How the Club Started
Caves Beach Surf Life Saving Club was conceived in February 1929 when a group of men from Swansea, some already qualified lifesavers from our neighbouring club, decided to look for a spot between the Heads and Pinney Beach to establish a Surf Lifesaving club. They decided the safest spot as being adjacent to the big cave on Caves Beach.
Since these noble beginnings, the club has prospered. In competition, Caves Beach boasts over 37 State, Australian and World Champions. This competitive record is not only a testament to our club members’ dedication, perseverance and will to win, but a measure of their capability and the quality of service the provide.
Caves Beach S.L.S.C has grown to become a well-renowned competitive club, as well as reputable public service provider.
Little Nippers were founded in Australia by Newcastle Branch in the 1964 – 65 season. In 1966-67 Juvenile SLSA was formed and Branch officials elected Swansea Caves Ron Ekert as President a position he held for some years. Barry Vasella successfully organised the 1973 Nipper State Titles at Caves Beach.
The Junior movement of Swansea Caves have had some great people involved. The senior club has benefited from wonderful people like Ron and Barry, Carl Ulrick, Jim Pembroke and Steve Knight and many more. The juniors take pride in teaching our Surf Lifesavers of tomorrow the fundamentals of Surf Education and awareness, as well as encouraging them to lead an active and healthy lifestyle.
With over 250 junior members, Caves continues to produce dedicated lifesavers, ensuring the safety of swimmers at our beach.
Swansea Channel Rescue
At 7.30am on the 28th February 2004 Kevin Harman, our World, Aust. State and Branch Master Champion was knocked from a his ski in Swansea Channel, by a team mate’s out of control ski. This blow caused abdominal and chest injuries including multiple broken ribs and a collapsed lung.
Adam Rowe, John Gifford Matt Begg and Phil Rowe came to assist, but due to the massive injuries and only skis available Kevin could only be supported in the water. The tide was on the change, and all were being swept seaward and caught in surging waves. Redhead Surf Boat could not render assistance due to huge seas. They gave a rescue tube and Ches Suska relieved tiring lifesavers. Matt Begg, a Junior paddler, remained to assist Kevin, who had by this time lapsed into unconsciousness. By this time they were on the infamous bar, at one of its angriest days. A small fishing boat was seconded into the rescue. The plan to race between waves and tow Kevin into calm water was put into action. As the boat reached Kevin a wave hit it and it slewed sideways, putting both of Kevin’s feet through the propeller, inflicting severe damage.
Two surfboard riders came to assist, Kevin was put onto a flat surface, Kevin state had deteriorated or due to loss of blood and shock, in the meantime Nathan Croal had paddled to Swansea Belmont SLSC to raise the alarm, Nat McGregor and Matt Rees ,were doing early morning training, quickly manned an IRB to assist in these very difficult conditions, these two men managed to get Kevin aboard, administer emergency care and manoeuvre in very dangerous seas. The paddling team and rescuers had to carry the IRB and Motor up the beach to the waiting ambulance. The rescue in the water took 1 hour 18 minutes
After a battle to save his right foot and weeks in hospital Kevin is now fully recovered. To Adam Rowe, Phil Rowe, Matt Begg, Ches Suska, John Gifford, Matt Rees and Nathan McGregor we applaud you for your perseverance to make sure we did not loose a treasured icon of Hunter Surf Lifesaving.
- Hams Beach was named after the pioneering Ham family who lived on the hill at the back of Caves. Club Life Member Ron “Eggs” Ham is a great grandson of this family and Ron’s mother the late Laura Ham was the daughter of foundation president AB Payne
- In 1929 with no water pipeline to Caves Beach, the club erected water tanks (water was also transported in drums from Swansea). A copper was also erected for boiling the water. The hot water became a source of income selling it at the beach, a practice which carried on into the fifties
- In 1936 and through to the sixties rubber surf planes were dominant at the beach and were for hire each weekend
- In 1939 the club holds a 10 year reunion at the beach. Tickets 2/6
- Bill Thomson represented Caves in 1954, as one of sixty lifesavers in the guard of honour for Queen Elizabeth at the Royal Tour Surf Carnival at Bondi
- In the early fifties club life members Tom York and Bill (Rocker) Fox assisted by their wives run the very popular family fun carnival in Swansea park each Christmas. Besides becoming an attraction for locals and visitors alike the surf club benefited from the funds raised. The carnival continued through to 1985
- During the seventies two surf boat rowathons were held in Swansea channel with members rowing continuously for 24 hours with fresh crews every hour. The rowathons were very successful events organised by club life member Roy Broadbent
- From the original minutes book 6/2/1934 George Cameron was given permission to use the surf boat to go shark fishing
- The surf boat on display at the Caves Beach Hotel is the boat that Mick Ellercamp swept the U/21 crew to victory in the state titles at Bondi in 1991
- Ron (Sam) Elkert has the distinction of being the on life member of both the junior and senior clubs
- In 1955 German Eugeine Brell was the first migrant to gain a bronze medallion at Caves
- The visiting Welsh Surf Lifesaving touring team attended Caves annual carnival in 1979/80 and were hosted in our club house afterwards. A Welsh Competition hat presented to the club is in the trophy cabinet
- Caves present competition hat, maroon with white lightning bolt is the fourth hat the club has used in competition. The lightning bolt was used before, only the bolt was maroon on an all white hat. Another hat worn in the early years was all white with a maroon jaggered trim around the top of the forehead. The hat that was worn at Carnivals from 1930’s to 2001 was the maroon and white quartered hat
A Brief History of IRBs at Caves Beach
Caves Beach SLSC purchased its first IRB, a Zodiac, at a cost of $3600.00 in January 1981 (and its latest at a cost of $l0,000.00 in mid 2004).
The purchase was funded with $1000.00 donated by Swansea Lions Club, $1365.00 from a NSW government grant and the remainder raised by club members. Lake Macquarie Municipal Council provided for all running costs, maintenance and repairs as well as providing a 4WD vehicle to tow it with.
The mobile services officer at the time, Terry Wheeler (an IRB captain was not constitutionally established until 1988) was given the unenviable task of looking after the boat. The club’s first qualified drivers were John Moore, Robert Kirk, Brett Kirk, Terry Wheeler and Mick McDougall who was also the council Beach Inspector.
IRB’s got off to a very slow start in the club and throughout the 80’s relied on a very small number of qualified “enthusiasts”. Keep in mind that the craft in these days was extremely unreliable and was not compulsory for patrols or required for any water safety or training. Jet boats were still on many beaches and the IRB was the new toy on the block. Gaining a license usually took all summer and few people were bothered.
Through the 80’s Caves Beach SLSC went from 5 qualified drivers in 1981 to only 12 drivers in 1990. Compare this with development in the 90’s that saw driver numbers climb to over 40 by 2000 and SLSA to require a craft to be on the beach for every patrol at every beach in the nation as well as carrying out compulsory water safety for every SLSA activity conducted.
Caves Beach didn’t purchase a second IRB until 1986 (another Zodiac) and the arrangement remained with Lake Macquarie Council providing a motor, fuel and 4WD until around 1990 after which time they chose to simply provide each club with an annual grant for upkeep of an IRB and vehicle (as they still do) to enable their beach inspectors to have unlimited use of them.
Over the past 20 years Caves Beach has owned a total of 8 IRB’s. The position of Mobile Vehicle Officer / IRB captain has never been vacant and members of Caves Beach SLSC have also held positions of Branch IRB co-ordinator and sat on National SLSA IRB Advisory Panels.
Crews have been asked to assist the rescue helicopter with rescues off Fraser Park, ferried fuel to a stranded yacht off Norah Head and even helped with the attempted salvage of a 40ft cruiser wrecked on Caves Beach. Believe it or not, members of Caves Beach have even dabbled in the design of lRB’s in an attempt to construct their own rigid hull version.
Nothing however, in my opinion has aided the development of our IRB crews and equipment more than the involvement of our members in IRB competition.
1930 – First building at Caves Beach and tin boat shed built in the gully
1931 – A pavilion built in the gully (shelter shed and refreshment room)
1932 – 17th December saw the opening of the first club house built on the hill become the Caretakers Cottage (demolished in 1978)
1940’s – Second club house built in the gully with a timber verandah and canteen. The verandah was popular in the sixties and seventies being used by rock and roll bands for sand dances. In 1966 becomes nipper club and boat shed with canteen remaining. The building remained until 1977 when pulled down and burnt to make way for new clubhouse.
1956 – Third clubhouse built a three level building on the hill and side of the cliff overlooking the beach with a wonderful view. Demolished in 1978.
1977/78 – Bottom section of fourth clubhouse in use. Top section completed end of 1978 and officially opened February 1979.
1980’s – The balcony was also used by bands in the eighties among them Midnight Oil and the Angels.