North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

No TitleNorth Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

There is no Australian beach as well-known as Bondi in the Sydney suburb of the same name just east of the city. People from all over the world associate the words ‘Bondi Beach’ with golden sands and sparkling blue waves. As a backdrop to the rituals of beach life, the North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club sits at the top of the beach ready to warn surfers and swimmers of impending dangers and to help when things go wrong.

In the early 1900s, Bondi Beach was a mecca for sun-loving Sydneysiders. At the northern end, a group of young men gathered regularly to engage in ‘manly’ athletic pursuits such as boxing and wrestling. This group became the Bondi Surf and Social Club, which lives on today as the North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club.

South Bondi (1901)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

The Bondi Baths were built at the southern end of Bondi Beach in 1887. By 1890, the beach was a popular seaside destination, and there was a huge and rather handsome building known as the Bondi Aquarium that attracted visitors, who promenaded along the beach and went swimming in the baths.

The First Life Saving Class in Australia (1894-11)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

Surf lifesaving has a long history at Bondi. The first public display of lifesaving skills in Australia took place at the Bondi Baths in 1894. The instructor was Major John Bond, who later had a role in the development of the lifesaving reel, which was first demonstrated at Bondi in 1906.

North Bondi Headland1920's (1920 circa)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

Until 1902, sea bathing at Bondi Beach was banned during the day—although the ban was regularly defied. Following the apprehension of two men by the police for bathing outside the permitted hours, the Inspector General of Police lifted the ban on the condition that ‘public decency is not outraged.’

Early picture of members when the club was a tent (1907)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

More swimmers at Bondi Beach meant more people getting in trouble in the water. The Bondi Surf and Social Club was founded in 1906 to protect beachgoers. Among the founding members was boxer Wally Weekes. The first clubhouse—a tent—stood on Weekes’ property on the beach.

1920 Club Members (1920-04-14)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

In 1911, Bondi Surf and Social Club became the North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club. The club prospered and grew. Then came the war. Many of the men in this photograph, taken on 19 April 1914, enlisted and went off to Europe. Many were wounded or killed.

While the war in Europe raged, masses of people continued to flock to Bondi Beach. In February 1918, in recognition of ‘the great value of the life saving work carried out on Bondi Beach by the Club’s members,’ the local council approved a request for a lease of land on which to build a badly needed clubhouse. Along with lifesaving work, the club played can important social role, putting on carnivals, competitions and balls. (Note: This panorama shows the newest clubhouse, completed in 2013.)

The Opening of the New Surf Club House (1920-04-03)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

The Club House was officially opened on 3 April 1920. This was a major event in the life of Bondi Beach and attracted many local dignitaries. The new headquarters established North Bondi as a club with some of the best lifesaving facilities in the world.

R & R Training (1930)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

Training its members in lifesaving skills was and is a crucial piece of North Bondi SLSC’s program. Techniques evolved rapidly in the early years, and North Bondi was responsible for many innovations. The Club also established an outstanding reputation for preventing drownings.

Early North Bondi Surf Club Members on Patrol (1922)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

By 1922 the membership of the club had risen to 138, and the 1921‒22 Annual Report reported that the beach patrols ‘were maintained throughout the season, and with few exceptions were satisfactory. Numerous rescues were effected, and . . . no lives were lost during the season.’

Surf Carnival at Bondi Beach (1930/1939)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

It did not take long for the newly established Surf Clubs to develop inter-club Surf Carnivals. Surf Clubs were social clubs and the idea of such clubs being places of competition, fitness, athleticism and good times was deeply ingrained. What started out as picnics grew into major social events.

Winners Wally Weekes Trophy-21 (1921)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

North Bondi entered its first inter-club competition—a resuscitation event and beach drill—in 1909. That same year, the Surf Bathing Association of New South Wales was formed to oversee club competitions, among other things. This picture shows the 1920‒21 season winners of the Wally Weekes Trophy.

The period after World War I and before the Great Depression was one of great optimism in Australia. Bondi reflected that optimism. By the late 1920s, trams were carrying more than 12 million people to Bondi each summer. The beach gained an international reputation and became a potent symbol of Australia’s healthy outdoor lifestyle. The years leading up to the outbreak of World War II were a period of great achievement for the Club, which buzzed with social activity and a soaring membership.

The North Bondi Surf Club (1936)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

In 1932, the clubhouse was destroyed by fire. The Club quickly raised the funds for a new building, which was completed by November 1933. The 1933‒34 Annual Report said of the new facility, ‘there is no club house on the coast that caters more for the comfort and convenience of members.’

Ivo Wyatt Junior Surf Champion of Australia (1937)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

Throughout the years, North Bondi SLSC has produced more great athletes than words here allow. One outstanding athlete from the interwar years was Australian Junior Surf Champion (1931-32) and Senior Surf Belt Champion (1936-37) Ivo Wyatt, seen in this photo from 1937.

SLSA March Past Champions 1937/38 (1938)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

March Past competition has been an element of surf club life for over 100 years. Teams changed from 20 members to 12 in the early 1950s, and female members have been included since the early 1980s. But the March Past remains an expression of team discipline and club spirt. This photo dates to 1938.

Surf Club Ball Debutantes (1937/1939)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

A ritual at the Club Balls in the 1930s was for the boys to dress up and present a ‘ballet,’ which provoked roars of laughter from the appreciative audience and cat-calls of admiration when it was revealed that a lifesaver with a bit of lipstick and a wig turned into a rather attractive ballerina.

North Bondi Double Ended Surf Boat & Crew (1940)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

World War II was a time of great stress for all surf clubs. Their most active members were away, and the clubs felt the loss. Older and younger members stepped up and manned the beach patrols. While people sent food parcels and newsletters to the boys overseas, the training and work continued.

Following World War II, there was a need to get life back to normality and to return to the easy and happy days which had existed before the war. The Club did this with gusto. The clubhouse got a facelift. There were parties and balls. There was a generation of hugely talented swimmers, rowers and board riders emerging. Not content to remain just another local club serving the local area, North Bondi SLSC was at the forefront of change and innovation.

Australian Surf Championships - Coolangatta, QLD, (1949)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

In 1949, a tragic drowning at a surf carnival spurred North Bondi member Keith Munyard to develop a quick release 'safety belt' which allowed a lifesaver to escape from the belt and the line when circumstances demanded. Munyard appears in this photo, 2nd row from top, far left with white hair.

Royal Carnival in Presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and Duke of Edinbugh February 6,1954 (1954)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

The highlight of 1954 was the Royal Tour Surf Carnival, attended by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, who came to Australia as part of a major tour of the British Empire. An article in the Club’s Annual Report called it ‘the most magnificent event ever undertaken in the surfing world.’

50th Year Annual Dinner (1957)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

In 1957, the club celebrated its 50th anniversary. Times were changing. Although membership was high, general interest in the Club was waning. The old image of the beach being a place of modesty was slowly disappearing as the bikini became popular and men started to wear brief swimming costumes.

Brian Davidson Patrols the Beach-s / 50s (1940/1959)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

In the early 1960s two major rescues took place. 10 December 1961 brought treacherous conditions on the water. A total of 121 rescues were made that day, with no less than 12 reels in action. Four years later, on 29 January 1965, about 40 people were dragged from a rip when a sandbank collapsed.

The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury Visits (1965-03-13)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

In January 1965 a special surf carnival was staged at North Bondi to mark the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. A.M. Ramsey. Dr Ramsay donned a lifesaver’s cap and rang the North Bondi shark bell before being admitted as an honorary member of the surf club.

As the 1960s came to an end it was clear that the Club had to meet the challenges of a very different world. Prince Charles paid the Club a visit. The Club embraced a new generation with the arrival of the Nippers. The clubhouse was expanded and formally opened by the Prime Minister, John Gorton, who became so enthusiastic he went for a swim and enjoyed manning a surf boat.

The Prince Meets Champion Ski Paddlers (1966-06-05)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

In 1966 Prince Charles, then attending Timbertop, part of Geelong Grammar School in Victoria, came to Bondi on invitation from the Club. He was treated to a march past, a rescue and resuscitation demonstration, beach relays, surfboard, surf ski and surf-boat demonstrations, and swimming races.

Prime Minister John Gorton Arrives at North Bondi 1968 (1968-11-09)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

In November 1968, Australian Prime Minister John Gorton came to Bondi to formally open new additions to the clubhouse. Gorton was a fit P.M. with a common touch. He led a team of lifesavers into the water in a relay swim and took a ride in a jet surf rescue boat.

Nippers Carnival?North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

The Nippers movement was a strategy to introduce youngsters into the culture of surf lifesaving with the idea that some of them would eventually become regular members of beach patrols. The North Bondi Nippers began in the 1965‒66 season with two 9-year-old boys. Just 2 years later, there were 113.

Presentation of The Albert Medal to Jack Chalmers (1922-02-04)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

On 4 February 1922, North Bondi member Jack Chalmers affected one of the most storied recues in the Club’s history when he managed to pull into shore a man who had been attacked by a shark. In July 1972, 50 years after the event, Chalmers flew to London to receive the George Cross for bravery.

IRB Helicopter TrainingNorth Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

By the early ‘70s, jet rescue boats were in regular use. The 1973‒74 season saw the arrival of the Sydney Branch Helicopter Rescue Service. That same season, the Club acquired its first inflatable inshore rescue boat (IRB), and Oxy Viva equipment used in resuscitation was introduced.

Female R&RNorth Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

In the 1970s, surf clubs began to talk seriously about opening membership to women. Women had proved their worth on the water during WWII, but surf culture was a profoundly male culture and slow to change on that score. In 1980, Jenny Anderson and Gaye Rosen became North Bondi’s first women members.

By the mid-1980s North Bondi was a thoroughly modern surf club, relying on high levels of professionalism from its volunteer management and instructional teams. It had a range of committed sponsors to keep its expertise, both competitively and in terms of the daily beach patrols, at the highest levels. In the 1990s, the challenge for the club was to modernize and adapt. Changes were made and a new, family-orientated organization emerged.

North Bondi Dance Team off to the New York Festival of Arts at Madison Square Gardens (1988)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

In 1988, 6 men and 4 women from North Bondi SLSC travelled to New York City and appeared—as dancers!—in a show at Madison Square Garden featuring the rescue of a child from a shark. Back home, they performed once again as part of an Australian Bicentennial extravaganza.

Start of Easts Rough Water Swim (1998-03)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

The late 1980s saw increasing involvement in Club activities by women. The ground-breaking work of Jenny Anderson and Gaye Rosen was to become the lifeblood of the Club. More and more women joined, and increasingly women began to take important roles in the life of the Club.

Life Savers at World Life Saving Championships Cornwall UK "Rescue 94" (1994)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

Symbolic of the Club’s new levels of success and commitment was the decision, in 1994, to send a team to the World Life Saving Championships which were being held that year in the UK. The team performed well and showed that North Bondi could compete anywhere in the world.

Tate Smith "Victory Salute" Australian Junior Surf Ski Champion (2001)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

Through growth and change, the Club continued to uphold a simple value: It doesn't matter whether you're an Ironman star, someone who goes on patrol or someone who supervises the Nippers—everyone who participates can hold their head high and know they are doing something for the good of society.

Throughout the 1990s, North Bondi SLSC continued to evolve—and to win important Australian championships. Some traditions were revived: after a lapse of some years, the Club established a new March Past team. Today, North Bondi is a dynamic organisation that continues to serve beachgoers and to instil in its members high standards of excellence and professionalism.

Australian & NSW U18 Beach Sprint Champion - Allison Lintmeijer (1997)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

The 1996‒97 season brought historic achievements in athletics. Allison Lintmeijer (pictured) in the Under 18 Open Women’s beach sprint and Jacob Mars in the Under 18 Men’s beach sprint secured North Bondi’s first ever Australian Title beach sprint medals.

March Past TeamNorth Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

In the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, North Bondi produced championship March Past teams. The late 1990s brought a resurgence of interest in this event, and the Club formed a new team to compete in local carnivals and Branch and State Championships.

Harris Saffron, Peter Smiles, Bernie rivemanNorth Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

Peter Smiles, who died in 2004, joined North Bondi SLSC in 1959. He went on to win 5 Open Australian Championship Gold Medals and many other State, Metropolitan and Branch medals. He is just one of the many outstanding members the Club has lost through the years and remembers with reverence.

Advertisement for the Forster Sydney Iron Man (1985)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

With a dramatic increase in membership at North Bondi and an ever-greater emphasis on professionalism, sponsorship has become a vital part of the Club’s financial well-being. Sponsors make producing and supporting championship teams and professional sporting events possible.

NippersNorth Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

Throughout the early 2000s, the number of Nippers grew to over 680 in the 2005‒2006 season, with almost equal numbers of girls and boys. More than in the past, the Club emphasises the Nippers’ future role as lifesavers and, in athletics, focuses more on team rather than individual events.

Australian Under 17 Board Rescue Champions (2015)North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

North Bondi has built up an enviable reputation for excellence in lifesaving over the past century. The Club seeks quality candidates for Bronze Medallion training and maintains the highest patrolling and educational standards. It has one of the largest active patrolling memberships in Australia.

Surf Life Saving Australia is a non-profit organization that promotes water safety and provides lifesaving services on beaches all around Australia. SLSA has over 170,000 members and over 300 affiliated clubs, the North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club among them. Along with beach safety and lifesaving services, the organization also conducts research on important water safety topics and provides support and expertise to similar lifesaving organisations around the world.

SLSA promotes beach safety with a system of flags and signs on local beaches. Flags show supervised areas of beaches and indicate surfcraft exclusion zones, and safety signs alert beachgoers to permanent and occasional hazards, including dangerous tidal conditions.

Pye Branch IRB WorkshopNorth Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

Through its affiliate clubs, SLSA has trained hundreds of life savers, who patrol Australia’s beaches in volunteer positions or as paid Australian Lifeguard Service Lifeguards. Surf life savers must be at least 15 years old and learn rescue techniques, resuscitation and first aid.

IRB in ActionNorth Bondi Surf Life Saving Club

Surf Life Saving Australia contributes to the International Life Saving Federation’s worldwide effort to promote water safety through information exchange and supports the establishment of lifesaving services outside of Australia wherever they are needed.

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