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?