Bribie lifesavers celebrate a century of sun, sand and saving lives

Published 9:00am 30 August 2023

Bribie lifesavers celebrate a century of sun, sand and saving lives
Words by Ashleigh Howarth

Members of the Bribie Island Surf Life Saving Club are this year celebrating a big milestone – a century of keeping beach goers and swimmers safe between the red and yellow flags.

To mark the club’s centenary, the club is having a series of events in September where past, life and current members can get together for a chin wag and talk about the good old days of competing and patrolling the beach.

Celebrations include a formal luncheon, club barbecue, an afternoon tea party and a charity golf day.

Monica MacArthur, who is the Chairperson of the club’s 100th Anniversary Committee, says the celebrations are a good opportunity for everyone to look back over the club’s rich history and all it has accomplished.

“Being part of a Surf Live Saving Club is like being part of a large family. We are a tight-knit group of people, many of whom have known each other since they were kids and in Nippers,” Monica says.

“We see a lot of generations from the same family be part of the club – the parents were involved and now their kids are, which is great to see.

“The celebrations we have planned will be a good opportunity for people who might not have seen each other in a while to catch up and reminisce.

“It’s also a great time to see just how far the club has come.”

The island’s first Life Saving Club was founded in 1923, when the secretary of the Brisbane Tug and Steamship Co reached out to the secretary of the Royal Life Saving Society to discuss the possibility of forming a club to patrol Ocean Beach during the Christmas holidays.

Two brothers named Harold and Bert Blake were the first people to patrol the beach that year as they both held their Royal Life Saving certificates.

The club was known as the Metropolitan Life Saving Club for 10 years until it changed to the Bribie Island Surf Life Saving Club in 1933.

The club’s first carnival was held in 1934, and the Nipper Club was established 32 years later in 1966.

Until 1980, only males were allowed to join the club, but when that rule was overturned, Bribie Island Surf Club welcomed its first female squad.

Two people who have seen the club change and grow are Bryan Box and Michael Hoogwaerts, who both joined in the 1970s and are today life members.

Bryan says his family used to travel from the Scenic Rim to Bribie almost every weekend before moving permanently.

“My family had a holiday home on the other side of the island before I was born, and they would commute there almost every weekend from the other side of Boonah,” Bryan says.

“They then decided to move here and build a house in late 1973.”

Bryan joined the Nippers as a child and says going away to compete against other clubs is one of his fondest memories.

Michael joined the club when he was 12 years old. He lived at Redcliffe at the time and came to Bribie Island to complete his qualifying certificate.

“It was a camp and there were about 30 other boys there at the same time,” Michael says.

“You might have known one or two people to begin with, but by the end of it you were good friends with everyone.

“After getting my qualifying certificate I would do patrols. I can remember sitting up in the tower looking out at the water looking for sharks and people drowning.”

For many club members, saving people’s lives runs deep in their veins.

Corey Cumner was born into the club, with his parents heavily involved when they were younger. His father was Club Captain for three years in the 1980s.

This year, Corey will step into those same shoes as he becomes Club Captain.

“Dad talked about being Club Captain around me all the time and I thought that’s something I want to do as well,” Corey says.

Corey’s primary role will be to assume responsibility for the management of patrol members and ensuring that all rosters meet patrol requirements during the season.

With the weather warming up, members from the Bribie Island Surf Life Saving Club are looking forward to seeing the community back on the beach and welcome you into the club.

To see more photos of the club throughout the years, click through the gallery below. 

Snapshot of club’s history

1923 – The Brisbane Tug and Steamship Co, through the company’s secretary Mr N Farmer, contacted Mr Francis Venning (secretary of the Royal Life Saving Society) to discuss the possibility of forming a Life Saving Club to patrol Ocean Beach at Bribie Island during the Christmas holidays.

Mr Venning discovered the company employed two brothers, Harold and Bert Blake, who held Royal Life Saving certificates and were prepared to patrol the beach. The society delivered a reel line for the Blake brothers to perform their first patrol during the Christmas holidays.

1924 – Members of the Mowbray Park Life Saving Club, which practiced at Mowbray Park Baths (in Brisbane), approached Mr Venning to form a new club at a more central location. Following a meeting, the Metropolitan Life Saving Club was formed to be affiliated with the Royal Life Saving Society, with its headquarters at Ithaca Baths in Paddington.

Around this time, the Brisbane Tug and Steamship Co invited Mr Venning to discuss the protection of surfers at Ocean Beach. After explaining Maroochydore, Alexandra Headland and Mooloolaba had established successful clubs, Mr Venning proposed the company provide transport for patrol members from Brisbane to Bribie and back, as well as purchase a reel line and belt. Both proposals were agreed.

Mr Venning also stated it would be necessary to provide shelter, meals and dressing areas for club members, with the money needed to build the clubhouse being made through collections on the boat in transit.

The club agreed to continue patrolling Ocean Beach at Bribie, keeping the name Metropolitan Life Saving Club.

1933 – The Metropolitan Life Saving Club patrolled Ocean Beach until 1933 when they moved to Kings Beach, Caloundra. That same year the Bribie Island Surf Life Saving Club was formed to patrol the Bribie Island Main Beach on weekends and holidays.

Two Metropolitan members, Len Taylor and Frank Pickett remained at Bribie. Both held Bronze Medallions.

The Bronze Medallion, introduced in 1910, was first trained at Bribie in 1933. It is the core award to become a Surf Life Saver. It encompasses surf swimming, board paddling, first aid and resuscitation, as well as rescue equipment skills.

1934 – The first club carnival for Bribie Island Surf Life Saving Club was held in May 1934. Competing clubs included Mowbray Park, Burleigh Heads, Metropolitan Caloundra and Bribie Island.

To compete, additional equipment had to be acquired, including march past outfits, a competition reel, banner and buoys for swimming heats.

1966 – A group of Old Boys, headed by Elton Williamson and Bill Zillman, decided to form a Nipper Club at Bribie Island. Today, the Nipper Club has 200 active members ranging in age from Under 6 to Under 14.

1967 – Members who had been at the club for some time decided to form an Old Boys Club, with the idea being that assistance could be given to the club without the time needed for active membership.

Since then, the assistance of the Old Boys has been invaluable by providing hands-on help, carnival support, fundraising undertakings and financial support to junior activities of the club, including bursaries for junior members.

1980 – Women were admitted as qualified life savers in 1980. The club’s first squad of female life savers Karen Giles, Clare Hampson, Kathy Craddock and Kim Dunstan passed their exam on December 13, 1980.

Today the club has a strong female membership, with women holding many senior leadership positions within the club including Patrol Captain, Club Captain, Chief Training Officers and Supporters Club President.

1981 – A new steel, fibre glass, fully enclosed tower was built to replace the old timber shark tower. The new tower, which still stands today, was used in the summer of 1981-1982 and was fully equipped and outfitted in October 1982.

Bribie lifesavers celebrate a century of sun, sand and saving lives

Support the club

Bribie Island Surf Life Saving Club relies heavily on the support of the local community and tourists to help ensure their survival now and into the future.

Monica MacArthur says profits made through the sale of meals and drinks at the club’s bistro goes towards purchasing new equipment as well as other ongoing costs.

“The Supporters Club began with a brilliant idea to support costs associated with club training, equipment, repairs and patrolling activities, all of which currently cost hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly,” Monica says.

“There’s no second chance when it comes to saving lives, so ongoing maintenance of eventual replacement is needed to make sure our equipment and vehicles are in top condition and ready for any emergencies.”

During the early years, the Supporters Club consisted of a fridge in the shed with a lock and chain.

Through various fundraising efforts, the club raised enough money to erect a building south of the Surf Life Saving Club to accommodate a bar and function room with ocean views.

On the menu you will find fresh seafood, salad, steaks, burgers and more.

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