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SURF LIFE SAVING CLUB

COOLANGATTA

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History of the Club

 

Introduction

Greenmount Beach from Kirra Hill, Coolangatta 1956

In 1957 Ron Westerlund was Captain of Greenmout Surf Club. Late one Sunday afternoon as the beach patrol was preparing to pack up the gear to finish; Ron noticed a board floating close in to the beach at Coolangatta. He instructed the patrol members to go with him to investigate. Information came to light that the young man who owned the board was a good swimmer but his friends suggested that he had left the board and had gone home. Ron wasn’t happy with this explanation and began to search the water off Coolangatta beach. At the timer the water was full of seaweed and being late in the day it was quite dangerous for people to be in the water, however, Ron and the beach patrol formed a line and moved slowly through the seaweed, searching for the young man. They had no luck so Ron contacted a local pilot Cliff Lanham to assist in the search. The pilot eventually located the body and Ron and the beach patrol retrieved it.

As a result of this tragedy, Ron approached Cliff Hargreaves and the Greenmount Surf Club Committee to try and have Coolangatta beach patrolled. This was rejected as resources were not available and at the time the beach was referred to as “Shark Alley” and the general consensus of opinion was that no intelligent person would swim there.

This tragic incident galvanised Ron into action and was the catalyst that formed what eventually became Coolangatta Surf Life Saving Club.

The Origins

On 28 November 1958 a public meeting was held in the Council Chambers at Coolangatta for the purpose of forming a Surf Life Saving Club to patrol Coolangatta beach. As a result of this meeting, Mr Ray Blackman was elected President, Bill Madden Secretary and Ron Westerlund Treasurer and Club Captain. From donations received about £300 was collected and two fully equipped surf reels were donated and also a double surf ski, a shark tower and polaroid glasses for use on patrol.

The Club became affiliated with Point Danger Branch SLSA in February 1959 but patrols were not commenced until Easter 1959 and these continued until the end of the 1959 season.

Aerial View of Coolangatta and Tweed Heads 1959

During the latter part of the 1959 season the members of the Club were housed in a tin shed behind Neilson’s Chemist Shop. This was highly unsatisfactory and contributed to the loss of a significant number of members for the 59-60 season and as a result patrols did not commence until December 1959.

Recruiting members for the Club was difficult. Ron Westerlund did much good work in this regard in the Coolangatta area but most of the new members came from Brisbane.

The Club could not be affiliated and indeed could not function properly with members who had not become proficient to Bronze Medal standard, and so a big effort was made to train young teenagers for their Bronze.

In early 1959-60 season a squad of young men was being trained at Greenmount Surf Club. This squad comprised of Brisbane people and during their training a dispute arose with the Greenmount Club concerning their accommodation and kitchen facilities which these boys needed to live away from home. Greenmount Surf Club refused to upgrade the bunkroom and kitchen to accommodate the boys and they became disenchanted with Greenmount Surf Club and with the help of bill Avery and Ron Bonnell they discussed transferring to the new Club at the other end of the beach.

When Greenmount Surf Club heard of thism they virtually gave them their marching orders and the whole group transferred to the new Club.

This group of young men became Coolangatta Surf Club’s first Bronze Squad, gaining their bronze medallion on 2 January 1960. The members of this squad were:

  • John Brodie
  • Norm Barnes
  • Barry Munsie
  • Peter Wilkie
  • Don Sands
  • Jim Purdon
  • Peter Moore

On 19 December 1959 at the Annual General Meeting of the Club, the following officers were elected:

  • President – Ron Westerlund
  • Captain – Brian Manson
  • Secretary – Bill Avery
  • Treasurer – John Brodie
  • Gear Steward – Tony Barnett
  • Clubhouse Director – George Best
  • Publicity Officer – J Stanley

Br Christmas 1959 the Club membership had grown steadily but accommodation was critical. Many of the members were sleeping in cars and on the beach. Once again, Ron Westerlund came to the rescue. He was building a house in Dutton Street, and although this was not completed, the garage was secure. The members used this garage for some considerable time until other avenues were found for accommodation. The members worked extremely hard within the Club and outside, raising large amounts of money through all types of raffles. Their energy can be imagined when a perusal of the Club’s finances shows that by March 1950 the balance in the building fund was £200 – a very large amount of money in a very short amount of time.

On the patrol front, it is pleasing to note that the Club won a Caltex Surf Rescue ski for patrol efficiency. This is a sterling tribute to the men who were in control of the Club in those days. Discipline was their strength and a first class service to the community was the result.

Fundraising was a most important activity in the Club in those early days. They all dreamed of a nice big comfortable Clubhouse on the beach, but that goal was many years away. Years of long treks to the beach carrying heavy equipment and longer trips back were still ahead of them. On many occasions the members carried the patrol equipment from the far end of Dutton Street to the beach, a distance of about 2 kilometres which included two large hills. Imagine the sighs of relief when Ron Westerlund supplied a trailer for that particular job. Soon however, our long serving Patron, Harry Trevett allowed the Club to use an old garage behind the Coolangatta Hotel as a gear shed. This was a great relief to the Club members and didn’t come soon enough.

Alcatraz

The effort to acquire suitable accommodation for the Club members was speeded up. Sufficient funds were raised for temporary premises to be set up behind the Croquet courts in Goodwin Park, and so “Alcatraz” was created. John Brodie the Club Treasurer purchased two pre-fabricated garages from McWhirters in Fortitude Valley in Brisbane and these were bolted together end to end to give the Club its first clubhouse. Ron Westerlund built the floor and Jim Purson, Barry Munsie and Robin Nelms wired it for electrical power.

Alcatraz was opened for the 1960-61 season and after the previous seasons it must have seemed like luxury. Although it was very basic and lacked both running water and sewerage it served the purpose it was built for and by the 62-63 season almost 60 members used it every weekend. The spirit and camaraderie of the Club had its origins in Alcatraz when it was eventually abandones in 1966 there was a touch of sadness as we all moved out – but not for long! The building itself and long gone, only the memories linger.

Before the 59-60 season had finished a second Bronze squad had undergone examination and had passed and a third squad began training. The club’s membership was beginning to grow into a healthy size.

The remarkable thing about Coolangatta Surf Club’s being formed in 1958 was that it took so long to happen. A Surf Life Saving movement started in 1908 so it took 50 years to form a club at the northern end of Coolangatta beach. In fact, in 1958 Greenmount Surf Life Saving Club was having its 47th anniversary when our Club was formed. The Coolangatta / Tweed Heads area is quite different today than what it was in 1958. There was no groyne on Kirra Point, and the Tweed River bar had not been stabilised. The movement of sand north from northern NSW was unobstructed and this meant all of the beaches north of Point Danger had their sand replenished continuously. This, coupled with the strong northerly sweep along the beach, meant that a channel was carved in the beach and a sandbank was formed about 50 yards out from the foreshore.

Back then Coolangatta Beach had a bad name regarding the presence of sharks, and because of the strong northerly sweep it was considered quite dangerous to swim there. The theory concerning the sharks bore a certain amount of truth and on many occasions it was possible when standing on the foreshore to see the black eyes of the sharks as they followed the schools of mullet along the channel. Most weekends, up until the shark meshing of the beaches began, it was not uncommon to have a dozen or more shark alarms at the Club.

Membership drives and fundraisings were frenetic activities carried on by the Club and it wasn’t long before the Club membership had grown considerably. Members were recruited from Brisbane mainly and it is interesting to note that every Brisbane Rugby League Club was represented in Coolangatta’s membership. The rivalries were legendary but the friendships created have long endured.

Milestones & Achievements

From an inauspicious start the Club has gone on to bQueen at Coolangatta Beach - 1963etter things. In March 1963 our Club was selected to stage the Queen’s Carnival in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. The Carnival was a great success, but the weather was no kind to us. The rain came in buckets for a time and the wind was strong and cold but the surf was magnificent. No one could remember such perfectly formed waves as those at Coolangatta that day

Click image to see a colour video of the Queen’s Surf Carnival

Opening of the Clubhouse 1966

The Club’s major milestone of course was the building and opening of the Clubhouse on the beach in 1966. This truly was a great event and the coming of age for the Club. It meant that the Club could now function on a more equal footing that before and could compete with other Clubs at their level.

The Club went from strength to strength and gained the highest accolade that a Surf Club can receive with the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia selected the Club to hold the Australian Championships in 1966

1966 Program small

Coolangatta Surf Club had arrived! The championships were a resounding success and the Club takes pride in being able to say they were held on our beach. It was with pride that our Junior Boat Crew won the Australian Champions Open Event on our beach that weekend. The crew was:

  • George Best Jnr
  • Ken Eadie
  • Jeffrey Best
  • Paul Bishop
  • Stan Damro