Home of the Black Swan

Maroochydore Life Saving Club was formed on January 1, 1916, in a tent erected at Cotton Tree camping ground by the Salvation Army for the Christmas  holidays of December 1915-January 1916.

The camping ground had been going since 1896 and is said to have attracted up to 2000 campers each Easter and Christmas Holidays.

By 1903, drowning fatalities at the Maroochy River Bar and on the beach had started to have an impact.
In July 1915, the Nambour Progress Association decided to invite Royal Life Saving in Brisbane to come to “The Heads” to raise a local life saving  “brigade”.

Little did our founding fathers suspect that these would be the humble beginnings of one of the most recognised and respected surf clubs in Australia –  Maroochydore Surf Life Saving Club, “home of the black swan”.

The Royal Life Saving instructors travelled to Maroochydore Beach by catching the train from Brisbane to Nambour, the cane tram from Nambour to  Deepwater on the Maroochy River, and finally a motor launch to the Cotton Tree wharves, approximately where the Olympic Pool stands today.

These exhausting modes of transportation for Brisbane-based beach goers were barely a proposition for a weekend, especially when most people of the time  worked on Saturday mornings.

A day trip would have been well nigh impossible to attempt.

It was not until the mid-1920s that a trip by motor car to Maroochydore became a possibility. The 1920s and ‘30s saw Maroochydore become the dominant  Royal Life Saving Club in Queensland.

Axel and Joe Suosaari, champions in surf and belt races, were also Australian champions in swimming. Axel was twice the Australian 100 yards freestyle  champion, while Joe was an Australian breaststroke champion.

What a busy competition program they pursued in swimming, stillwater Royal competition at Ithaca Baths in Paddington in Brisbane, as well as surf  competition carnivals.

It was only made possible by travelling long distances in motor cars and trains.

The Anderson family of Brisbane were regular visitors to “Maroochy Heads” and Cotton Tree from 1927-29. Members of the family patrolled the beach during  the holidays.

The Andersons travelled by car from their home in Arthur Tce, Red Hill every Christmas and Easter holidays. What a road journey it was!

In January 1931, Maroochydore club was among the Queensland “Surf” and “Royal” clubs that banded together to form Surf Life Saving Queensland.

This meant that by January 1932, the Maroochydore club team had to travel from the North Coast to Coolangatta on the southern end of the Gold Coast to  participate in the first-ever Queensland Surf Life Saving Championships.

Considering that the highway from Brisbane to Coolangatta still featured several river crossings by punt, it was a long and slow journey of about 200km.

For the record, Maroochydore SLSC was crowned the very first State Champion Club, so the journey must have been not too onerous.

During the 1950s a stronger membership base was established in Brisbane, mainly but not exclusively from the Norths Devils Rugby League Club at Nundah.

The Bruce highway still wound its way through such towns as Caboolture, Elimbah, Beerwah, Glasshouse and Landsborough, but at least the highway was of a  reasonable standard.

Surf club members who could not pick up a lift with a fellow member would go to the end of the tram line at Chermside, dressed in club blazer, and  hitchhike from there.

It was never a problem for a blazer-clad clubbie to “jag a lift” fairly quickly from a grateful member of the public.
Those few young Lifesavers who owned a vehicle were more than likely driving an old jalopy, a work truck, an FJ Holden, a Hillman Minx or an Austin of  England.

They would drive up on a Friday night, sleep in the bunkroom, do all their lifesaving and club weekend duties and party together on Saturday night.

Then, on Sunday evening, after the close of the last patrol, the procession back to Brisbane would commence. In heavy summer traffic this could take up  to three or four hours.

The 1960s and ‘70s saw a steady rise in car ownership among surf club members, although the journey from Brisbane at peak times (such as Christmas and  New Year) was still a two to three-hour undertaking.

In the winter of 1963, in the very early hours of a Saturday morning, a club member set a new record of 55 minutes for the car journey from the

Chermside tram terminus to the Surf Club.

He was driving a red MG, of course. He later joined the Queensland Police and served in the Traffic Branch. “Go figure,” as they say.

In 1985, a fine dual carriageway highway was opened. A trip from the northern suburbs of Brisbane, in good traffic conditions and at the speed limit,  could now take under an hour.

A journey from the Gold Coast beaches, over the Gateway Bridge to Maroochydore, could take as little as two hours.

Such is the mobility of our modern lifesavers that patrol duties no longer take up the whole weekend. Members today are too “time poor” to manage that.

Today, Maroochydore SLSC mounts two patrols on both Saturday and Sunday, so red and yellow shirts are constantly arriving and departing.

Some of the traditional camaraderie of times past is missing, but the dedication and skills of our modern lifesavers are higher than ever.

Whatever the mode of transportation since 1916, the humanitarian vision of Maroochydore SLSC remains unchanged – zero preventable deaths on its beach  and river environs.

On January 1, 2016, club members from Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast and as far north as Rockhampton, will celebrate 100 years of service to our  community and to our visitors.

“Vigilance and service” for a century deserves a good party.

Ralph Devlin QC is president of Surf Life Saving Queensland and a life member of Maroochydore SLSC, Sunshine Coast Branch of SLSA, Surf Life Saving  Queensland and Surf Life Saving Australia.

He is the author of Maroochydore’s Centenary History, Home of the Black Swan to be launched on the club’s 100th birthday on  January 1, 2016.

Image: Same spot, different look – Maroochydore surf clubhouse  in the 1960s.