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The Smashing of an Australian Icon

A few months back I finally got around to nailing my Bronze Medallion, the lifesaving qualification that sets you up to join a bumbling Dad's Army regiment or, as they are formally known, a Surf Lifesaving Club.

Theoretically, once the medallion swings from your neck you're capable of acting as God on a beach, the giver of life, as a sentry to the gates of death.

With your paunch contained beneath the familiar red-and-yellow DHL-emblazoned polo, ground tackle in bikini lycra and with your skull inflating a harlequin Jewish yarmulke but with straps, you stand as an international vision of a perfect Australia, a Max Dupain black-and-white, the fearless icon staring out to sea – a volunteer no less, ready to give his life in service of mankind.

And, not just that, but a sizzling example of human perfection. The men, all vee backs and external obliques and the women, sturdy, perfect skinned Amazonians with hams modelled straight off the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Swoon!

I'd always a been a dud swimmer and back in the seventies when my parents made brave attempts to make me pool-safe, I couldn't even pass the basic Junior certificate. It haunted me. I wanted the pretty blue Junior, the yellow Intermediate or, as my more capable older brother stomped, the red Senior.

But, the frog kick that forms the integral part of breaststroke had me stumped and for a reason I now believe might've been linked to my diet of cola and Coco Pops, I could never find the energy to complete a full 50-metre lap. At a school carnival I had to be fished out mid-way through a race.

So, when a pal of mine's wife inexplicably bid on a bronze course at their local school and then gave it to her husband, I'd figured, yeah, why not, I'll do it. too. I'd been surfing for the 25 or so years in between my early failures, so I knew it'd be a breeze.

I just didn't know how breezy.

Now, let me add here, that this was a leap across a cultural ravine for me. I grew up hating the officious-to-the-point-of-psychosis tyrants for setting up their flags on the best waves on the beach and for being such whistle jockeys if you wanted to dive into an elevator rip to take you out to the waves.

But, suddenly, I was happily co-existing with clubbies who were courteous, funny and helpful. Out of shape, mostly, and occasionally incompetent when it came to the practical side, yes, but whose company I began to adore.

For two days a week over eight weeks, me and 60 mostly non-beachgoing office hamsters practiced and refined our resuscitation techniques, learnt what we had to do if a poor fool had swum into a school of Irukandji (administer the last rites) as well as other venomous punks of the sea and practiced pulling drowning tourists (always Asian tourists!) out of the drink.

On testing day, one girl could hardly paddle a board let alone hoik an unconscious adult male onto the craft and make it back to the beach. At an earlier training session, a late-forties man appeared in the early stages of cardiac arrest during a mock tube rescue and begged me to subtlely help him get me to shore. Many were simply terrified of waves.

And so on. But, despite the threat that not everyone would pass, we did. And so off everyone trotted to their monthly patrols ready to save the world.

I couldn't do it.

Not when I saw the appearance of these hardly match-ready imps in their ballooning outfits or huddled in the tent from the cold or with lips wrapped around the nipple of a takeaway coffee while infants strolled into shorebreaks or watching their loose rescue boards careering through the no-surfing area, skittling a multitude of kids on their foamies and boogieboards.

And, not after they lost their third kid to the drink at the National Lifesaving Titles.

And, not when a professional lifeguard pal told me they were more hindrance than help. The lifeguard pointed out that with five lifeguards 30,000 or so summer tourists can hit the beach, mid-week, and not a soul will be lost.

How many kids were in the race at Surfers? Thirteen? One dead? Christo the mighty, and we gift these clowns our country's best beachfront land and pour millions into their holes?

Even worse is letting the brand be trashed by the chubby devils in ill-fitting polos and volleyball shorts.

Where is the pride?

17 comments so far

  • The smashing of an Australian Icon, isnt because of the brand, the organisation, nor the 'chubby devils' giving up their spare time to guard the beach every weekend of the year. Its the media outlets like this, once again posting storys with incorrect facts for all to see.

    You may not know, this great organisation that saves 10,000 lives (at least) every year, is a non for profit organisation who does its best with the money it gets. Professional lifeguards (who also are volunteer lifegurads on the weekends) make up a small portion of members.

    To say we have no pride is a terrible, untrue statement.

    Lets leave the beach unmanned with guards for one weekend in summer. You will be begging for us to return....

    Date and time
    April 18, 2012, 10:21AM
    • 10 000 lives at least? You must be joking. Source? Pulling a pommie out of a rip is not always saving a life, nor is yelling through a speaker to "get back in the flags", "we will impound your board".

      The SLSA is just a community subsidised piss up & always has been - gee those guys on the reel are so fit!!!

      The professional lifeguards are different breed, usually arrogant but at least they knew they were never going to be decent board riders & found another way to live off the public purse.

      If you are not a good swimmer & cannot save yourself - don't go in or stay in the pool kiddies.

      The odds of anyone getting to you & saving you when you are drowning are close to zip - reality TV has a lot to answer for.

      If you are out of your depth then, well, you are out of your depth.

      47 & surfed for 42 of them - I have personally saved 2 'lifesavers' who could not read a rip..

      Date and time
      April 18, 2012, 12:12PM
  • They may belong to the same organisation but it feels a stretch perhaps to link elite athletes at the Nationals with the office hamster rookies. The commentary is typically, hilariously biting nonetheless.

    gra murdoch
    Date and time
    April 18, 2012, 10:50AM
    • Last I looked you had to be able to pass swimming endurance tests etc to be elligible for the bronze, have they just gone and made it easier to get more bums on the beach?

      Date and time
      April 18, 2012, 11:57AM
      • Maybe you should sign up, Derek? Ascend the ranks, you, know, make an effort to improve things rather than solely criticize. Being that you're such good mates with the Bondi Rescue boys (who's your best mate, again, Dez? Maxy, Kerbox, Chopper?) and all. In every article you churn out, you never fail to impress in ensuring that the reader becomes acutely aware of your physical, mental, financial and social superiority over us lesser mortals. SLSA needs you, Dez- don't deprive the water safety of beach going Australians (and Asian visitors, of course) a moment longer!

        Date and time
        April 18, 2012, 12:51PM

          …Rodney Kerrbox is a perennial favourite. Corey Oliver is hard but fair and the brothers Graham are faultless in their administration of the beach.

          Derek Rielly
          Date and time
          April 18, 2012, 12:59PM
      • "bumbling dad's army" Classic!
        Without doubt Derek has lifted the lid on a culture now far removed from it's heroic origins.
        The recent sight of a "surf lifesaver" in full uniform standing on the balcony, gut overhanging speedo's, his jersey unable to cope with his enormous girth, smoking a cigarette before dropping it on the ground, left me feeling perplexed and repulsed.
        When did it all go wrong for these clubs? Are the trophies worth these young lives?

        Date and time
        April 18, 2012, 3:21PM
        • Disturbing commentary. Thanks for your candour.

          Date and time
          April 18, 2012, 5:06PM
          • My question is what club did you join? From my experience the intensity of training depends greatly between clubs. It is also noteworthy that you and your fellow newbies would not be the only ones on patrol, more experienced and in my experience more competent people are always there.
            Also nearly all lifeguards are initially surf life savers and that is how they receive there initial training. However there is a reason that some clubs provide a much larger number, of at least initially better lifeguards. It is how these people are trained and the culture of there club.

            Date and time
            April 18, 2012, 5:55PM
            • How insulting to surf life. WOW you got your bronze medallion so you suddenly become an expert on the culture of surf life saving. I have been a proud member of my surf life saving since I was 7, I was a professional life guard for 2, I saved countless lives (without my assistance they would be dead!). How dare you insult the average clubbie. There are the social clubbies who you would not trust to rescue someone by themselves but then you have the majority who train and compete in surf club. These people have more than their bronze, they have their Advanced Resus, Advanced First Aid, Beach Management, Gold, Defib, Advanced Spinal... The list goes on. These people will be the ones managing the rescues or conducting them.

              Date and time
              April 18, 2012, 8:14PM

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