Cheryl McCarthy is an incredible member from the Far South Coast. We spoke to her as part of our Volunteer Week series to find out why she is a volunteer surf lifesaver in the most southern part of our state.
How long have you been involved with Surf Life Saving?
I’ve been a member of Bermagui SLSC on the Far South Coast for Five-and-a-half years.
Why was it that you joined?
I moved back to Australia from Canada where I’d lived for almost 20 years. We moved to Bermagui in 2013 and my husband and I wanted to get to know people in the community and be involved in our new town.
I spent lots of time at the beach when I was younger and my husband had a background in Aquatics Rescue in Canada, so the surf club seemed like a natural place to start. We started by volunteering to help with Nippers, and our involvement grew from there.
Have you performed or been part of a rescue? No matter big or small why was it significant for you?
One of the most significant call outs for me was when the Bermagui Support Operations team was asked to assist with the Tathra Bushfire Evacuation. We went to the clubhouse to open up and not knowing what to expect. While some of the team got IRBs ready to assist with water evacuations if needed, others started taking in evacuees.
With no training and not even being an official evacuation centre, I thought our whole team did an incredible job. Within three hours we’d checked in 320 evacuees and our club quickly morphed into a full-blown evacuation centre.
It was significant to me for many reasons, but a couple of key ones were the pride I felt at how effectively our team did. Everyone just jumped in and got the work done, even though we didn’t know what to expect from minute to minute.
The other was recognising just how important a vibrant surf club is for small towns. The entire community rallied to help, and the surf club became the main hub for the response in our area. It wasn’t just our members who pitched in but the wider community just rolled their sleeves up and supported the surf club team however they could. It really brought home to me how the training you receive through Surf Life Saving gives you skills and the ability to adapt to whatever circumstances are thrown your way.
What's one of the most inspirational or memorable things that you've witnessed either within your club or on patrol?
Bermagui SLSC received a donation from the Mumbulla Foundation to purchase a floating wheelchair. Not only do we use for our Same Wave Disability Program but we make it available to the public to use when we’re on patrol.
Last year we got a call from a visitor to town who had a friend with them who used to be an avid diver. He was in the military and lost the use of his legs in an incident in Afghanistan and he hadn’t been in the water since. They asked if they could come down to the beach and see if they could get him in the water using the wheelchair.
A couple of our young Bronze members helped out and he got out through the break and was able to spend some time in the ocean. I’ll never be able to put into words the emotion felt by everyone involved just seeing the pure joy on his face and the peacefulness that came from being back in the water.
One of the mottos we use at Bermagui SLSC is the beach is for everyone, and being able to help get Dave back in the water showed just why that’s so important. It was also great to hear the young patrollers reflect afterwards on how they didn’t realise how lucky they were being able to go in the water whenever they wanted. It truly was a memorable day for everyone and continues to put a smile on my face whenever I think about it.
Why is volunteering as a surf lifesaver important to you? Why do you continue to do it?
Volunteering as a surf lifesaver is a way for me to be involved and give back to my community in a meaningful way. The more time I spend with surf lifesaving, the more I realise the potential for anyone to be involved. You don’t have to be the fittest person around or even able to swim. There are so many ways in which people can be involved and I find it really rewarding being able to introduce people to surf lifesaving who had never even considered there was a way for them to contribute. Surf lifesaving also continues to push me to grow and build on my skills and I’m now doing things that I never imagined 10 years ago I’d be able to.
The Far South Coast branch is a small but vital part of our organisation what are some of the initiatives you've been proud to be part of?
FSC Branch has one of the longest coastlines in the state but one of the smallest memberships. What we lack in numbers we certainly make up for in skill, expertise and energy. I’m really proud of how progressive our branch leadership team is and the way innovative ideas are encouraged. Sometimes just sheer distance means we need to be creative and think outside the box and that seems to flow through into many aspects of what we do.
It has been great to be involved in the rollout of the UAV operations and I’m proud that we’ve been leading the way in joint training initiatives and building stronger relationships with other emergency service organisations. I’m also particularly proud that our branch now has enough clubs running programs for people with disabilities that anyone living on the coast in our branch is never more than 30 minutes from away from the chance to be involved. It’s a program that’s personally very close to my heart.
You're a great leader for women and girls, what would you say to a 15 year-old girl about joining the organisation?
I’ve never really seen myself as a great leader for women and girls so it’s very humbling to be thought of that way. My message would be that there really is a lot of opportunity in Surf Life Saving to share ideas and to make positive change. You need to be bold with your ideas, don’t be afraid to question why we do things a certain way, and be patient but persistent if you really believe in something.
One word to describe the feeling you get from being a surf lifesaver.
OTHER NATIONAL VOLUNTEER WEEK STORIES
- Cheryl McCarthy: Big Things Happening In A Small Branch
- Gary Driscoll: Building A True Reflection Of Diversity
- Jacinta Felsch-Crane: Safeguarding Our Future
- Lachlan Field: The Most Rewarding Journey
Monday 20 May 2019