Friday, July 19, 2024

Blue Plaque honour for world’s oldest surf lifesaving club

A Blue Plaque has been unveiled on Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club, recognising the contribution of the world’s oldest surf lifesaving club to the rich history of NSW.

The Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club is one of 14 new Blue Plaque recipients announced by the NSW Government. The plaques honour and celebrate significant people, places and events in the state.

Yesterday, hundreds of past and present lifesavers and young nippers joined Mayor of Waverley Council, Paula Masselos (pictured, left) and NSW Minister for Heritage, Penny Sharpe (right), at the clubhouse for the official unveiling of the Blue Plaque on the pillar of the iconic building, which was built in 1934.

“We congratulate Bondi Surf Club for receiving a coveted Blue Plaque in recognition of its historical significance to Waverley and the lifesaving movement,” Mayor Masselos said.

“The Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club is testament to the skill, dedication and service of many men, women and teenagers who keep swimmers safe at our beaches,” said Minister Sharpe.

“The club’s founding members created a movement that contributed to the state’s rich history, and continues to be at the core of our coastal identity today.

“This Blue Plaque provides a tangible link to those who’ve kept our community safe in the water for 117 years, and for that we will always remember and respect their service.”

The Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club existed informally for several years in the early 1900s, before a group of locals gathered at the Royal Hotel in Bondi one evening in February 1907 to discuss forming an official surf lifesaving organisation.

Following that meeting, Bondi Surf Bathers Life Saving Club was born, becoming Australia’s first recorded surf lifesaving club. It is officially recognised by Surf Life Saving Australia as the oldest lifesaving club in world.

The official opening of the Bondi Surf Bathers Life Saving Club Clubhouse at Bondi Beach, 2 November 1907. 

Within weeks the Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club was born, with the central aim of rescuing distressed ‘sea bathers’. Members performed 34 rescues in their first year of operation, inspiring the creation of many similar surf lifesaving clubs at beaches across Australia.

It remains in operation to this day, with volunteer lifesavers patrolling the golden sands and rescuing more than 12,000 swimmers and surfers every year.

Beyond the sand, the bathers and the rescue reel, the club’s foundation established a long-standing tradition of service to others.

Bondi Surf Bathers Life Saving Club demonstration team at Newcastle Beach, 1908.

The spirit of the Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club was on display one scorching hot day in 1938, when thousands of people flocked to Bondi Beach to cool off. Large waves crashed into the shore, wiping away the sandbank and washing hundreds of people into deeper water.

Club records say 180 people were rescued by volunteers in a chaotic 20 minutes. Dozens of people were resuscitated on the sand but sadly five people could not be saved, on what became known as Bondi’s Black Sunday.

Instead of recognising individual volunteers for their efforts, the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia recommended the entire club for a special meritorious award.

“The club is honoured to have this Blue Plaque displayed on the pillar of our clubhouse, recognising the birthplace of surf lifesaving,” said Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club President, Brent Jackson.

“While this volunteer movement started with just one small group of concerned beachgoers in Bondi, it has grown to over 300 clubs in Australia, and inspired similar organisations all around the world.”

Bondi Surf Bathers Life Saving Club lifesavers, group of foundation members in front of original clubhouse which was a canvas tent, 1906.

The Clubhouse was designed by architects Ross + Rowe – renowned for the celebrated Commonwealth Bank building in Martin Place – and is part of the NSW State Heritage Listed ‘Bondi Beach Cultural Landscape’. The listing also includes Bondi Pavilion, Bondi Park and Bondi Beach itself.

Waverley Council and Bondi Surf Club are embarking on a historic heritage upgrade of the surf club building, guided by a detailed Conservation Management Plan formally approved by The Heritage Council of NSW in October 2022.

“This upgrade will provide significantly improved amenities to cater to the needs of modern surf lifesaving and the community and help foster the next generation of surf life savers,” Mayor Masselos said.

Bondi Surf Club was one of 14 Blue Plaque recipients announced during the latest round of the program. The new plaques were chosen from 117 nominations made by the public and assessed by independent historians.

Thirty-five plaques have been announced since the program began in 2021 and are in publicly accessible places throughout NSW to encourage people to explore our state’s heritage.

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