The First Clubs 

Australia’s first volunteer Surf Life Saving clubs appeared on Sydney’s ocean beaches in 1907. By-laws which had previously banned bathing in daylight hours since the 1830s were gradually repealed between 1902 and 1905, in response to the increasing popularity of surf-bathing, and a growing conviction that public bathing in appropriate clothing as not an immoral act. 

These changes had a dramatic impact on local beach culture as the number of beachgoers entering the surf suddenly increased. The surf and beach environment was new to most surf-bathers and many could not swim, so with the increasing popularity of surf bathing came more drownings and consequent attempts at rescue. 

By the summer of 1906/7, the population of Sydney was obsessed with the question of surf safety. It was in this environment that surf lifesaving clubs first emerged, their regular patrols a welcome relief to local authorities and nervous bathers alike. 

On October 18, 1907, representatives from these clubs, together with members of other interested groups, met to form the Surf Bathing Association of New South Wales, the organisation which is now known as Surf Life Saving Australia.

The first South Australian club was established at Henley in 1925, and was initially affiliated with the Royal Life Saving Society. The emergence of more clubs along South Australian beaches, and South Australian members competing at interstate surf competitions, led to a push for a formation of a State Centre of the Surf Life Saving Association in South Australia. On October 10, 1952, representatives from five clubs (Brighton, Glenelg, Henley, Moana and Seacliff) met with representatives from Surf Life Saving Australia and Royal Life Saving Society. The outcome was the formation of what is now known as Surf Life Saving South Australia. 

In 1980, to the great advantage of the movement, women were admitted as active lifesavers to patrol beaches and do rescue work. Now over 140,000 men, women and children belong to the movement, over 550,000 people have been rescued by Australian surf lifesavers since 1907, and over three hundred clubs patrol the coasts of all States of the Commonwealth. 

To fulfill its charter of saving lives, Surf Life Saving Australia has adapted quickly to change. Advances in technology, rescue techniques has seen the advent of the Inflatable Rescue Boat, defibrillator, expired air resuscitation, helicopter rescue service and dedicated digital radio channels, to name a few. 


South Australian Surf Life Saving

The first South Australia club was Henley, founded in 1925. It was soon joined by  Seacliff (1930), Glenelg (1931), Port Elliot (1933), and Moana (1938).  

In that era, the Royal Life Saving Society prevailed over South Australian gulf waters, and despite South Australian clubs' burgeoning relationships with interstate and national surf life saving bodies (and Henley sending a team to compete interstate in 1938), in 1939 it was ruled that Gulf waters in  South Australia were "inland", and any South Australian clubs would be part of the Royal Life Saving Society, rather than Surf Life Saving. 

Two Henley members - Charles Fielder and Mervyn Butterfield - took it upon themselves to lobby for change, and for thirteen years they collected wind and tide graphs, and records of wave conditions, and were unrelenting in their efforts to demonstrate that Gulf waters were not "inland" but real "surf beaches". In light of expert evidence (from the State Weather Bureau and the Harbour Master), it was conceded that Gulf waters were surf lifesaving respibsibility. The first annual report of the State Centre records, 

"The SA State Centre of the S.L.S.A was formed on October 10th 1952 at a meeting organised by the S.A. Branch of the Royal Life Saving Society and representatives of Beach Clubs, following upon provisional affiliation being granted Moana, Glenelg and Henley Clubs direct with the National Council of the S.L.S.A.”

Port Noarlunga in 1952 was first to join the original five clubs. Brighton and Semaphore followed in 1953, then Christies Beach (1954), Grange and West Beach (1955), Whyalla and Chiton Rocks (1957), South Port (1959), Somerton (1960), North Haven (1967), Aldinga Bay (1978), Normanville (1998) and Goolwa (2010).

Due to the Royal Life Saving Society situation, it it was not until 1953 that South Australia was able to field another surf lifesaving team at a national championships. Since this year, however, participation of South Australian athletes and teams has increased across junior, senior and masters levels, and we have achieved great success not only nationally but internationally as well.

For over sixty years Surf Life Saving South Australia has patrolled the beaches of the state. Growth of membership and public participation has been exponential to address issues as they have arisen. There are now nineteen clubs and nine thousand members to keep those South Australian beaches safe.         


Key Milestones

February: the first surf lifesaving clubs begin patrolling Sydney beaches
March: surf reel and belt introduced
October: the forerunner of Surf Life Saving Australia (the Surf Bathing Association of NSW) founded, with nine affiliated clubs. 

First West Australian club formed at Cottesloe

Surf Bathing Association of NSW holds first carnival

First Queensland club (Tweed Heads-Collangatta) is formed

First recorded non-fatal shark attack at Coogee

Meritorious Awards introduced

Qualifying and proficiency certificates introduced
First Tasmanian club formed at Burnie

First Meritorious Awards presented to Jack Chalmers and Frank Beaurepaire for rescue of Milton Coughlan from shark attack at Coogee.

Edele Kieft becomes first woman to gain bronze medallion. She would not receive it until 1980, at age 84, when women were finally admitted as active patrolling members. 

Patrol signs developed. Blue and white = safe. Red flags = danger. 

West Australian State Centre formed
Henley Surf Life Saving Club founded

Queensland and Tasmanian State Centres formed
Seacliff Surf Life Saving Club founded

Glenelg Surf Life Saving Club founded

Sydney Harbour Bridge opens. Bondi Beach hosts Australian Championships in celebration. 

Port Elliot Surf Life Saving Club was founded

Adrian Curlewis elected President of SLSA. From here ,with the exception of four years’ serviceduring WWII (and as a POW) he was to remain president until 1975. 

Red and yellow flags introduced, although the colours were divided diagonally, not horizontally 

Moana Surf Life Saving Club founded

Victorian State Centre formed
First Australian Championships held outside of Sydney (Greenmount, Qld)

NSW State Centre formed, becoming now separate to the national body

South Australian State Centre formed
Port Noarlunga Surf Life Saving Club founded

Brighton Surf Life Saving Club founded
Semaphore Surf Life Saving Club founded

Christies Beach Surf Life Saving Club founded

Grange and West Beach Surf Life Saving Clubs founded

Melbourne Olympics - International Carnival at Torquay
International Council of Life Saving founded

First power craft used on Queensland beaches
Malibu board introduced from USA
Chiton Rocks and Whyalla Surf Life Saving Clubs founded

Expired air resuscitation adopted
South Port Surf Life Saving Club founded

Somerton Surf Life Saving Club founded

Australian Championships held at Moana

First permanent premises for SLSSA, "Surf House" in Henley Beach

North Haven Surf Life Saving Club founded
Australian Championships held at South Por

Nipper movement begins in South Australia

World Life Saving founded

Australian Championships held at Glenelg

Surf reel begins to be replaced by rescue board, rescue tube and Inflatable Rescue Boat 

SLSSA moves to new premise in West Lakes (Surf House mk 2) 

Aldinga Bay Surf Life Saving Club founded

Women elligble to be active patrolling members
Red and yellow flags adopted as standard water safety symbol

Dwayne Thuys becomes SA's first World Champion (Open Iron Man) 

Inaugural Nutri-Grain Ironman Grand Prix

Northern Territory State Centre formed

World Life Saving and International Lifesaving Federation merge to become International Lifesaving Federation (ILS)

First successful use of a defibrilator at Noosa, Qld

Normanville Surf Life Saving Club formed

SLSSA moves to new premises in Torrensville (Surf House mk 3)

Surf Life Saving Centenary - Year of the Surf Lifesaver

Goolwa Surf Life Saving Club founded

SLSSA moves to new premises "Surf Central" at West Beach
World Lifesaving Championships held in Adelaide

World Lifesaving Championships to be held in Adelaide

References and more information