Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?

A thinly veiled Simpsons reference to kick off my blog, but the question stands; who is thinking of the children? The Surf Clubs are and have been since they were formed. The system before nippers became a part of SLS NSW, was that local kids would be scouted from the Queenscliff Ocean pool swim team (Dannie being one of them) at the age of 14.
The current system at most surf clubs and Queenscliff is the nippers that has children from as young as 5 or 6 running up and down the beaches on a Saturday or Sunday morning. As a more senior member Dannie states in a very relaxed interview I held with him on a sunny morning down at the clubhouse, “God the kids have it easy these days, but they still complain. It’s hard and they don’t have the energy to get themselves into trouble on the weekend… that’s how we had it and it kept me out of trouble. It works.”
In the same discussion with both Dannie and Dave (old hands at the club) the theme that it was harder in their day was brilliant. The message they really wanted to get across to me however was that the club is good for the kids. It kept them out of trouble, it kept Dannie’s kids out of trouble (*he hopes) and they think it keeps kids good. Why wouldn’t it. Training throughout the week, then up early on the weekends patrolling or competing. It is this community engagement element that has drawn my attention recently and is what I plan to focus on.
Expanding on the military connection I have found out from talking to club members, that emergency services is in many cases an obvious career path that follows growing up around the club. Dannie himself became a Police Officer and he reels off a list of other men that went from teenagers in the club to various emergency services positions. This is not to say that they all do, but the regime and training of lifesaving lends its self to a more formal career path.

Surf Clubs and Military Men: Connection or Coincidence?

From the ages of 8 to 15 I lived on Whale Beach – the second most northern beach in the formally Pittwater Council (now Northern Beaches Council I think?) – and I loved every minute of it. I was a cliché as a kid, jet blonde hair, year round tan and a love for a face full of salt water. The Surf clubs are the centre of these places. For me it was the Cabbage Tree Club down on Palm Beach along with the Packers, the Hewitt’s and Guy Sebastian for a brief period. As much as that is a name drop it brings up the point that everyone and anyone can be found in one of the 36 clubs dotted along Sydney’s coast. However, far and away the largest group among them is Military. There is an affinity between surf clubs and Military that fascinates me, why is it so tied together?
When I went for a visit down to Queenscliff SLSC on the same beach as two other thriving clubs, I was greeted by two former Australian defence force men. they walked me through the typically sandy and slightly damp bottom floor and led me up the stairs where I was greeted with tens of honour boards. The majority were for personal and club achievements and various awards won by the club or given out internally, and yet front and centre on the biggest wall was military service. By no means the longest list in the building with Queenscliff having a lot of success in national competition and yet, it took centre stage.
There is a sense of inevitability that this research will take me down a road of men rehashing their war stories to me and I would love to hear them, but I also want to go deeper as to the why. What is the appeal of a surf club to these men in particular?
I have no idea where this story will end up even as I read more and more I wonder if there is more to be found. I have been introduced to so many characters, from so many backgrounds and yet I keep coming back to military. Is it my favouritism toward military history or is it that Surf Life Saving Clubs have a natural affinity with former military men? all I know at the minute is that I keep meeting people of hero status, not is some Victorian Cross kind of way, but in a way that shows you how life should be and who you should be as a person. That has no historical impact in the grand schemes and yet I am beginning to see it as the fabric of history in community.