BELLA MBI S.L.S.C. 1933 in front of the Clubhouse commonly known as “THE HUT”. Back Row: Tom Starr Jnr., “Snow” Dawson, Jack Cairns. Harold “Buck” Jones. Centre: Gus Hendricks. Front Row: Bernie Kenny

On 23rd January, 1909, the Bellambi Surf Life Saving Club was formed with a great deal of enthusiasm. A meeting was held on a Thursday night, 29th January, 1909, at which Mr. George Cheadie was appointed Club Captain and Mr. Chas. Anderson, Vice Club Captain. Rules drafted by the committee were adopted and maroon and gold were the colours chosen by the club. The club intended to erect a temporary shelter and made application for a share of the pound for pound Government subsidy.

Two people were rescued in February 1909 – Chas. Anderson, the Vice Club Captain, rescued one and Percy Ross another. The club decided to obtain a reel and line and commence practising surf life saving techniques and by March 1909, both had been obtained at a cost of ten pounds, uniforms were also purchased.

Bellambi struggled on through those early years but faded out of the picture during World War One and was not really active again until the time of its official affiliation with National Council (then known as Head Centre), in the 1929-30 season. At that time Mr. J. W. Cram was Secretary of the club which boasted a membership of twenty-three active and twenty-five associate members. The club in that season made five rescues, two with reel, line and belt, and three without, with one being given resuscitation. The club made these rescues with the only gear they owned – a surf reel, line and belt- the grand value of the equipment being five pounds!

David Wakeling

Harold Jones

On Sunday the 8th March 1931, not long after lunch Bellambi had its first drowning.  The person was Leonard Riordan of Russell Vale, who accompanied by Harold Jones went surfing at Bellambi Beach.  The two men were suddenly caught by the strong under-tow and were swept out to sea.  Riordan was seen in difficulties.  His companion Jones, held him up for more than half an hour bur his strength commenced to weaken, and he was forced to release his hold.

David Wakeling, a young Bellambi lifesaver, put on the belt, and swam to the assistance of the two men.  The surf line caught in the heavy sea-weed that was floating nearby and Wakeling was compelled to drag  many times his own weight. He quickly became exhausted, and threw up his hands to be pulled ashore, when he was about 40 yards from the men. The large crowd, standing in safety on the beach, shouted to him to continue.

Again he threw up his hands. The swift cross-current had swept him further from the men. The crowd again shouted words of encouragement to him, and he gamely, though feebly continued. For the third time he signalled to be pulled ashore, and it was evident that he was exhausted. He was dragged to the beach in a state of collapse. Life-savers worked on him for an hour before they brought him to consciousness. Jones reached the shore unaided, but Riordan was swept out to sea.

A painstaking search was carried out along the beach and persons cruised the ocean in a boat. About 7 p.m. on Tuesday 10th March, 1931, the body, washed up on the beach, was delivered by Constable Armstrong who had been an untiring leader of the searchers. For their efforts, Harold Jones was awarded the Meritorious Award in Bronze and David Wakeling a Certificate of Merit for assisting Harold Jones.


The 1932-33 season saw Hammie Marshall, the Secretary of the club, apply to the Illawarra Branch for a change of colours from maroon and gold to green and gold. After much debate by the Branch, the application was granted. The club continued to serve the public right up until the 1936-37 season when it disbanded for reasons unknown.

On 26th January, 1937, the 150th anniversary of the occupation of Australia by British people, a local boy named Ken Cram was drowned at Bellambi. This loss of life prompted the members to renew their efforts to establish the club on a firm basis and in the 1938-39 season, Harold Jones was elected President and R. Edwards Club Captain.

The clubhouse at that time was a small addition to the public dressing sheds and in 1946 was replaced by a brick shed at a cost of twenty-seven pounds. The membership in 1941 had unfortunately dropped down to four. They had a home-made reel and four shillings and seven pence in the bank.

More equipment was purchased and membership increased, but in 1947, all the gear was burnt and destroyed by vandals. The local community quickly supported the club and they soon had the equipment replaced. The 1948-49 season saw sixteen members travel to Mollymook for their annual carnival directed at boosting lifesaving on the South Coast.

Noel (Popeye) Nicholls in front of the old club house

On 10th February, 1951, the club officially launched the first TuckStern Surf Boat on the South Coast. Outside the Newcastle area, Bellambi was the only Country club to have a Tuck-Stern boat. Only a few Sydney clubs possessed them. The surf boat was officially named the “Tom Starr Senior” after the Club’s late foundation member who was always untiring in his efforts to help members and the club. President of the ladies auxiliary, Mrs. W. Smart, had the honour of christening the new craft which cost three hundred pounds, a far cry from today’s craft which cost around $20,000.  Patrols on that day were:-

  • A.M.: R. Smart (Capt.) B. Barsby, T. Lunt, A. Townsend.
  • P.M.: A. Happ (Capt.) W. Smart, N. Smart, N. dowry.

Mrs. W. Smart christening the “TOM STARR SNR. MEMORIAL” surf boat on 10th February, 1951

New dressing sheds were built by council in 1952 and the old sheds were modified to house the increasing amount of gear. Of considerable concern to members, was the lack of access to the club because of the poor condition of the road or track to the beach and the absence of water and electricity. It was reported that a lot of members were saying “although these necessities have been promised for several years, we are becoming disillusioned and feel these promises will never be fulfilled”. However,

members were full of praise for Alderman Williams for support he gave to the club in setting up the dressing sheds on the hill over-looking the beach. A road was eventually built to the clubhouse in 1955. This made the beach more accessible to the public and the club started to expand with new members.

The committee of the club decided it was time they had a new clubhouse to replace the old 30ft. x 12ft. brick building which served as a gear, boat and locker shed. Plans were drawn-up to build a new and larger clubhouse. Many trips were made to Jervis Bay to obtain timber for the framework from the old naval huts. Water and electricity were finally connected in 1957 with the start of the building.

The clubhouse took several years to complete and work was constantly set back by vandalism which cost the club hundreds of pounds. The building was constructed wholly by volunteer labour.

Ray Smart and Kevin Booth

Bellambi S.L.S.C. March Past Team at Mollymook Surf Carnival in 1948

The sixties arrived without much joy, for between 13th and 23rd May, 1960, vandals broke into the half-completed clubhouse for the third time in ten days and caused one hundred and fifty pounds damage. The damage listed was – spilled twenty gallons of paint, scattered nails, windows broken, first-aid contents spread over the floor and severely damaged a surf ski owned by a cadet member who was still going to school.

A conservative estimate of damage to the ski was thirty pounds. Membership decreased again between 1960 and 1962 due to the popularity of Malibu boards. The 1962-63 season saw the birth of the clubs own newsletter called “The Bellambi Surfer”, which was issued once a month with the editor being Noel “Popeye” Nicholls. The following are a couple of lines taken from one issue – “The club wishes to congratulate fellow member Harold Edwards and Marilyn Duggan on their recent step into matrimony”. It was a paper that covered all aspects of the club.

It was thought previously that the club would be without a surf boat for the season but as the committee had subsequently obtained three hundred and fifty pounds from the boat appeal, they decided to go ahead and place an order with Mr. W. Barnett of McMahon’s Point, Sydney and hoped they could obtain the balance by the time the boat was completed in late February or early March.

The club also appealed to any persons desirous of having their names inscribed on an oar, to have this arranged by donating twelve pounds to meet the cost of the oar. The cost of the boat – six hundred pounds – was raised with the help of the public. So Bellambi officially christened and launched their second surf boat. The Rev. Page, addressed a large crowd before Mrs. W. Parker, wife of the local Alderman, started it on its way with a bottle of champagne and named the craft “Miss Progress”. The date was 6th October, 1963.

The following season saw the membership double and a record number of awards were gained with the first surf carnival held at Bellambi beach.

Vandalism was still a big problem to the club and being so isolated in the area of Bellambi vandals could do as they pleased. More times than members can remember, they were continually replacing locks on doors, glass in windows and cleaning grafitti off walls. In the following years club and competitive spirit was high and finances were better than they had been for a long time. The club then decided to place an order for purchase of a new surf boat from W. Climer, Boat Builder.

On 7th September, 1968, the club launched its new craft called the “Ray Smart” after a long-time stalwart and life member who had been associated with the Bellambi club for nearly thirty years.

Father Lopez of Bellambi’s St. Paul’s College, dedicated the boat and Mrs. Simes, wife of the Assistant General Manager of South Bulli Colliery, poured champagne onto its bow. The club received a set of oars valued at $120, donated by Woonona-Bulli Soccer and Sports Club, for winning the previous season’s inter-club competition between Woonona, Bulli, Sandon Point and Bellambi.


A new era arrived in the seventies with introduction of the Jet Boats and a couple of years later the Inflatable Rescue Boat, commonly known as the Rubber Duckie, Bellambi club played a big part in the introduction of both of these craft to the Illawarra. The Jet Boat named the “Jack Bartlett” was launched and christened in 1969 with three clubs, Bellambi, Corrimal and Towradgi, sharing the operation of the craft.

The Jet Boat operated well into the mid 1980’s and was mainly run by Bellambi club members. On 5th May, 1975, Bellambi took delivery of their own I.R.B., the fifth club on the coast to do so. The inflatable craft has a crew of two persons and is powered by a 25 h.p. outboard motor and at that time cost around $2,000, which was  a lot cheaper and lighter than the Jet Boats.

"Jack Bartlett" Jet Boat Les Rogers driver

New Club House

The idea first came in 1970 when membership in the club was reaching a high point and the clubhouse was starting to deteriorate through such problems as dry rot, white ant infestation, dangerous electrical wiring and the building foundations sinking in some places up to six inches.

A lot of talking was still going on but with little result until 1974 when Mr. Bob Boswell, a Clerk of Works, who had a personal interest in the surf life saving movement, put a proposal to the committee of the club by which he would plan and design a clubhouse. This proposal was agreed upon by the committee and they also agreed to ask the Wollongong City Council for one and a half acres of land on the northern side of the creek.

The need for this was because of the continuing expansion of the new Housing Commission Estate which was slowly pushing the club out and it was thought that in obtaining an area across the creek more room would be available for the new building. It was also moved that the clubs Patron and Local Member of Parliament, Mr, Laurie Kelly. M.P., and Wollongong City Council, be advised of the club’s intentions. A number of citizens and sporting clubs were approached for their support which was quickly given.

Much of the season was taken-up planning the new surf club and waiting for an answer from the City Council about the acre and a half of land across the creek.

In 1975, on the advice of Mr. Kelly, the club made an application for funds from the R.E.D, Scheme. The sketch plans of the new building at an estimated cost of $160,000 were made available to the Council. The priority list was drawn-up and the Bellambi club was placed third in position of the list behind Coledale and the Illawarra Branch. Bellambi was doing well with membership on the increase and keenness was shown by all.

The movement was changing dramatically with I.R.B.’s doing a lot of patrol work along with the Jet Boats. The 1975-76 season saw the Coledale club commence their new building. Bellambi were all smiles because they were next on the R.E.D. Scheme list, but a change of Government at the next Federal election meant the R.E.D. Scheme was abandoned. Bellambi club was back to square one.

Members were disheartened but determined to press on and applied to the State Government through the City Council for aid. The application, however, was not successful. The club then decided that as they could not apply again until the following season 1976-77, they  should concentrate their efforts on the land across the creek on the  northern side of the beach. More meetings were held with Wollongong City Council and following a conference in August, the club received its first good news in years that the City Council had approved the application for the site of a new clubhouse. This was a major breakthrough.

In view  of their lack of success with early application for money and appreciating  that funds would still be hard to find, the committee decided  that, as with the surf club they currently occupied and which was built  in the fifties, they would try to build this new clubhouse with voluntary  labour.

Power was put on and foundation investigation done proving it was safe to construct a two-storey building. Much concern arose from the dissatisfaction of the Wollongong City Council with the plan and cost of the new building, the estimate for which by this time had risen to some  $250,000.  More advice was received from Mr. Kelly to the effect that if the City Council would support the club in their proposal to develop the club hall as a community centre, it was highly likely the club would get support from the new application to the State Government.

The club had no argument with this as they had suggested this from the start. Also, Mr. Kelly advised the need to have the club placed high on the Illawarra Branch and State Centre priority list. Application for this was made by the club and the Illawarra Branch confirmed the club held number one priority in the Illawarra and State Centre had been notified accordingly.

1978 arrived and the club requested another meeting with the City Council to iron out the details of the application to the State Government and to gain Council’s support. The meeting was held in July, 1978, and the Council put a number of proposals forward for discussion by both parties. The proposals were:-

  1. That Council continue to carry-out the necessary investigations to determine a suitable site for the building;
  2. Council officers work with the club management to develop suitable sketch plans;
  3. Council agree to match any funds received by the club from the New South Wales Government or the State Centre of the Surf life Saving Association towards the cost of the new clubhouse.

The first two proposals caused much concern to the club committee and the building committee because they already had a site approved by the Council and sketch plans drawn-up by Mr. Bob Boswell, which they believed, were the right plans for them.

Council’s objections to the site were:- Firstly, the land granted to the club was not suitable for a two-storey building; secondly, the land was vulnerable to erosion, and Thirdly, it would cost approximately $500,000 to put the clubhouse on the site because of water, sewerage and access costs. With regard to the existing plans for the building, Council believed them to be too costly for the Council and the  Government.

Following much discussion, the club decided it was in the best interests of their members to accept the Council’s proposals. The final plans approved by the club and the Council put the estimated cost of the building at $220,000, to be funded $100,000 from the State Government, a matching grant from the City Council and the balance of $22,000 to be raised by the club.

Letters from the club were sent to major companies along the coast, resulted in Bellambi Coal Company coming to the rescue with a donation of $9,000 and the Joint Coal Board indicated support once a firm price and starting date was known. A deputation to meet the Minister for Sport and Recreation, Mr. Ken Booth, was arranged for August, 1979, headed by Mr. Laurie Kelly, Speaker of the Parliament, along with the Lord Mayor, Local Aldermen, Council representatives and three members of the surf club.

The deputation came out of the meeting more than confident, they had succeeded in their case for a new clubhouse. One month later, the grant of $101,500 was announced, matched by the same amount from the Wollongong City Council and along with the $22,000 the club had raised was more than enough.

Final sketch and working plans were completed in December, 1979. With a firm date for commencement of the new building and a price fixed, the Joint Coal Board donated $2,000 for equipping and furnishing the Observation-Radio and First-Aid rooms. Members demolished the old clubhouse in February, 1980, to make way for commencement of the new building in March.

Les Nicholls in the IRB

Good news was not even limited to the new clubhouse, for Bellambi took charge of a new $2,700 I.R.B., kindly donated by ComSteel Pty. Limited, to celebrate their firm’s 20th year in stainless steel in the Illawarra region, and as a sign of appreciation to the community. It replaced the old I.R.B. which had seen seven active years service.

The 1980’s

1980-81 season saw the start of a new decade with many changes occurring in the movement. One of the biggest and most controversial (for the time) was that from

1st July 1980, female members were accepted fully in the Association and became eligible to obtain Active Awards. Bellambi was one of many clubs where women took advantage of that rule and joined. The club also looked forward to moving into their clubhouse, but this was not to be, for major problems occurred in the construction of the new building. This caused a major problem in running the surf club in patrols and point scores, let alone training members for awards. The Wollongong City Council realised the problem the club was experiencing, so they arranged a 10′ x 6′ council shed to house a surf reel and rescue board along with the Beach Inspector’s equipment. The rest of the club’s rescue equipment was housed at a section of the local Tennis Club situated at Bellambi Point.

Realising the clubhouse may be a long way off, the club carried on doing their patrols and running point scores out of the small council shed with great difficulty. The time was November, 1980, and the bottom storey of the building was taking shape and the brick work was finished in no time, but as quickly as it was built, cracks appeared in the brick work. Engineers found the cause of the problem, was that the bricks were not made to specification and that they will not support a second storey, so the only solution to the problem was to demolish the brick walls and start all over again with new bricks.

This was a big setback to the club, for they thought they might be able to work out of the ground floor while work was going on at the second floor. New bricks were made and work commenced on the building in February, 1981, six months behind schedule. The brick work was done quickly with a completion date of June, 1981. Slight problems with the builder occurred over the contract. This caused more delays and the club members were becoming quite uneasy about how the building was progressing.

The Wollongong City Council believed they could solve these problems and did so by sub-contracting the building and in doing this the Council believed this would be the quickest and the cheapest way of building the clubhouse. The building was started again under the Council’s new plan and, was finished by the start of the 1981/82 season. After ten years of hard work and many meetings, with deputations to Local and State politicians, Bellambi’s dream of a purpose built clubhouse had finally come to be a reality.

Illawarra Branch instituted a new competition in the 1980/81 season – the AIS Patrol Efficiency Competition. This competition was aimed at improving the efficiency of patrolling members of the 17 Illawarra clubs and consisted of a panel of three members from the Board of Life Saving Control who conducted three random inspections at each club during the patrolling year. Clubs were judged on all aspects of patrol life, with points being deducted for breaches where members were absent, out of uniform, poor completion of patrol logs and so on. AIS (the forerunner to BlueScope Steel) provided generous sponsorship in the form of rescue equipment to the Clubs.

Being a small club, we were not expecting great things from our first entry into this competition; however, it was with enormous pride that our Club Captain Steve Gray led from the front and Bellambi went on to win the inaugural AIS trophy. This was an event that the club went on to dominate for the next 20 odd years, winning a remarkable 16 times.

The 80’s were a period where the Club was at its strongest. The new Club house attracted new members, the Nippers were strong and many of the junior members made the transition to the senior ranks. Like the decade before, Club President Glen (Chuck) Fowler was a guiding light and provided strong leadership. This period was dominated by strong leaders in Chuck Fowler, Club Captains in Steve Gray, Allan Parsons and Greg Smart and Secretary’s Dave Ryan and John Heath.

The 80’s saw the strong relationship that had existed between Bellambi Bowling Club and the Surf Club go from strength to strength. The annual bowls trips to Harbord were highly successful and very entertaining. A team of keen and happy lawn bowlers accompanied by eager surf club supporters crammed on to a bus at 6.00 am on a Sunday morning for the trip to Harbord. It was a huge day for the bowlers with games commencing around 8.30 and finishing off around 4.30 pm.

In between this were the obligatory rounds of drinks that the surf club supporters had to make sure that the bowling team were well “watered” and of course ensuring that the beer was cold had the odd sample them selves. The Bowling Club were very successful in these trips and secured many a prize for the surf club, including Rescue Boards, Oxy Viva’s, rescue tubes, loud hailers, first aid kits, flags and so on. The Harbord Bowls day was one of the highlights of the season and seats on the bus were sought after, especially by the bowlers and the very keen surf club supporters (like Hank Van Stuivenberg) who would proudly put his name down first on the supporters list every year.

Harbord Bowls Day presentation at Bellambi Bowling Club 1982

The 1983/84 season saw the first clash with tradition when there was much debate over club apparel. The traditional club colours of myrtle green and gold were under discussion with members wanting to move on from the solid colours and introduce some flexibility in clothing design and colour scheme, whilst maintaining the reel as our emblem.

Some members felt particularly strong over the need to modernise, whilst others held firm. Some members were even cited to appear before the club committee over wearing of non authorised apparel bearing the club logo. This eventually led to a change in the club’s constitution when members voted (after a number of impassioned speeches and vigorous debate) to allow for alternate clothing and apparel designs to match the fashion of the day. So the old “Robin Hood” green shirts were updated with gray, white, gold, and so on, whilst retaining the essential club emblem of the reel and belt and some green and gold in the design.

The 80’s also saw our first venture into an alternate funding source and Bellambi Surf Club joined the disco age. The Club purchased our own disco equipment and would be engaged at various venues which included regular school discos at Bellambi Public School. The surf club disco was very popular with weekly bookings for weddings, parties and so on. The surf club disco was the brain child of Geoff Davidson, who organised the marketing of the disco and purchased the latest in disco recordings so that we were as up to date as the professional outfits.

The club had its own light show and the entire outfit operated very professionally. Geoff was exceptionally good at organising and was an excellent announcer and disco “jockey”. He was ably assisted by a number of members including Kevin “Nobby” Booth and Steve Musgrove, who made themselves available whenever there was a scheduled event. The club held a number of disco dances at the club house for members and the annual presentation night was usually accompanied by the surf club disco at this time.

In the early years, the disco was very profitable and was more than meeting the costs of purchasing new records and updating sound systems and lights, however, as with a lot of fads, its popularity began to wane and eventually the cost of keeping the records and equipment up to the expected levels became over whelming and when the club began to loose money on the project, and with the drop in interest from members willing to assist in its operation, the club decided to cease operating the disco and sold off the remaining equipment and records at break even costs.

In the 1984/85 season, the Club was fortunate to receive sponsorship of $3,000 from Bellambi Coal Company for the purchase of a replacement IRB. The total cost of the duck was $3,200 and it was great day when the craft was blessed by Father Dean of Saint Paul’s College and the official launch was undertaken by Mr Ian Dunlop, CEO of Bellambi Coal Company. The club has always had difficulty attracting sponsorship and on most occasions we have had to rely on our own fund raising activities to earn the necessary funds to purchase new rescue equipment.

Bellambi Coal Company, have assisted the Club on a number of occasions over the years and on this occasion, Mr Dunlop expressed the Company’s appreciation for the dedication of Bellambi Surf Life Saving Club to their community and how his company was pleased to be associated with the Surf Club. IRB Captain of the day, Kevin Banks took Mr Dunlop for the vessel’s first official run.

Surf Life Saving was changing in the Illawarra and Bellambi club did more than their share in ensuring the bathing public on all Illawarra beaches were kept safe when they were asked in 1985 by the then District Supervisor, Ken (Butch) Baker to operate the Branch Radio Base. Members went beyond the call to maintain the base radio for a number of months. The club executive was requested by Mr Baker to house the base radio in our patrol room and that certain benefits would flow to the club because of this i.e. 15 additional members to operate the base.

A Special Meeting was held with members being informed by the acting Branch Radio Officer of proposal. It was eventually passed with a number of conditions imposed by the members as to the operating conditions. The Club Executive imposed 7 conditions on the base, not the least of which was that approval was on an annual basis and that the club may terminate the arrangement should any condition not be met, or if the membership determined so.

In November of 1985 a further Special General Meeting was held, where a rescission motion was passed. This was a very heated meeting with a number of members threatening to resign their membership if the Club continued to allow this divisive arrangement to proceed. The Branch Secretary was in attendance at this meeting and it was more than obvious that he was not happy with events. Notwithstanding the decision of the members, in the week prior to Christmas of 1985 President Glen Fowler & Club Captain Col Stevenson were pressured from Branch for the base radio to remain at Bellambi surf club. They finally gave permission for Radio base to remain at Club house as the Branch officials explained that they had no where else to go. This decision was never ratified by Committee or membership and created much discontent amongst all members over the Christmas/New Year period of 85/86.

Finally on the 14th February 1986, at an Illawarra Branch meeting the Bellambi delegate advised the Branch President and other officials that radio base would not be permitted to remain at Club. Two days later on the 16th of February, the Branch Superintendent & his deputy were invited to a club meeting so the members and Club Committee where they were told in usual Bellambi fashion  of the decision.

The Branch however, was defiant and drew up a new roster system for radio base at Bellambi Surf Club. The Club held its nerve and informed the Branch that it would not allow club to be used as radio base and that access to the club house would be denied to non Bellambi members. Whilst this disagreement was going on, members of Bellambi surf club maintained the radio base and assisted in arranging for medical support to an accident victim at Coledale beach.

President Chuck Fowler informed the Branch Superintendent that he would not attend any further meetings on the matter, the club had made its point of view quiet clear and the Branch had been treated Bellambi surf club and members very shabbily over the whole sorry saga. Between September 1985 and February 1986 the Club has advised the Branch on numerous occasions both verbally & in writing of its decision and on no occasion did the Branch provide the same level of response. Club acted responsibly entire time and finally won the day when the Branch Radio Base moved to Fairy Meadow Surf Club. The battle was won but Bellambi members were scarred.

1985/86 season was a significant year in the Club, when it honoured our Life Member Ray Smart with a testimonial dinner. This testimonial was for Ray’s contribution to the Club, for without a doubt he has been the back bone of the Club for so many years. Ray held every executive position (bar president) in the club and has been the longest serving Chief Instructor in the Club’s history. It was fitting that the Club paid tribute to one of its greats, with many of Ray’s family and his surf club family in attendance.

It will long be remembered for the passion and pride that Ray spoke of when describing his club life, the support he received from his beloved wife, Margaret, his humbleness in accepting the testimonial and  his absolute joy and conviction on the club’s future. Ray is a stalwart of Bellambi Surf Club, an irreplaceable icon, and for those who have had to pleasure of his company and friendship will know that Bellambi has not produced a greater son.

In 1986, Club President Glen Fowler, proposed to the Annual General Meeting, that the Club Committee be revitalised, and the introduction of the Member’s Delegate position into the committee be considered. Chuck proposed that, four members would be appointed to the committee to bring issues from the general membership to the Club Committee. It was a way of introducing members to the workings of the committee and also provided an opportunity for members to voice their opinions to their delegates.

Chuck proposed that four members’ delegates be appointed with two being under 18 year olds and two senior members. This motion was passed and the Members’ Delegates positions have been a great innovation, and are still active today. 1986 also saw much debate over membership fees. Membership fees had been held static for many years and the Club Treasurer, Jenny Trinca had determined that the cost of running the club has risen to an extent that we could no longer keep the fees at $2 per senior member. It was moved that membership fees be increased to $6 for Senior Members, $3 for Junior members and $1 for Cadets. Despite much grumbling and muffled words that “we can’t afford this”, the motion was passed and the first increase in membership fees since the 70’s was introduced.

Late in the 1986/87 season, a tragedy occurred off Bellambi Beach when a fisherman and his wife capsized their boat and drowned in huge seas. Members patrolled the for a number of days foreshore looking for their bodies, and in the water the Club’s IRB in conjunction with NSW Water Police & other rescue agencies spent countless hours searching.

Members risked own welfare to undertake hazardous duty in some of the largest seas ever seen off Bellambi Beach. There were times when the IRB would disappear from view due to the size of strength of the broken water, and it was only due to the skill of the Club’s IRB drivers that they also did not fall victim to the sea. Members were praised by the NSW Police for their efforts, and the relatives of the lost couple thanked the club for their assistance. After a few days, the full extent of the tragedy was shown when the two missing persons were found drowned. It was a salutary reminder of the power of the sea and how you can never take it for granted.

In 1987, the Club purchased its first computer. Dave Ryan and John Heath embarked on the task of selecting a new computer – and what gem they purchased, an Amstrad twin disk drive computer with black and white monitor! We had hit the computer age. The twin 5inch floppy disk drive machine was the most advanced we could afford. It came complete with soft ware, “DAC Easy Word” and some other basic spreadsheet program.

The company where we purchased the computer, Shop 4 Computers, took pity on us and threw in a tractor feed dot matrix black and white printer. Gone were the days of the Club Secretary belting away on an old type writer, we could actually do word processing and send letters to more than one person through the use of fabulous technology such as mail merge. We could print banners and we did, announcing everything from presentation night to meeting dates and so on. I think every member who worked in an office scrounged paper for us and so we were off! Dave Ryan became a self taught wiz and developed a data base of that held the club’s history.

This history document recorded everything about each member, and included information on awards gained, proficiency dates, committee positions, years of service and a comments field for recording details of competition results, citing, and so on. The data base was the most accurate tool the club has ever had and made the work of the Special Awards Committee that much easier, with a members full history available in one document for the first time. Dave spent countless hours compiling and testing the data base, and it became an essential part of the registrar’s operating gear.

The club could never thank Dave for this selfless task, and the committee of the day were often in awe of his ability to simply pull information from the Amstrad! Eventually, the “in house” data base was replaced by Surf Life Saving’s own data base and the Surf Guard system is the only one in use by the club. It’s somewhat ironic that our own data base had to be changed to the national system, as the Surf Guard program does not provide us the level of information at club level that is required by the club’s administrators.

As the decade drew to a close, many of the stalwart members of the club, who had battled through without a clubhouse and had seen the new building erected, began to ease out of Club life. Steve Gray, had been elected Life Member in 1985/86 decided that it was time for him to enjoy a well earned rest, our longest serving President Glen (Chuck) Fowler was finding the time to devote to the role of President even more onerous and so began to scale back. Despite declining membership numbers, the Club’s patrols were still the envy of all Illawarra Clubs. We had won the inaugural Illawarra Branch Patrol Competition, and had continued to dominate the BHP Patrol Competition for six of the nine years of its operation with our worst result being a 3rd placing.

A vivid example of our patrolling efficiency came on New Year’s Day afternoon of 1990, when a large group of fully clothed Pacific Islander’s decided that it would be a great idea to go for a swim. Before anyone realised it the group drifted into the northern bank rip and began to struggle. Dixie Duggan and Greg Smart were on the grass in front of the club house, enjoying a chat and a recovery pie following on from the mornings usual New Years’ Day Point score.

Dixie & Smarty noticed what was happening and raced off down the beach to assist the Patrol. With all available members in attendance, they managed to (by various means) secure the tired and frightened swimmers and Dixie struggling with some Islander’s of well over 120kg brought a number to shore. When talking about the event over a beer later that evening, both just shrugged and said it was no big deal and that anyone of us would have done the same thing. I think Smarty was more upset that he didn’t get to finish his pie!

The 1990’s

The 1990’s saw the changing of the guard at Bellambi Surf Club. After some 18 years, Chuck Fowler stood down as President. Chuck had been a fantastic guardian of the Club, and had provided exactly the strong leadership that was required during the 70’s & 80’s. Chuck had not been in the best of health and decided to scale back his activities. The Club elected Dixie Duggan as its new President. Dixie began his time as President with an incumbent Treasurer in John Hobbs, an incumbent Secretary in John Heath and a new Club Captain in Anthony (Cold Water) Collins. The Committee of the time was very stable, so Dixie was able to assume the reigns with the minimum of fuss.

Dixie, being a life member, already had to respect of his peers and his love of his club and his desire for it to succeed was soon evident. Dixie spent many an hour down the club house attending to the “little things” that needed doing, the jobs that no one noticed when they were done, but every body winged about if they weren’t. He prided himself in the operation of the surf club hall. He was always polishing and sanding the dance floor, arranging for servicing of the bar and refrigeration equipment and making sure that there was a little stash of “special” drinks for those important occasions.

No one had the keys to Dixie’s cupboard and the delights that sometime would be revealed when he opened it were like an Aladdin’s cave. Dixie’s cupboard held treasures like ¾ bottles of scotch, several cases of beer, the odd bottle or two of wine, various soft drinks and so on, along with his stack of vital cleaning products. No one really knows how he acquired all these goodies, and it was not wise to ask, but the surf club did not seem to get many bills for cleaning equipment, and the servicing of the bar fridge’s were always done at the right price by Jack Clagues.

The 1990’s commenced as we have expected it to with Bellambi winning the BHP Patrol Competition. The Club had two IRB’s and three fully operational outboard motors. A fully equipped IRB and motor cost around $7,000, with most of the money being raised by the Club though its Friday night Bowling Club Raffle, which affectionately became known as Dixie’s swindle! Over the years, Dixie had run the Bowlo raffle every Friday night and it was the life blood of our finances.

A great honour was bestowed on our previous past President, Chuck Fowler, when he was granted Life Membership of Illawarra Branch of Surf Life Saving during the 1991/92 season. This was in recognition for the outstanding contribution that Chuck had made to not only his club, but to surf life saving in the Branch. Chuck had assisted the Sandon Point Club during their struggle with membership and undertook patrols at both Bellambi and Sandon Point during the 80’s. He was on the Board of Examiners for many years and was a previous President of the Branch. In the same season Alan Parsons was appointed as Honorary Treasury of NSW State Centre. This was a big occasion for Allan, as he is the only member of the club to hold an executive position at State Centre.

It was always one of Chuck Fowler’s dreams that one day Bellambi would be on the map and stage a major surf carnival. We had staged local surf carnivals for many years and had successfully conducted the Branch Championships on a number of occasions, so it was with much trepidation that we began to plan for the biggest carnival in the club’s history – the 1994 NSW Junior State Surf Life Saving Championships.

It was 1991/92 when we applied and whilst with Chuck’s influence at Branch and State level we thought we might be a shoe in, we were not that confident. The Junior Committee formed a working party assisted by members of the Executive and we formulated our submission to be considered for the titles in two year time.

1994 – NSW Junior State Surf Life Saving Titles

Without a doubt the biggest single event in the Club’s history was our staging of the 1994 NSW Junior State Surf Life Saving Championships. The genesis of the team that put together the “Titles” campaign had been formed a few years earlier in around 1992. We were very naïve in what we thought was required, but in true Bellambi spirit we just got stuck in.

Many years of planning pre event were undertaken by the working party which included Greg Hosa, Chuck, John Heath, Dixie Duggan, Dave Ryan, Kath Hill, John Hobbs, Les Nicholls, Laura Vanderburgh and a number of others. The organising committee not only concentrated on the physical running of the carnival, but also dealt with Wollongong Council and Tourism Wollongong for such matters as accommodation for competitors, advertising, parking, land usage, and so on. Many meetings were held with James Cook of Tourism Wollongong, and great assistance was provided by Wollongong Council who offered additional resources in the form of cleaning staff for the public toilets, additional garbage collections, closure of the cycle way and so on.

Dave Ryan enlisted assistance from past members in Robert Banks who worked on the electrical supply amongst other things, Nobby Booth assist with fist aid and Leigh and Warren Fowler and so many others.

Many hands make light work, and so many members and friends of Bellambi Surf Club assisted during the two days of the carnival. A number of members took time off work before and after the event to assist with set up and dismantle of the arenas.

Many members wives, girl friends, friends of members and just friends of the surf club gave up their time to run the BBQ, undertake crowd control, staff competitors gates, parking attendants, crash crews, feeding of officials and the numerous other tasks that just have to be done. In her usual fashion, Kath Hill managed the catering and willing workers appeared as if by magic. Kath must have pulled in lots of favours as the supply of workers willing to give freely of their time seemed endless.

Many members worked tirelessly over a five day period and over the Saturday and Sunday of the carnival spent long days in the sun ensuring that the event went off without a hitch. One thing that we couldn’t control was Bellambi’s infamous seaweed. And boy did we get some seaweed over that weekend.

Sea and weather conditions were perfect, with sunny days and slight seas, however, the dreaded weed decided to pay us a visit in quantities that had not been seen for many years. The weed got so thick that we were in real danger of calling off the water events and moving them to another venue. This would have been a disaster for us as this would have split our workforce and undone all the work that we had undertaken on our own beach. It was time to call in the heavy artillery.

Dixie Duggan used his contacts and contacted Jim Starkey ( a great friend of Bellambi Surf Club) we soon had two front end loaders working on the beach and in the shallows, collecting the weed and stacking it into piles. Before long there were six or seven stacks of weed, around 3 meters high piled at the southern end of the beach.

The weed was collected from the shore and shallow water and the front end loaders kindly donated by South Bulli Colliery worked quickly and efficiently all through the afternoon and early evening on the Saturday and enabled the removal of the pest and allowed the carnival to proceed.

NSW State Junior Championships 1994 Bellambi Beach

At the completion of each work day, Greg Hosa and Chuck would get the organising committee together and discuss our progress. The white board would get a work over and much “discussion” took place over ways to do things easier the next day. Teamwork became the theme and everyone just got in and did their bit. Even though folks were extremely tired things got done with minimum of fuss.

It was often said that this carnival would either make or break us. Well as it turned out it was a bit of both. The Club received glowing reports from officials and competitors alike over the manner in which the carnival was conducted. The arrangements the club had put into place with parking, management of officials, “crash crews” water safety, first aid, and so on. Members from both the junior and senior club got on famously and many of the old rivalries were put to one side for the benefit of the Club. However, post event old wounds were opened with some bickering over allocation of monies raised, the, us and them attitudes and many members being very jaded by the experience.

The following years were tough on the club, with those members who just hung in there for the sake of the carnival now deciding that they had had enough, the struggle to rekindle enthusiasm in club life as a whole, the inevitable let down following such a huge concerted effort all contributing to making the last half of the 1990’s a less than memorable period in the Club’s history.

1990’s continued…

Vandalism has always plagued the club and its ugly head stuck twice during the 1990’s. The first occasion was during the 1991/92 season when the clubhouse was broken into. Access was gained by smashing the windows in the patrol room and breaking the door into the canteen.

On this occasion, items such as a television set, two way radios and other associated equipment were stolen. Canteen stock was also stolen. All up the cost to the club in stolen gear and equipment amounted to several thousand dollars, and with no insurance, we just had to get on with the job and do without. Following this the club decided to install an alarm system in the main part of the club house. This alarm system provided some resemblance of security as it at least sounded an audible siren when activated and locals began to know that the club had an alarm system that made lots of noise and that within a short period of time members would arrive to check out the disturbance.

What we didn’t do, was to install an alarm in the gear shed and during the 1994/95 season, the club suffered its worst case of vandalism when, the gear shed was broken into and the club’s IRB’s were slashed.

The wanton destruction of rescue equipment was a body blow to the club, and almost put us out of action for several weeks. Members rallied round and with the help of some supportive suppliers, we managed to get the boats fixed. The report of the vandalism was well covered by the Illawarra Mercury newspaper and local TV and radio networks. So it came as somewhat of a surprise when 2WL (now WAVE FM) offered us the opportunity to fund raise at their Life Style Expo to be held in Beaton Park.

So on the Saturday, Les Nicholls and John Heath, loaded up the surf club trailer with the damaged boat and headed off for Beaton Park for the opportunity to raise some funds to either fix or replace the boats . During the journey into North Wollongong, our lads were spotted by an eagle eyed Police officer, who proceeded to pull them over and explained to them that the registration on the trailer had expired and they were in a bit of bother!

To say that the boys were not happy is an understatement, not only did they have to raise money to repair/replace the IRB that had been destroyed by vandals; they were now in trouble for towing an unregistered trailer. Nicko kept his cool (this time) and explained to the young officer the situation and they were allowed to continue on their journey to the Expo, accompanied by a sizeable traffic fine. All monies raised during the Expo were used to pay the surf club fine! – Its true nice guys do run last. Since that time Nicko has had the trailer registration posted to his home address and makes doubly sure that the trailer is always registered.

The saddest day in the life of the surf club occurred during the 1994/95 season with the passing of Glen (Chuck) Fowler. Chuck had been very ill for sometime, and during that fateful season, lost his battle with heart disease. As they say in that classic song, “it was the day the music died”.

One of the hallmarks of the late 1990’s was the continual loss of members. During this time especially, from 1996 until early into the new decade, patrolling numbers plunged to an all time low, with at one stage we were down to six active patrolling members and total club membership below 25. The Club held a crisis meeting to discuss our future. The brooding that had occurred following the Junior State Titles finally erupted and was brought to a head when a Special Meeting was conducted to clear the air.

The entire Club membership was invited to this meeting and members from the Junior Club and the Senior Club decided that the only way forward was for there to be one Bellambi Surf Club with the Junior Chairperson to become an executive member of the Club committee and a Junior liaison position to be created so that a link between the two committees could be forged. Whereas once, junior members were not particularly welcomed into the “senior” change rooms, now it was decided that the club house was for all members and junior members were welcome to use the club facilities. Members were open and honest about how they wanted their club to move forward and it seemed that the meeting had achieved the desired results, with tensions eased; the club struggled through the remainder of the year, hoping the things would get better.

During the 1996/97 a number of prominent senior members resigned, including the Club Secretary, but despite the forlorn outlook, we never lost focus of the job at hand and continued to provide the bathing public of Bellambi with the best possible surf patrols. We were delighted that in spite of all that the club had endured through the internal conflict, we still managed a very creditable 2nd in the BHP Patrol competition.

1997/98 season opened with much trepidation, Club President, John Heath had overseen the previous 12 months and at times wondered what he had let himself in for. But in true Bellambi fashion, we knew that there was a job to be done and the new committee had to get together and make it work.

We had a new Club Captain in Darren Heath, a new Secretary in Hank Van Stuivenberg, and a few experienced committee members in Les Nicholls as IRB Captain etc.  We also celebrated the election of Alan Parsons as Illawarra Branch President in another example of the leadership strength of the club.

The club began the slow climb to recovery, with much enthusiasm generated by Lurch, we were again successful in winning the BHP patrol competition. This was our 11th time, which prompted the then Member for Keira, Colin Markham MP to comment in NSW Parliament. Mr Markham stated “I acknowledge that the Seventeenth BHP Patrol Efficiency competition was won by the Bellambi Surf Club, a small club that struggles to maintain sufficient members to survive and nevertheless makes a real contribution to water safety. The club has won four of the last five patrol efficiency competitions. That demonstrates the commitment of the volunteers”.

Towards the end of the season, Les Nicholls and Paul Peterson were asked by Surf Life Saving NSW to undertake the role of duty boat at the NSW State Titles at Mollymook beach. The seas were mountainous that weekend, with many wrecked vessels and most of the water events moved to calmer waters.

Nicko and Pedo excelled in the conditions and whilst they both freely admit it was possibly the biggest sea that they had ever worked in, they never the less did themselves and the club proud. It is now a matter of history that the two were honoured at the NSW Surf Life Saving Awards of Excellence for their heroism, bravery and dedication in the most difficult circumstances. It was a mark of their resilience, that despite being cold, wet and tired they continued to battle to surf to ensure that the competitors were kept safe, in very trying conditions. It’s a miracle that they didn’t break any gear and kept themselves in one piece!

So as we headed for the end of the century, we continued with the tradition that had been going on for well over ten years, in our community resus program. Members of the club, (Dixie, Eddie Milnes, Nicko, Barry Blakeney and others) would attend Bellambi and Russel Vale Public Schools to demonstrate and teach basic surf awareness and resus to the children in years 5 and 6. I don’t who enjoyed it more, the kids or the clubbies.

The group would gather at the school(s) and provide the children with an introduction to surf and then some practical demonstrations followed by letting the kids have a go at resus on one of the club’s manikins. All kids who participated were awarded a certificate for their attendance and it was hoped that they learnt something for the experience.

In May of 1999   the club decided that our numbers were so low that we had to do something a little different. We needed to raise the Club’s profile in the local community and involve our neighbours in our club. A small organising committee was formed, consisting of  Club President, John Heath, Treasurer,  Ross Meaker and a few willing workers to run a community carnival. The event was sponsored by the Department of Housing, who provided much needed financial support.

The idea was to open the doors of the club house to the community, show them what we had to offer and engage them to join the club. There were the usual jumping castle, beach games, life saving displays, sausage sizzle and so on. The day turned out to be a resounding success, with a few hundred people attending (I still don’t know if it was the free sausage sambo and drink that got them there or there was nothing else on that day) but there were lots of positive comments and people who thought that clubbies were a bunch of strange people who wore funny swimmers and yellow shirts were generally taken aback by the friendly attitude of club members who went out of their way to show them how we operated. Things were looking up!

3 December – 11 December 1999 – The Search for Paul Peterson

At 6 am on Thursday 9 December 1999, the Club was called to respond to an out of hours search and rescue activity off Woonona beach. Bellambi’s Arancia & BP IRB’s were called into action along with the Kiama Surf Club’s Jet Boat. Arriving at Woonona Point and under the direction of Jeff Vanning from Surf Life Saving Illawarra and Woonona Surf Club’s Kevin Crick, along with the NSW Police Rescue Squad, the Bellambi crews began a search of a swimmer believed to have gone missing the previous evening from the Woonona Point area.

On first arrival at Woonona, it was thought that they were looking for a teenager who had been riding a boogie board. Gina Crick (then a member of Woonona Club) and Les Nicholls puzzled about  the name of the lost person and if it related to Paul Peterson, who no one had seen for a day or so, but without any proof, they disregard any connection and revert to the initial thought that they were looking for a lost boogie board rider.

At around 10:00 am a radio report from the Police vessel Fearless that the missing person works at Phil’s Paint & Panel Shop at Bulli. Police then confirm that the name of the missing person is Paul Peterson.

After the initial shock of hearing this over the Police radio, the Bellambi crew contact the Police Command Centre and advised them that Paul Peterson is a member of Bellambi Surf Club. The Bellambi team were in total shock as they then realised that they were searching for one of their own. The Bellambi crews led by Les Nicholls and crewed by Barry Blakeney, ably assisted by crews from Woonona and Thirroul  then commenced the task of looking for Paul, hoping against hope that they might find him drifting out at sea, but alive.

Bellambi’s two IRB’s spent the entire day searching in grid pattern for any sign of Paul, but had no luck. At around 5:45 pm the crews were hit by an unbelievable thunderstorm. The crews could see the storm front approaching, it was something a kin to a Hollywood movie, with the clouds as big and rolling as a tidal wave, it was quiet mesmerising.

When the storm hit, it hit hard and fast. The crews were lost in a big black wet and freezing experience. The crews could not see land or even 20 feet to any side of the boats, both Bellambi crews closed ranks and headed east so as not to be washed on to Bulli Reef. The crews were luck that the Arancia had a compass on board there was no way they could have determined their settings due to the extreme blackness. Out of the gloom, they spotted some navigation lights of the Kiama Jet Boat who acted as a mother ship and they clung to each other for safety.

Search Coordinator, Kevin Crick radioed the IRB’s to terminate the search and return to shore. Bellambi crews responded that they couldn’t see the shore and they were just going to try and ride it out. The wind and rain began to batter the crews in their tiny rubber boats, with unbelievable force. The crews could only use the peaks of their baseball caps as some protection from the driving rain. Finally there was a break in the cloud cover and the crews sped for the shore with all haste. When the crews and the Kiama boat arrived at Bellambi Club house, they had spent an eventful 8.5 hours searching, with no success.

At the end of the first day, Police Rescue Squad Commander, Manny Versosa, debriefed all crews and personnel at Woonona Point. During the debrief, Les Nicholls expressed his ill feelings about the lack of aerial support during the search, and emphasised the fact that this man was a member of our surf life saving club and the surf life saving movement and he was not satisfied with the fact that our Surf Lifesaving Helicopter nor the aerial patrol weren’t utilized. Commander Versosa was not very happy with Les’ comments, and reminded all crews that this operation was under the direction of the NSW Police and we were to obey their directions.

Les and Barry left the debrief and continued their own search until it was no longer possible due to failing light.

The following morning Friday 10 December, Bellambi members were again on the search site at 6:00 am. Although under the control of Police Rescue Squad, Bellambi members set up their own command centre, using a white board and club mobile radio’s, establishing search areas and patterns to be covered. Les Nicholls and Barry Blakeney in one vessel and Darren Heath and Pat Keefe in another.

The crews spent another 11 hours searching in vain for Paul. Whilst the crews were out on the water other members assisted thorough radio communications directing the crews to various areas, liaising with Police Rescue and discussing strategies with Paul family, who had gathered in increasing numbers during the day. Sea conditions on that day were very windy with 25-30 knot north east winds, and a 3-4 metre swell. At around 5:30pm a decision was made to terminate the days activities and to pool resources for the next day, (Saturday) and to resume with Police Rescue Squad and Water Police from 6:00 am.

Saturday 6:00 am Bellambi crews arrive at the search point under the control of Jeff Vanning from Surf Life Saving Illawarra and Bellambi Club President John Heath, as the surf rescue coordinator, who were in turn under the control of NSW Police Rescue Squad. During the morning one of Bellambi’s vessels rips a bow seam and has to be retired from the search event. Another frustrating and long painstaking day with no result. The Bellambi crews return home to base around 8:00 pm, totally exhausted, both mentally and physically, now realising that they are no longer search for Paul but for his deceased body.

The crews and Bellambi team spent 10 hours searching.

As so it was to be for the next seven days until Saturday 11 December when Bellambi crews decide that they can do no more and decide to call off the search.

In all Bellambi members had spent around 90 hours searching on the water. The following members were directly involved with searching or at the scene lending a hand and support or at the Club house arranging meals for the crew, radio watch, refuelling and so on:

  • Les Nicholls
  • Gina Crick
  • Barry Blakeney
  • Darren Heath
  • Michael Hill
  • Dave Ryan
  • Pat Keefe
  • Debbie Keefe
  • Kim Knick
  • Paul Colvin & partner Jess
  • Steve Duggan
  • Peter Shuttleworth
  • John Heath
  • Rebecca Ryan
  • Tanya Knick
  • Kath Hill
  • Peter Gaffney
  • Linda Yeo
  • Brock Appleby
  • Shayne Morgan

The efforts of each and every person over the time span between 7.00 am on Friday 3rd December to 5pm Saturday 11th December was outstanding with many members putting in long hours, missing work and other commitments in an attempt to find Paul. During this time, Club members learnt about the enormity of an exercise such as this, not only in the time and physical drain, but the inner strength required to continue even though you know that your efforts will be fruitless.

After each day all club members involved would gather at the Club house and debrief that day’s activity. These debriefs help the members cope with the job at hand. All members gave their thoughts and their concerns and they talked things over as a group who had one single purpose.

The Club greatly appreciated the efforts of other organisations who assisted; Woonona SLSC; Thirroul SLSC; Kiama Jet Rescue Boat & Crews; Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol; NSW Police Rescue Squad; Police Helicopter Polair; Police launch Fearless; Australian Aerial Patrol; Bulli Rural Fire Service; State Emergency Service; Volunteer Rescue Squad; Bulli Lions Club; Traffic Watch Helicopter (John Kesby) in association with WAVE FM.

This was not a great way to finish the 1999 year, but in true Bellambi spirit, the Club worked together in probably one of our darkest periods to show our community what we are truly capably of.

2000’s the new millennium

The club welcomed the new millennium with a real sense of purpose, we were determined to work on the things that had made us great and put behind the negative issues that had so dominated the latter part of the 90’s. The New Year Eve celebrations were particularly spectacular for the wrong reasons when the fire works that members had organised went astray and set fire to the creek bank. Narbotto was jumping around dodging fire works and throwing sand on the fire trying to put it out, whilst there were encouraging screams of laughter from the club balcony.

There was a lot of noise and smoke and the occasional colourful display that some how managed to launch from the sand . From all accounts the spectator’s recon the show, whilst not as spectacular as the Sydney Harbour Bridge display, was certainly more entertaining. The old saying fire works and alcohol don’t mix is certainly true.

The decade saw us begin the slow period of regrowth. The club established a rookie life saver program, one of the first Illawarra clubs to do so. The rookie program was the brain child of Gina Crick, who along with John Whiteley saw the opportunity to bridge the gap between the junior club and the seniors. The program was aimed at those young members who were finishing their junior club years and needed the mentoring to guide them into the full club movement.

Gina and Wit were perfect, providing the exact level of support and guidance for the young members. They established a fully coordinated program and kept the new “rookies” together by providing opportunities that previously had not existed. It was not long before the Branch cottoned on to the idea and a fully sponsored Branch coordinated program was established.

The Rookies received their own special uniforms and a number of inter club events were staged. This included things like sleep over’s, discos, picture theatre trips and so on. The kids got a lot out of the program and it really encouraged them to continue with their surf club activities. A Rookie carnival was held at Bulli Surf Club, with teams from Bulli, Woonona, Bellambi and Sandon Point competing in fun events. There were no points awarded and it was all about letting the rookie lifesavers enjoy the experience.

At the Club’s annual presentation night in June 2000, we invited Paul Peterson’s parents and partner who awarded the inaugural Paul Peterson Memorial Trophy Board Rescue Champion. This was in memory of Paul and his contribution to the club. It was a fitting gesture for a fine clubman and in some way keeps his memory alive for those of us who had the pleasure of knowing him. It also was a way of saying a final goodbye to an old mate.

2000 saw a momentous change in Australian society with the introduction of the GST. For surf clubs this was a huge event, as we are not the greatest bookkeepers in the world, and we had to be educated into the ways of BAS, and financial record keeping. Many hours were spent by the Club executive, at various seminars and training sessions trying to work out how this change in the tax laws would affect us.

Surf Life Saving NSW Treasurer, John Fraser addressed club presidents and told us how easy it would be. Not one of us believed him, but we managed, and eventually engaged our auditor Ewan Poulton & Co who showed us the way.  So far, our Treasurer has managed to stay out of jail, and our accounts balance and we are in reasonable financial shape.

The Club continued to dominate the BHP patrol efficiency competition, eventually winning the event 16 times with a pronominal nine (9) times in a row. It almost became known as Bellambi’s trophy. The club so dominated this event that when the trophy was presented for the final time, Club President John Heath, accepted the perpetual trophy and managed to squirrel it away, where it now sits proudly in our club house as a permanent reminder of our skill and dominance over such a long period.

The Club ventured into some new technology (not for surf life saving, but for us) when we purchased our first four wheel drive quad bike. For many years, patrolling members used the IRB as a de facto box trailer and loaded all the patrol gear in the boat and man handled it down to the patrol area. With the purchase of the quad bike, we could now tow the boat and trailer down to the sand, saving valuable time and much energy. We would never have been able to afford this purchase if it was not for the generosity of the Bellambi Hotel Social Golf Club.

The Hotel Golf Club are just ordinary men and women who get together to have a round of golf every weekend and from their own pockets, raise funds for worthy charities. The Golf Club members decided that Bellambi Surf Club would be their prime charity and have over the years provided us with well over ten thousand dollars in much needed funds. Past Golf Club President Glen Potter once described it as “locals helping locals”. The club could never adequately express its gratitude to the members of social golf club.

The new millennium also saw us elect our first female life member in Kath Hill, who had provided well in excess of 20 years dedicated and outstanding service to the Club. This was a watershed moment for the club as for the first time the Special Awards Committee recognised service to the junior section of the club as constituting service to the “Club” and decided that Kath more than met the strict criteria for life membership.

Kath is a stalwart of the club and binds the junior movement together. She is an essential element of the dedication that many parents have shown over the years in promoting children to join the senior ranks. Since Kath’s election, we have also seen Marilyn Fowler and Laura Vanderburgh (also from the junior committee) elected as life members. This is a growing sign of the maturity of the club as it formally recognises outstanding service provided over many long years but these women.


On 12th April, 1909, a cock fight was the main feature of the first Inter-Club Carnival between Bellambi and Thirroul. Other events included a sack race, land drill with an instructor, eight man rescue and resuscitation, alarm race and a tug-o-war. A Sydney judge, Mr. C. Daly, of Coogee, officiated before a crowd of 2,000 people. Rough seas prevailed and a admission of three pence was charged. Competition wise, the thirties and forties were pretty quiet, with not much happening until the fifties, when members like R. Napper and B. Barsby started filling places in the surf ski and ’round the stick’ races. Then on the 10th February, 1952, more than 1,200 spectators saw the first surf carnival to be held on Bellambi beach.

The crowd was the biggest ever to attend the beach. The event was the Inter-Club Carnival and was called the Hallstrom Shield, with three clubs, Bellambi, Corrimal and Towradgi, competing against each other. This was the start of many more Inter-Club Carnivals to be continued over the years. Bellambi led the point score competition for the Castleburgh Cup (beach section of the shield) with two events to go, however, Corrimal scored fifteen out of the possible twenty points for the musical flags and ’round the stick’ race to beat Bellambi by two points. Best finish of the day was in the Cadet Surf Race when three swimmers stood up together out of the surf. The event resulted in a win for Ron Nugget” Lindsay of Corrimal, who was the fastest to run up the beach, with Jimmy “Possum” Wrightson of Bellambi a close second. Trevor Bradley of Corrimal was third. The final outcome of the Inter-Club point score was Corrimal 78, Bellambi 35 and Towradgi 27.The placing for Bellambi on that day were:-

  • J. Wrightson – 2nd – Cadet Surf Race
  • E. Lamb – 3rd – Senior Beach Sprint
  • Bellambi – 1st – Senior Beach Relay
  • Bellambi – 3rd – Open Chariot
  • R Smart-K. O’Connell – 1st – Carry-Your-Chum
  • C.O’Connell-A. Happ – 3rd – Carry-Your-Chum
  • E. Lamb – B. Barsby – 1st – Three Legged Race
  • K. O’Connell – S. Parsons – 2nd – Three Legged Race
  • R.Young – 1st – Round the Stick’ Race

As you can see, there were a lot of unusual events, much different from today’s carnivals. John McLoskey in winning the Junior Surf Race at Austinmer’s Surf Carnival, was the first person to win a surf race at a major carnival since the club was founded. The season was 1952. In 1958, after six years of competing in the Hallstrom Shield, Bellambi finally cracked a win. The win was the Castleburgh Cup, something Bellambi had come so near but never won until that year.

18th January, 1964, saw Bellambi hold its first annual surf carnival. Apart from seaweed marring the Rescue and Resuscitation event, the carnival was a huge success. Also at the Nowra-Culburra Surf Carnival that year, John Whiteley won the Novice Surf, the second person in the club’s history to win a Surf Race. 1964-65 season saw the introduction of a new Sunday Carnival (called a Display at that time) sponsored by the Woonona-Bulli Soccer and Sports Club, between Bellambi, Woonona, Bulli and Sandon Point, competing on a handicap basis. With membership on a slight increase, the Bellambi club, in the 1965-66 seasons competition, reached a great height in the clubs history.

In that year, Bellambi held its annual Surf Carnival and were represented in every Illawarra Carnival as well as State and National  Championships, After minor places in that season, the club was placed third in the March Past at the Branch Championships, the first placing Bellambi has had at any level of Championships. In the 1966-67 season, with the previous years experience in competing at carnivals behind them, the club came within a fraction of a point of winning the Hallstrom Shield.

After taking out the water section for the first time, Bellambi was beaten by a half a point on the overall total for the shield. One of the       unluckiest pairs in the club would have to be Dennis Moore and Geoff Cleaves, who paddled the double and single skis. Known throughout the club as hard trainers, they continually had bad luck with broken rudders, bad draws and beaten in photo finishes throughout their careers together.

They were rewarded with a second at the 1966 Branch Championships and once again, with lady luck on their side, they might have received gold instead of silver. Then on 2nd March, 1968, at the Branch Championships held at Bulli beach, Bellambi caused one of the biggest shocks of the day, when they won the March Past Championship and beat Corrimal. Corrimal had dominated March Past competitions for years, so it was a big upset for Bellambi to win. The team went onto the Australian Titles held at North Cronulla on the 13th – 14th April, 1968, and finished equal seventh in Australia.

That season was also the start of many trips to Tathra to compete at their annual carnivals which proved quite successful in many ways. The club also attended Moruya and Pambula over the seasons. The following season saw a great boost to morale when Bellambi March Past Team won the Branch Title for the second time. Bellambi is the only club to beat the famous Corrimal March Past Team for two successive years.

Wrote Charlie Richardson of the Illawarra Daily Mercury, “Bellambi retained its March Past title in one of the greatest shocks I can recall in Illawarra surfing. Corrimal was unbeaten this season and Bellambi’s form has been far from good”. Bellambi beat Corrimal by .60 of a point. The end of the sixties came and went with the club really firing on the competitive field by gaining places at the 1970 Branch Titles in seven events, something they have never achieved before.

The seventies came with great enthusiasm, but did not at first live up to the promise of the late sixties. After a lapse of a couple of seasons, however, with two new members on the executive of the club Bellambi faired pretty well again, with the winning of the Hallstrom Shield at Corrimal beach for the very first time and a good performance  at the Branch Titles held at Port Kembla beach. At that Championship, Billy Boekestein and Kevin Banks were the first individual competitors to have the honour of getting a place in a championship event.

Boekestein was third in the Cadet Malibu Board Race and Banks third in the Junior Beach Flags. Banks also received a second in the Junior Surf Race (Non Championship). The date was 2nd March 1974.   At this time there was a young cadet in the Junior Section of the club who was showing great potential and it was not until the following season that he showed just how good he really was. His name was Bruce Stevenson and at the Branch Championships held on 16th February, 1975, at Wollongong beach, Bruce became the first individual competitor of the club to win a championship event – the Cadet Malibu Race.

In the afternoon he made it a double by winning the Cadet Surf Race. That was just the start of the titles he would win in Illawarra. The club also regained the Hallstrom Shield and hold it to this day.

The following season the club gained places at the Branch Titles and then in the 1976-77 season formed a Rescue and Resuscitation team for the first time for many years. While the team was not successful in their first season together, they gained valuable experience as they competed in every Illawarra and some Sydney carnivals.

The next season the team finished second behind Wollongong in the blue ribbon event of the Surf Life Saving in the Illawarra and was unlucky not to win. The clubs Junior R & R team finished first in their event and the fact that they were the only team to start in the event is further evidence of the strength and enthusiasm of the club and its members.

This was also Bellambi’s best year at the Branch Titles, receiving three gold, two silver and five bronze medals, the best the club has done at any level of competition. Bruce Stevenson played a big part in the majority of these medals.

On 11th March, 1979, Bellambi finally cracked the big time by winning the Open R & R Championship at the Illawarra Branch Championships at Woonona beach with the deduction of only 7.16 points. To quote from the Illawarra Branch Annual Report for that season “Much enthusiasm met the announcing of Bellambi Club’s win in the Blue Ribbon Open Rescue and Resuscitation Championship. This was the Club’s first such win”. The team had felt confident during the season that would come close to success and with a team of six and two reserves. Coach Rob McKeith had drilled the team well. Their efforts paid off in the long run but unfortunately, they lost their crown to Wollongong at Bulli beach in the 1979-80 season.


From L. to R.: A. Parsons, C Stevenson. B. Stevenson. A. Booth (Reserve), McKeith (Coach), S. Gray (Capt.), L. Nicholls. M. Ttinca. G. Sounders (Reserve, absent)

The 1980-81 season saw National Council being quite concerned by a lack of clubs and teams competing in the Rescue and Resuscitation, so major changes occurred in this event by introducing a Six man and a Four-man R & R.

The Six-man will still be the premier event in Surf Life Saving, with the Four-man differing from the Six-man in so far as the mandatory use of the Rescue Tube. Bellambi entered carnivals in both of these events and at the Branch Championships held at Corrimal beach on the 22nd February, 1981, the club was successful in both of these events, with the team of Allan Parsons, Rob McKeith, Colin Stevenson, Les Nicholls and Michael Trinca, well drilled by coach Steve Gray and for the second successive year won the Don Turnbull Memorial Trophy in R & R. Along with the two gold medals won from the R & R, Bellambi also received a silver and two bronze  medals, a reasonable effort considering the lack of facilities the club experienced for 1980-81season.

During the 1990’s, the club decided to go IRB racing, on a shoe string budget and using the work horse boats that were used for every day patrols. The idea was that the new IRB racing format was conducted over the winter months and it might encourage members to join/stay and provide a little something for members to get involved with.

Les Nicholls led the way and with his side kick, Darren (Lurch) Heath trained hard and often with a small dedicated group of both male and female members. The group was always competitive, but not always successful. The female crews showed outstanding courage with Maxine Collins, Linda Duggan, Debbie Reeves and others often showing up the men with their results.

Bellambi has had mixed results over the years and whilst we have always competed with vigour, our results have not always matched our enthusiasm.  There have been many proud members wear the club colours over the years, with some prominent names such as Dennis Moore & Geoff Cleavers, John Whiteley, Bruce and Col Stevenson, Alan Parsons, Jason and Paul Michlmayr, Shane Morgan, Les Nicholls, Rob McKeith, Dave Ryan, Bruce Percy, Sheldon Dawkins and Gina Crick to name just a few.