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Far South Coast Branch President and Tathra SLSC member Tony Rettke loves Surf Life Saving. Plain and simple.

So, when you ask him what brings him back every year, he’s as matter of fact as if you asked him to add two and two.

“I would think the answer for everybody, well it should be, is the enjoyment you get from the company of everyone involved,” he says, simply.

“It’s a good feeling to do something for the community, but you’re also investing in kids and juniors – showing them that it’s something worth doing.

“That age group, to be hanging around with old guys like me, we hope they stick around for years because we are like their second family.

“The people, my branch team is amazing, in my own club and at State level, I enjoy everything and everyone.

“I find it’s easy to knock around with people who, in their nature, are giving.”

That passion for people – being around the ones with aligned values and lending a helping hand to others – is what has spurred many years of valued and tremendous service from Tony, who was recently recognised with the investiture of the Emergency Service Medal at Parliament House in Canberra.

The medal recognises distinguished service by members of emergency services across Australia, and people who are involved in emergency management, training or education. Tony and four other members of Surf Life Saving NSW received the honour this year.

While there have been many rescues along the way, all of which contributed to his deserving nomination for the Emergency Service Medal, one still stands out in his mind.

“Probably the Tathra Wharf tragedy in 2008,” he says without hesitation.

“That’s the biggest one I’ve done, and it was with my family and another member.

“We pulled two kids and a dad from the water by the wharf in the dead of night, one of them was an 18-month-old strapped into the stroller.

“The water was thick with bluebottles and that made it even more difficult and uncomfortable.

“It was with my family, that’s what made it special for me. Unfortunately they didn’t make it but my family was with me the whole way as we tried to save them.”

While Tony is grateful for his experiences in Surf Life Saving, and indeed the recognition that comes from the Emergency Service Medal, he believes there are more important things to focus on.

“I think you’ve got to be careful of making anyone appear better than anyone else, whether you’re a 15-year-old ‘bronzie’ or a long serving president,” he said.

“I appreciate the acknowledgement, someone has put the time in to write a letter and give me a wrap, but we don’t do it for that.

“I never thought for a minute I’d be a life member of Surf Life Saving NSW, let alone the branch or my club.

“You do the yards and it just seems to evolve but it’s really not about us, it’s about engaging people, and my take on it is specifically young people.

“We just want them to have a taste of it and see what they get out of it, you might lose them for a bit, but if you show them the path they might come back one day.”

Thursday 19 May 2022