivan’s chest. Sir Leslie had been a Colonel in the Marines during the war, and he said “Sullivan, I see you were on Q ships”, and I didn’t know what Q ships were then, but when I made enquiries this is what it was. They were decoy ships, purposely constructed to attract submarines to launch a torpedo at them and then surface so they could force a white ensign and open fire on the submarine.
DW So that’s him there, and he still looks like he has got his sailor shirt on. Was he able to look after the life savers well?
JS It really is a chef’s hat, but it looks a bit like a sailors!
DW I’m meaning the shirt, the shirt looks like a sailor’s shirt.
JS It is, that’s right, it is a sailor’s shirt.
DW We are talking of the photo that Jack Spender donated to the Library. What a brave man Cock Sullivan was. Was he one of the early Caloundra life savers?
JS Well, he really was a cook; he was not actually a life saver. He cooked for us.
DW Did he come up from Brisbane every weekend?
JS He came up every weekend with us.
DW And he wore his medals?
JS He wore his medals on New Years Eve when we were entertaining Sir Leslie Wilson.
DW I see.
End of Interview
[Members of Metropolitan Caloundra Surf Life Saving Club standing in front of the club's Norman Wright built timber planked surf boat, ca 1939]
Subject: Pictured are members of the surf life saving club. Back row, L - R: Billy McNamara, Joe Betts, Mark Harris, Vic Lillistone, pictured in naval uniform which he always wore. With chef's hat is Peter Ramm - Sullivan, known as Coc because of his Cockney accent - he was the cook for Mets, Ken Ferris, Chicka McNamara, Bob Kilpatrick and Nev Eaves. Middle row L- R: Eric Watson, John Meradith, Jim Dempsey, Ted McGuinness, Maurie Schafer, Fred Liddle, George Jones and Ben Masters. Front row L - R: John O'Conner, Jack Spender who was club captain, Jack Clark, secretary and Jack Corkery. This image was taken just before World War II. During the war the boat was seconded for use by the Royal Australian Navy. The surf boat was used in New Guinea and was officially returned to Jack Spender who was still the club captain at the end of World War II.