Backward Glance: Sea Saviours of the Sunshine Coast
  • Wednesday 06 April 2016
As we see thousands head to the Sunshine Coast to compete in the 2016 Australian Surf Life Saving Championships (The Aussies) we take a step back in time to look at the early years of this iconic sport.

Surf lifesaving members come from all over the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane and many other places and we regularly produce world, national and state champions.

The area’s formative years also produced outstanding members of local clubs with membership increasing from Brisbane as conditions on the Bruce Highway improved.

There were women members from the start with ladies competing from the early 1920s.

In 1909, British-born Frank Venning became secretary/treasurer of the Royal Life Saving Society while based in Brisbane.

Joe Betts, another British immigrant, signed up too as a royal lifesaver. He was a physical education instructor, soccer and cricket player who had gone to Brisbane to manage the city gymnasium.

Betts and Venning created a partnership that shaped the future of lifesaving in Queensland where they demonstrated lifesaving techniques on many Queensland beaches.

Maroochy Shire Council and the Nambour Chamber of Commerce invited them to take their team north in 1915.

These lifesavers began the formation of the North Coast branch of the Royal Life Saving Society soon after.

Unfortunately it took a major tragedy at Kings Beach for lifesaving to be introduced after two local school teachers drowned during the Christmas break in December 1911.

A heroic guest at a nearby boarding house threw off his pyjamas and swam out to the bodies with snapper fishing line tied around his waist.

Because of the tragedy, Caboolture Divisional Board placed two life buoys and life lines on the beach on March 2, 1912. People at the beach were then expected to rescue anyone in distress by their own means, using the equipment supplied.

Alexandra Headland Surf Life Saving Club’s origins can be traced back to a number of young men from Woombye who had joined the Mooloolaba Life Saving Club in 1923 a year after its foundation.

Local Woombye people, realising the importance of protecting people swimming at the seaside, and asked the young fellows whether they would be prepared to leave Mooloolaba club and form a separate club at Alexandra Headland.

The club colours of black and gold were the colours of Woombye Rugby League Club and symbolised the black of the black snake and the gold of the wattle which grew prolifically in the region.

Arthur Parkyn joined Mooloolaba Sports and Life Saving Club early in January 1926.
His parents owned farming and timber land around Sippy Downs.

Arthur was a renowned swimmer gaining first place in the junior swim at Mooloolaba Sports on Boxing Day in 1925.

On 3 October, 1926, Arthur was part of the Mooloolaba team which gave a demonstration display at the official opening of the Maroochydore season.

By January1928, he had won the Wallace Bishop cup as champion club lifesaver and in July was voted club instructor. In July1930, he was voted in as club captain aged only 19.

Sunshine Coast has had its share of renowned boat builders - Claude Boyd being one of those.

In terms of the surf lifesaving movement, the “boaties” are considered as an Australian icon.

Rescue boats have changed radically in over a century of lifesaving history.

The first vessels were the old whalers that plied out of Sydney. Nothing like today’s IRBs.

Then the heavy wooden Huon pine boats came along on which future designs was based. It took quite a few lifesavers to move those wooden boats as they were very heavy vessels.

Today’s boats, made of fibreglass, can be manoeuvred and are faster with slip side seats which has triggered the ritual of crews pulling their swimmers up into their buttocks to give them better friction on the seats.

Boaties today train hard for around nine months of the year.

The Nambour Chronicle included a State Life Saving Review feature on February 7, 1941 reporting: “Now that the State Championships are over, one can sit down and quietly reflect on events and generally review the work of the clubs on the North Coast.

“Only by comparing the work of the various surf clubs in Australia, and taking their best ideas, has the surf movement been brought up to so high a standard.

“Although the champion club in this state is still Burleigh – Mowbray Park, everyone will agree they are rather lucky to be so.

“In the R & R at Mooloolaba last Sunday week the home team had the competition in the bag after they won the swims so well, but their line and resuscitation work was the poorest seen from them since they started to build up their competition team over three years ago.

“The surf was rough and it was not known until Sunday just where the carnival would be held – up or down the coast. So for the first time in surf history in this State we have three teams on top instead of one - Burleigh, Surfers and Mooloolaba.”

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

Image captions:
Hero image: Queensland Amateur Swimming Association northern tour, April 1925. Standing W Burnup, Cooper, V McGregor-Lowndes (Manager) and R Grier. Seated J Suosaari (Maroochydore), Sid Springfield, Frank Venning, E Colquhoun and Tom Boast.

Carousel images:
Image 1: First Mooloolaba Life Saving Team, ca 1922.
Image 2: Champion Queensland R & R Ladies Team from Mooloolaba Surf Club with their instructor Arthur Parkyn (far let) ca 1930.
Image 3: Ladies Life Saving Team, winners of the Neptune Cup, Mooloolaba Beach 1 April 1929. The Neptune's were a Brisbane based club operating at the Ithaca baths.
Image 4: Anzac Day parade at Kings Beach Caloundra, 1939.