World’s first surf lifesaving club is founded at Bondi, Sydney. (1906)

At the turn of the century people wanted to be able to enjoy themselves in the surf near Sydney, but it was sometimes dangerous. A group of three surfers formed the Bondi Surf Bathers Life Saving Club in February 1906 so they could keep watch and help each other out if anyone got into trouble in the surf. Lyster Ormsby held the number one membership. This was the first official surf lifesaving club in the world. From the beginning its lifesavers were voluntary, whereas in other countries such as the United States they were often paid for their work. The first lifesavers wore cork belts and flotation jackets – they would go out to swimmers in difficulty, give them a lifebuoy attached to a long rope, and then pull them back to safety. But the belts and jackets were too buoyant to let lifesavers dive under large waves. Lyster Ormsby found the solution – a large portable reel in the shape of a cotton reel attached to a small stand that meant lifesavers could swim out from any part of the beach to rescue swimmers, and, attached to the rescue line with a belt, be reeled back to shore safely by other lifesavers. One of the first people to be rescued by this revolutionary life-saving aid was a small boy named Charles Kingsford (‘Charlie’) Smith who, along with his cousin Rupert Swallow, was rescued by the Bondi club on 3 January 1907.


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