Not many 88-year-olds would willingly, or indeed be able to, rush into a rip current to save the life of a stranded swimmer but after a lifetime in and around the surf this is exactly what Bruce Stewart managed to do earlier this year.
The Broadbeach resident was returning from morning surf on Sunday 11 February when his experienced eye noticed that the waves were running higher than usual.
He spotted a female tourist swimming in an unpatrolled area and stopped to make sure she was alright.
The situation was about to escalate however as approximately 100 metres further out to sea a second tourist was struggling in a powerful rip.
Knowing that help in the form of lifeguards was still several minutes away he asked a couple of bystanders to signal for assistance, while he and a fellow lifesaver from Kurrawa SLSC entered the surf.
The two reached the swimmers and despite being pummelled by large sets were eventually able to swim parallel to the rip current and to the relative safety of a sand back where they were plucked from the water by lifeguards on a rescue board.
It was a moment where the skills and training picked up over many summers would come to the fore, but the truth is, the story of Bruce Stewart’s journey within surf lifesaving is a fascinating tale.
His family have been involved within the movement since at least the early 1920s with his uncle Bill Stewart a champion belt swimmer at North Beach Royal Life Saving Club, while his love of the water continued through the generations as both his wife and sons also became involved.
In the era that Bruce grew up there was no Nippers though that was no barrier for a youngster who just loved the beach.
“I would hang around Brunswick Surf Club from about the age of ten before being finally allowed to join in 1946 and obtaining my Bronze Medallion the next year,” he said.
Just getting to the club house in the years prior to getting that precious qualification was a difficult job, with even the country town of Brunswick gearing up for the war effort.
“We had to walk from Mullumbimby to Brunswick surf club, which is a distance of about 12 kilometres.
“No one had a car in the early 40s and there were no busses either. None of us would wear shoes and the magpies would always be on the attack,” Stewart said.
“At the time we were unable to ride bikes because due to the war effort bike tyres and petrol were only available for special service. Later on when we could ride our bikes we would put a stone on a post near the corner of Uncle Tom’s Pie Shop to let our mates from Tyagarah know that we had gone on ahead.”
Those early experiences didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for the surf club nor did the initiation ritual club elders put him through.
“After joining the club the older guys told us new members that they had to sort us out into sports. So they got us to stand on the wall while they threw a brick at us. If you ducked you became a swimmer and if you didn’t you joined the surf boat crew. I became a swimmer,” he proudly recounts.
Stewart cites the social experiences, friends he made through the years as well as an abiding passion for the ocean as reasons for why he has stuck around for so long.
“The younger ones now miss out on the great Christmas parties where we used to have to drag a massive wooden keg to the club. There were a lot of great times, I remember at the Yamba Carnival in about 1950 that all of us would sleep in an old deserted house. We called it the haunted house because of all the funny noises at night.”
He would remain heavily involved with his beloved club becoming a life member in 2004, and obtaining his 70 years of service award in May of this year.
And as the events of February show, he is still capable of performing rescues.
Appropriately the final word should go to Bruce Stewart himself, who said modestly of his rescue efforts
“It’s just good that everyone was safe.”
Monday 23 July 2018