Thousands of volunteer surf lifesavers across NSW will return to the beach today for the first patrol of the season.
And the small regional town of Woolgoolga on the North Coast has plenty to celebrate with the official opening of a new Surf Life Saving Club to service the members and the community. The $4M facility was funded from a mix of grants from Federal, State and Local Governments.
Surf Life Saving NSW President George Shales OAM and club President Les Pepper were joined by the Federal Member for Page Kevin Hogan and Member for Coffs Harbour Gurmesh Singh for the official opening and ceremonial ‘Raising of the Flags’ at Woolgoolga today.
The new patrol season brings a number of challenges for clubs and lifesavers, including an expected huge influx of tourists to beaches across the state this summer due to overseas travel restrictions imposed by COVID-19.
With a near-record 49 coastal/ocean drownings recorded in NSW last year, the state’s surf lifesavers are on high alert, prepared for what could be one of the biggest seasons on record.
“We’re expecting beaches to be very busy this season and our lifesavers are trained and ready,” said George Shales.
The impressive new Woolgoolga SLSC has been a labour of love for a dedicated team of volunteers, none more so than long-serving president of the club, Les Pepper.
Since 2012, Les has been the driving force behind the push for a new base for the 88 year-old club, to provide a safe and secure facility for lifesavers to train and house all the vital rescue equipment needed to provide patrols on the beach each season.
“The old club was in a pretty bad state with no room for most of our equipment,” said Les Pepper.
“Now we can store all our rescue equipment, boats and vehicles in one place, instead of having gear sitting in people’s garages and front yards. It will greatly reduce our response times to rescues and other emergencies,” said Les.
Before the new club was even finished, Les and another member Neville Cleary were able to mobilise quickly to save the lives of two young girls in distress in the water.
“We were at the club doing some work in July when we got a call that there were people in trouble at back beach. We were able to respond straight away using the support operations vehicle and used the rescue board on the truck to get to them before it was too late.
“Saving the lives of those two people alone has made the investment in this new club worthwhile,” he said.
And the finished product is a testament to the dedication of Les and his team. The purpose-built facility has been well-thought-out, designed to make the most of the new location, with a layout that allows for multi-purpose activities to service both club members and the local community.
Federal Member for Page Kevin Hogan said the new club would be a great asset to the community and make the job of saving lives that much easier.
“The Woolgoolga Surf Life Saving Club and the local community now have a facility they can be proud of, and they deserve.”
Member for Coffs Harbour Gurmesh Singh said that the surf club has been completed just in time for the busy season ahead.
“It’s the first day of the school holidays and already it’s as busy as summer holidays. We’re expecting huge crowds right until international travel returns again so it’s very important for these guys to have somewhere great to work out of and to attract and retain members so that our beaches can be safe and tourists feel safe when they come here,” said Gurmesh.
All those involved in making the new club a reality were thanked for their contributions, large or small, including the former local MP Andrew Fraser who secured a large proportion of the funding and the project manager Jim Philippidis, who volunteered his time for the year it took to complete the build.
“This process has taken eight years and countless hours of meetings but it has been worth every minute to come up with this magnificent building,” said Les Pepper.
Saturday 26 September 2020