THE BIRTH OF SURF LIFESAVING IN COOLUM BEACH COINCIDES WITH A SPIRIT OF OPTIMISM IN A TINY, ISOLATED SPECK OF A SETTLEMENT BACK IN 1919. IT WAS COOLUM’S TIME TO ‘HAVE A GO’, AFTER THE END OF THE GREAT WAR IN EUROPE THE YEAR BEFORE, AND WITH THE TWENTIES READY TO ROAR FULL STEAM AHEAD.
A few things coincided to first put a lifesaving surf reel and rescue line on the beach at Coolum for the Easter holidays that year. There was the arrival of the “father” of Coolum Surf Life Saving, Jack (later known as Pop) Morgan from the beaches of Sydney to farm and the rise of the Royal Life Saving Society with Maroochy River farmer Frank Venning at its forefront. They both responded to Australia’s fast-growing love of surf bathing, and the dangers that went with it, as beach holidays started to become ingrained in the national psyche.
It was Frank who asked Jack to “do something about life saving at the beach” in the Christmas holidays of 1918 . That invitation saw Jack, the captain of the newly formed local swimming club that competed in Coolum Creek wharf alongside the mail boats, appointed as a paid council lifeguard.
Add to the mix the entrepreneurial spirit of Harold Perry-Keene, the owner of local homestead Green Hills who pioneered beachside camping along the foreshore, and you have the genesis of one of Coolum’s great economic benefactors for more than 90 years. The arrival of the local cane tram passenger line, swelled tourist numbers and helped establish an ongoing need for the club. Coolum SLSC struggled to train and maintain enough fit men at first, but kicked on in the 1930s – despite the World Depression – thanks to visionary club officials like Norrie Job and club captain Spencer Browne.
Over the years the club has survived major challenges like World War II, when most of its active men joined up to fight and a number died in battle. The surf club came out of mothballs in 1944 with a hardened fighting spirit that was sorely tested on Boxing Day in 1948 when it suffered one of the North Coast’s worst surf tragedies. Two holidaying swimmers and war hero turned lifesaver Dick Lugge drowned during heroic rescue attempts in massive seas.
Not long afterwards, the club’s active membership dwindled to just two, but Keith Peterie and Ron Want (both club life members), refused to walk away and trained up local youngsters to carry on the proud tradition of Vigilance and Service, with no lives lost between the flags.
It is a legacy of loyalty and faith in one another that continues to this day through the unpaid efforts of about 200 active Coolum lifesavers.
In 2010, Coolum SLSC adopted its motto – ‘The Heart of Coolum Since 1919… Your Club For Life’ – not long after opening its remodeled clubhouse with $2 million worth of improvements, including the best training facilities available.