In the last days of summer 1915, the Nabiac Methodist Church Choir and friends decided to have an outing, on February 24th, a Wednesday, they headed to Black Head Beach. After rain the day before, the seas were heavy but this did not deter some of the parishioners from cooling off by having a swim in the surf. Unaware of the strong undertow near the shore line, Miss Lilly Nixon, Rev. G. Knox Read, Harry Croker and John McKay were swept out to sea some 500 metres from the shore. After approximately twenty minutes had passed an exhausted Rev. Read had managed to swim out of the rip and make it to shore, not long after Miss Nixon also made it back safely to the shore.
Unfortunately Harry Croker and John McKay were still fighting for their lives in the rip, which was pulling them further out to sea. On shore, after learning of the event that was unfolding, Mr. J. Wylie Breckenridge took charge, borrowed Mr. Hoy’s surfboat and with Mr. Norman (Northam?) and Mac. McKinnon as oarsman, rowed out through the surf and eventually rescued the exhausted men.
In March 1915, Mr. Breckenridge, possibly still a little shaken from the rescue the month before, supplied a line of rope, about 220 metres in length and the materials to make a reel for the line, so a reel and life-line could be built and kept as a rescue device close to the beach. Tom Lowrey, A. Northam and Mr. Weeks, built and trialed the life-line and reel which was being stored in Mr. Hoy’s boat shed on Black Head Beach. The earliest known reference for the need of a surf club at Black Head beach is written in an article ‘Surfing at Black Head’, printed in the local newspapers on the 20th March 1915.
It would be another ten years before the actuality of a surf club on Black Head beach would be realized. On the 21st September 1925, Frederick Charles Postle approached Manning Shire Council proposing the formation of a surf lifesaving club at Black Head. Noting how Black Head was a great picnic and swimming resort, becoming more and more popular and how a plan had been put in place to train members in the ‘approved methods of life saving’, and to be trained by some of them who had already qualified for the Bronze Medallion from metropolitan surf clubs (Sydney), himself included. Mr. Postle also recommended a site for a club house, ‘The most popular part of the beach is in the corner near the locks’, placing the surf club next to a bathing shed that was already on the beach. He also asked the council if they would consider subsidizing the purchase of lifesaving equipment, costing approximately £12/10 ($23 Australian today). Mr. Postle had put forward a positive argument and the proposal was benefitted by the memories of other councillors. Councillor (Cr.) McKinnon remembered the rescue of Harry Croker and John McKay from the Nabiac Methodist Church ten years before and how it was performed just in the ‘nick of time’ and agreed that a lifesaving club would be beneficial. Mr. J. Wylie Breckenridge, also a councillor, was very keen to see a surf club at Black Head and being a regular visitor to the sea side village, saw nothing but advantages in the proposal and he was happy donate the very life-line and reel he had supplied the materials for that was still being stored in Mr. Hoy’s boat shed. Cr. McKinnon moved ‘that the matter be left in the hands of Cr. Breckenridge and that the council grant the space required [50ft x 50ft – 50ft being just over 15 metres] and also promised a donation as soon as the funds were available’. Cr. Machin seconded the motion, which was carried. Black Head Surf Club was now official.
With the proposal accepted by council, nine days later on the 30th September, Dr. S.A. Railton and Mr. Postle called for and presided over a meeting that was held at the School of Arts, Taree. The meeting was held to invite people interested in becoming members of Black Head Surf Club and to young, able-bodied men interested in being trained in the methods of rescue and surf lifesaving. Mr. Postle advised ‘modern methods would be included in the instruction to be given to those who join the club’. The first officers of the club were elected and a membership fee was fixed at 5 shillings (approximately 50 cents today).
First Club Officers:
President: Dr. S.A. Railton
Vice-Presidents: Messrs. Dowling, Breckenridge, A. Trotter & Dr. F.O. Stokes
Secretary & Treasurer pro-temporary: Mr. F.C. Postle
Other Committee Members: Messrs. Hanson, E.O. Martin & A.A. Maloney.
By the beginning of October 1925, the members of the newly formed Black Head Surf Life Saving Club had organized a working bee and set about clearing the land in preparation for building a club house. Volunteers came from Taree, Failford and Nabiac, all willing to give up some of their leisure time; ‘The idea is to spend part of the holiday on making the trip to the pleasure resort more safe and comfortable’.
By John & Tracey Wilson
BHSLSC – Historians
A FINE FEAT
Black Head Surf Life Saving Club’s First Surfboat.
At the annual general meeting held in September 1928, Black Head Surf Club committee was pleased to announce the club’s finances to be in a ‘healthy position’ and with the balance being in credit it was put forward to purchase a surf boat, something considered to be ‘a most important article’. Understanding the expenditure would be substantial, with the additional cost of transportation and housing, the decision had to be made whether to purchase a new or second-hand boat.
Passenger and cargo steamship the ‘Uki’ moored at Taree, possibly at the Chatham wharf, this trip was one of many she made up and down the coast between Sydney and Brisbane. It was the 2nd January 1929 and on board was the coveted surf boat. On her way north the ‘Uki’ had stopped at Black Head with the intention of delivering the boat directly to the surf club, regrettably nobody was there to meet her.
The boat had been purchased from Queenscliff surf club; originally named ‘Akubra’, it was reported to be twenty feet in length and built by Morrison and Sinclair at Balmain. Mr Sinclair stated he ‘considers her to be one of the best boats ever turned out of his yard’.
Keen to take possession of the new boat, Will Cause and Eric Erickson both of Black Head, ‘in a fine feat of seamanship and endurance’ decided to deliver the boat themselves by rowing it from Taree to Black Head.
At approximately seven in the morning, on Saturday 5th January 1929, Will and Eric rowed the surf boat across the Old Bar outlet and encountered the worst circumstances; an ocean lumpy with swell, a strong southerly wind and, unfortunately, they had just missed out on procuring a tow by the ‘Uki’ now heading south.
Most thought the men would turn around, head back to the calm waters of the river and wait for the weather and seas to abate, but Will and Eric had a ‘give it a go’ attitude and decided to continuing rowing. The southerly wind whipping their skin with the ocean’s spray caused by the boat launching over and punching through protuberant waves. Unwieldly oars ploughed through the tumbling sea, the walloping from the southerly appearing to chastise Will and Eric for daring to challenge it, instead it would bring cool relief to overworked muscles.
They fought to keep the boat on an even keel, to advance quickly for an easier row and longer forward momentum. Hugging the coastline and keeping just on the seaside of breaking waves, they took advantage of every piece of shelter presented to them as they headed toward Black Head. Wallaby Point and Saltwater Point were major obstacles but once passed, the weather and ocean conditions started to turn in their favour.
By the time Will and Eric had reached Red Head headland the wind had almost subsided and after four and a half hours, at midday, the surf boat was hauled on to Black Head beach.
The next day the new surf boat was given an unofficial trial by several members and most were keen to become part of the first boat crew of Black Head Surf Club. Bert Cook, an experienced boatman, demonstrated his skills; handling the boat with the ‘29ft [sic] steer oar’ (now known as the sweep-oar) and by coaching members with aspirations of becoming rowers.
Known successful candidates were: Bert Cook (Capt.), William (Will) Cause, George Zaunders, Clarrie Meskell and C. Cook.
The surf boat was renamed ‘Kerrewa’ a local Aboriginal word for ‘goanna’, however it was later discovered by Mr George Hill, from the late Tommy Boomer, that ‘Kerrewa’ was also the name local Aboriginal people called Black Head. In just over three years since its foundation, Black Head Surf Life Saving Club was steadily expanding in memberships and importantly, rescue equipment.
A new shed was built to house the boat costing the club £25 (approximately $52 in today’s money) and with the ‘long desired boat’ now in possession, the club’s focus turned to extensions and additions to the club house.
Black Head Surf Life Saving Club’s 1st surf boat: ‘Kerrewa’6
By John & Tracey Wilson
BHSLSC – Historians
Black Head Surf Life Saving Club History
Black Head Surf Life Saving Club history written by Harry Bennett for the reunion in 1985.
90th Celebrations Black Head SLSC
The weekend of 25th – 27th September 2015 saw the Club celebrate its 90th birthday.
Almost 170 members, friends, sponsors and former members celebrated the event between Friday evening and Sunday evening.
A few turned up on Friday evening for a catch up before the main event being the Saturday lunch when 150 attended and it was standing room only.
The Club Board, Life Members, Honour Blazers, Patrons, Former Presidents and families of former Presidents and deceased Life Members were introduced.
Judith Wisemantle was presented with a Life Members jacket by the President, Graeme Doig. Judith had been a life member of the former Ladies Club before amalgamation but no jacket had been presented until now.
The President welcomed all before lunch. A great 3 course meal was served by Kaycee Wisemantel and her team of hard working “kitchen hands”. Well done all.
John Edstein and his sister, Judith Wisemantle cut the birthday cake before it was shared as a second dessert.
Helen Meddings (nee Whitington), sister, Sally Bennett and Sally’s daughter, Kate unveiled the photos of their grandfather/great grandfather, Dr Tony Railton, the Club’s 1st President and the Club founder Frank Postle. Helen spoke about her grandfather’s time in Taree/Black Head and his war service (he was awarded a Military Cross in WWI before enlisting for WWII). These photos were donated by John & Tracey Wilson and now are proudly displayed prominently in the Club.
There was an “open mic” session where many tall tales but true about past Surf Club glories were related by the likes of John Ritchie, Keith Lynch, Alan Skinner, Geoff McGlashan, Tom Keech, Ross Maunsell and Bruce Pain before patron Dr David Gillespie congratulated the Club on achieving 90 years.
The days proceedings ended with finger food and a band for dancing.
Sunday saw the bar open for lunch which comfortably rolled into the evening and sippers.
Many people combined to make the celebrations a success.
Now for the centenary in 2025!