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Here's a collection of stories received from people who have spent time on Australia’s beaches and visited the Between the Flags exhibition.

Mixed memories

Congratulations on a fine exhibition – it brought back a host of memories for me – mostly happy, but some sad. On the sad side are the references to the delay in introducing the quick release belt, because my very good friend Jim Peryman was one of the two whose drowning in the course of a rescue (in 1952) resulted in the Ross belt coming into use. The more so because on that day he, our club captain, was standing in for me as Patrol Captain so I am probably very lucky to still be here.

On the brighter side are memories such as:

The overnight trip by special train from Sydney to Murwillumbah prior to the Australian Championships at Surfers Paradise in 1947. Many of the passengers – as you’d expect – were out for a good time and were not in the best of shape when we arrived at about 7am to a rousing welcome by the local brass band! Because of rough seas and the inevitable rip, the events were postponed for several days and finally held in Coolangatta to the great disappointment of a few of the local members who had laid in a large stock (unrefrigerated) of hot dogs and buns hoping to make a fortune.

The ‘Roman Holiday’ carnival at Maroubra (1952, I think) with very big seas and a strong southerly sweep. It was finally abandoned but not before the Open Surf Race (six finishers), two disastrous heats of the Boat Race and a star turn by Spaz Hurst (see exhibition catalogue) in the Board Race. All the other starters went south where the waves were smaller but he went straight out on that black and white striped board, around the buoys and straight onto a huge wave. He stood up, gave the hands clasped salute and jumped off as the wave broke to be picked up by the patrol boat.

Of course there are others ...

– Geoff

Queen’s Carnival at Bondi

One Sunday while on patrol we had a series of belt rescues as some 30 swimmers were swept into a rip at the same time. Many of them grabbed the belt line in panic as I was swimming out to the most in difficulty. This pulled me under and I was forced to ‘pull the pin’ on the Ross Safety Belt. Thank goodness for this innovation.

I distributed programs at the 1954 Queen’s Carnival at Bondi. The sea was still in the morning but magically at lunchtime huge swells made for a spectacular event for the Queen and she stayed much longer than scheduled as a result.

I was a member of two junior R&R teams from Bondi that won Australian Championships at Scarborough Beach, Western Australia in 1958 and at Mooloolaba Queensland in 1959. I was also a lineman in the Senior Belt Team of Brian Hutchings when he won two Australian Belt Championships in the early 1960s.

My brother Terry and his two sons, Scott and Christian, were also in Australian Championships winning R&R teams, so the surf lifesaving movement is in our blood!

– Jim, Canberra, ACT

Dances and drama

My father, Maitland Kennedy (1912–1979) was an early member of North Steyne Surf Club, New South Wales.

We spent many family holidays at Whale Beach, NSW and I got to know many members of that SLSC in the 60s – and attended the regular dances!

When I was younger they administered first aid for bluebottle stings! However my most dramatic rescue was by a neighbour who stripped to her underwear to save me when I was caught in a channel (outside the flags – or perhaps late in the day after the patrols were finished).

Thank you for a wonderful exhibition.

– Sally

Carnival fun

Thanks to surf lifesaving I now am a strong swimmer. I compete in many carnivals with my brother Alex. It’s great to be on the beach with my friends.

Surf club rocks!

− Hannah, Culburra Surf Club, Nowra, New South Wales

Learning to surf

I went surfing. It was so much fun. It looked so easy standing on the board. But when I tried I fell off and got red eyes. Also the board hit my arm and I had a major bruise.

Then the wave came and I got up and my friend Joel pushed me in the wave and I stood up! I soared over the wave, it was sooo much fun! I am now a true surfer.

Surf spirit

I’m also a proud member of Nobby’s SLSC, Newcastle (founded 1923). My surf lifesaving training started in the north of Scotland in 1959 and I was in the patrol of school mates who were awarded the Aussie Bronze in 1960; the first in the UK.

The examiner was Mr Wilson from Manly. We did volunteer patrols on Hopetoun Beach and in Bude in Cornwall. I came out here in 1970 and have been on patrol for Nobby’s since 1981.

The exhibition is a great tribute to the wonderful tradition of service and community spirit.

− John, Newcastle, New South Wales

Respect the rip

Whilst backpacking in Sydney 10 years ago (before we eventually settled and became Australian citizens) we were on Bondi Beach one New Year’s Eve – a beautiful sunny day. We were standing in waist-high water enjoying the waves when a huge wave pulled us out and into a rip. Both my husband and I were swept out and with huge waves pounding down on our heads, we were getting extremely tired. Feeling desperate and running out of energy as I was unable to swim out of the rip – when suddenly I was scooped out of the water, as was my husband, and into a SLSC dinghy. Forever grateful and now much more careful and respectful of the power of the ocean.

Sharks on patrol

In January 2007 my family and I went to Moffat Beach, Sunshine Coast. This beach was unpatrolled. We go to the beach quite regularly while we are up there. We were swimming happily in the surf when one of the boogie boarders, only aged 7–12, said that we should get out of the water because they saw two reef sharks.

We will hopefully never be at an unpatrolled beach ever again.

− Kate

Bronze Aussies

As a lifesaver in my 48th patrol season, I’ve been privileged to have participated in the many changes our association has gone through.

From the advent of mouth to mouth resus to inshore rescue boats (IRBs or ‘rubber duckies’) to helicopter rescue to jet rescue boats and now to jet skis, all these events have seen our rescue techniques improve and make our beaches safer.

The acceptance of women as Bronze Medallion holders in 1980 was a significant step forward and final recognition for the outstanding contributions many had already made ‘behind the scenes’.

However, one of the most rewarding aspects now is to see the number of ‘nipper’ parents becoming bronze holders and it is a distinct pleasure to work with them on patrol, on the beach. It augurs well for the next 100 years of ‘vigilance and service’.

− John, Alexandra Headland, Queensland

Nipper days

I cherish my days as a nipper at Nambucca Heads, NSW in the 1960s. The surf club mentor by the name of Cyril Bannister was a tower of strength to all us young kids growing up in a country town. The Sunday carnivals in which we competed at both home and up and down the coast are experiences I will never forget. Similarly my first rescue as a lifesaver in the late 60s was something else!

− Greg (ex Nambucca nipper), Canberra, ACT

Spot the cap

Being a former lifesaver and a member of Nobby’s SLSC I was moved at the exhibition of the year of the lifesaver, finding our ‘caps’ on the panel as I first entered (blue and white). I was surprised to come across at the rear panel opposite the double ender surfboat a photo of the Nobby’s girls crew.

Fondly the boat was named after a friend of my elder brother and myself, ‘Tossy’ Kevin Mongon. Tos was a good bloke and lived and worked locally in Newcastle. He was a good clubman.

A fine effort.

− Steve, Newcastle, New South Wales

Lost in the waves

One day, on a Gold Coast beach, I was on my boogie board and got caught in a rip that swept me 500m away from my family across the beach. I was only 6 at the time so I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t able to see the flags and there were so many people around, I couldn’t identify my parents.

Somehow I got back onto shore and a lifeguard found me and returned me to my panic-stricken parents. I had been lost for one hour.

− Daniel, Canberra, ACT

Better late than never

I began surfing at a late age (about 35) and I wish I had started earlier. I can’t begin to describe how it makes me feel. I have had many experiences both good and bad in the water, mostly good. It has seeped into my identity changing me in subtle ways and my lifestyle has changed forever. I never would have thought 10 years ago that sand, water, wind, waves and a slab of foam and fibreglass would become the central point of my life. I guess it ties me into an Australian identity and makes me proud of the wonderful freedoms we have here.

Sea snake

At the beach I saw a striped sea snake. The lifesavers got everybody out of the water and made sure that everybody was okay, including the sea snake.

− Lachlan Surfing

My uncle Warren is a surf lifesaver. I love surfing and I’m getting much better at it. I get dumped a lot and then I get back up.

− Georgia, age 7

A sixth sense

When on holiday with my family we were swimming in the ocean. I was wearing flippers and knew sharks usually attack because they are under the impression that you are a seal. I couldn’t get sharks off my mind, so I went onto the shore and removed my flippers. As I was doing this I watched my family escaping frantically from the ocean. They had spotted a shark. If it wasn’t for my sixth sense I probably wouldn’t be alive today.

− Megan, Perth, WA

My 13-year-old hero

I went swimming with my boyfriend at Tamarama beach (eastern suburbs in NSW) near Clovelly back a couple of years ago, where most of the locals would go surfing. Thinking that I was a pretty good swimmer I actually had a cramp and was caught in a rip. Trying to scream for help and signalling to my boyfriend, a 13-year-old boy on his boogie board lent me his board to get to shore. Back on the beach his school friends kept teasing him, while I returned his board I gratefully told him he was my 13-year-old hero!

− Annie

On the exhibition

As a teacher librarian of 40 years I am often asked for books on Australian sports. Unfortunately there has never been much about surf lifesaving.

The display is great and I am very pleased to be able to buy the catalogue for such a reasonable price for my school library. I will probably buy two!

I have travelled from Nowra to see this display and buy the book as many of our students are involved in nippers and surf lifesaving.

I think this display should be a permanent display as it is very much a part of our history.


− Cecily, Nowra, New South Wales

A family inheritance

About 1940, my grandfather Les (North Narrabeen, Manly) swam to the assistance of a swimmer being attacked by a shark – and the shark was still in the area. For his bravery Pop received the bronze medal for bravery, with the story being reported in the local paper. He taught me about the ocean and introduced me to surf lifesaving as a nipper with North Narrabeen and Swansea Belmont. The skills and love of the ocean stay with me today ...

− Paul

What a truly marvellous Australian thing!

Time: 1958–61
Attended an International Carnival at Perranporth (Cornwall, UK)
Six patients at buoys. Beltmen could not reach them. Big sea had come up!
An Australian voice on the loudspeaker: ‘Are there any Australian surf life savers in crowd?’
Would you believe six turned up!
Judge Adrian Curlewis, head of Surf Lifesaving Australia at that time said: ‘Right guys grab a line and bring them in!’
Which was done with all six on one line!
A long while ago!
What a truly marvellous Australian thing!
A marvellous Australian guy (late) Judge Adrian Curlewis.

− Rex, Sydney-Jindabyne, New South Wales

Cool as a cucumber

I have been involved in the surf lifesaving movement for 20 years. I have coached and officialled as well as being involved in administration at club and branch level.

I have two children, now adults who actively competed and patrolled until last year.

My best recollection was my daughter’s first ‘official’ surf patrol. She strolled out of the water, picked up a rescue tube and headed back to the surf. Her patrol captain asked her what she was doing. Her reply: ‘Oh Lily’s out there with a swimmer in trouble, I’m just going to take the tube out so we can bring them in!’ Cool as a cucumber, no panic, all the training just kicked in.

The movement has helped to develop many great young Australians and I will always be grateful that my family has been a part of that.

Storm lifesaving

During the winter of early 1940s my older brother and myself, aged about 10, visited Maroubra beach in mid-winter. There were rows of barbed wire protecting Sydney from Japanese invasion. Small openings in each row were left open and visitors like us zig-zagged their way to the water.

Soon a storm arrived and us little boys could not find our way back from the shoreline. A voice from a PA system guided us back through the barbed wire. It sounded like the voice of God. It was in fact a lifesaver who had seen our predicament from the clubhouse.

He never saved us from the ocean but he did rescue us from the storm and I am grateful.

− Les, Denistone East, NSW

Being dumped

I got dumped – it wasn’t nice.
I swim laps in the pool now.

Trying to keep you safe

The surf is my life and my life is the surf. I have spent years doing surf lifesaving at North Wollongong and I enjoy learning about the surf. I am on patrol once a month and just have to say one thing: stay in the flags. We are just trying to keep you safe.

− Tash, Wollongong, NSW

Bluebottle attack

I was attacked by a bluebottle on Bondi beach way back in the early 1960s. The lifesavers took a child screaming in pain, used their own hands to keep the cruel ‘rope’ from cutting deeper into my skin and then freed my legs. Their kindness to a hysterical child included ice cream as well as soothing words and help for my distressed young mum.

− Debra, Rye Park, NSW

A better doctor

I attained my surf bronze in 1973 before I started my medical training. The principles and background that I learned through lifesaving have helped me be a better doctor and I have stayed in touch with first aid etc since then because of surf lifesaving.

− Dr Rob, Fairhaven SLSC, VIC

A huge wonderful lifesaver rescued me!

As a teenager of 16, in 1956, I was swimming in the surf at Maroubra – when I was caught in a rip and swept out. My teenage friends were laughing on the shore thinking I was pretending! A huge wonderful lifesaver rescued me! Thank goodness they were there or I may not have been here today!

− Mollie, Canberra, ACT

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