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Professor Ngiare Brown is a Yuin Woman, passionate volunteer and surf sports advocate at Coledale Surf Life Saving Club - and an affiliate of Wanda and Warilla-Barrack Point. She is one of our inspirational members we're profiling this week as part of National Volunteer Week 2020. Not only does she dedicate her time to the Surf Life Saving movement, but she was also the first Aboriginal doctor in NSW and is a gold medal outrigger crewmember.

What do you do away from the beach? Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a Yuin Nation woman from the South Coast of NSW, and a doctor by trade. I run a small not-for-profit, Ngaoara, dedicated to child and adolescent wellbeing, and currently provide outreach services for Aboriginal children with complex needs.

Most importantly, I’m Mum to two amazing daughters and Spare Mum (Mummy Doc) to dozens of non-biological children!

What’s something most members wouldn’t know about you?

There’s lots of things people don’t know about me - and lots of things I’d never tell!

How long have you been involved with Surf Life Saving and what club are you currently a member of?

I joined Shellharbour SLSC as a Cadet MANY years ago (nearly 40 years ago, but who’s counting).

I’ve been a member of a number of clubs, dependent upon where I was living at any given time (Kiama, Merewether and Darwin). I’m now a member of my local Coledale SLSC and an affiliate of Wanda and Warilla-Barrack Point clubs, in support of my girls.

What was it that triggered you to join a club? Was it a defining moment and reason?

My high school (shout out to Warilla High School) was a stone’s throw from the beach and we had dozens of talented surfers. So no surprise that surfing was an option for sport. I believe our school introduced the Surf Survival course - Jim Bradley developed the curriculum and I was one of the students in the trial cohort (guinea pig). From there we could also complete our Surf Life Saving Bronze Medallion, which was linked to the local surf clubs.

My father was a clubby, which would have been quite unusual for a young Aboriginal man at that time, but he always spoke highly of the club atmosphere and camaraderie. I was a pool swimmer, but after I competed in a couple of surf races I was hooked!

What's one of the most inspirational or memorable things that you've witnessed either within your club or on patrol?

One? There are so many. My whole family is involved in Surf Life Saving - patrolling and competing. My hubby and I were awarded Rescue of the Month; my eldest was part of a club patrol team that was awarded Rescue of the Month; five Aussie medals in Perth, including U19 Taplin gold, for Kai (she was 16 at the time); Yve making the South Coast Branch Team after two seasons away from competition and compulsory watermelon for Pink Patrol.

What are some of the initiatives you've been proud to be part of?

1. Coledale SLSC generates income from a campground facility that surrounds our clubhouse and runs along the beachfront and these funds are invested back into the branch and the community.

For example, purchase of rescue equipment; support for local sporting teams and community groups; hosting local and visiting school events and leadership camps.

2. The children and families of Wanda SLSC make regular, generous donations of clothing and linen for the Aboriginal communities where I do clinical outreach.

3. I provide sponsorship for the support of young surf sport athletes. 

Tell us about your time at National Leaders’ Masterclass. What were some of the key takeaways?

Fantastic opportunity, incredibly interesting content, valuable insight into evaluation/reform/implementation strategic direction and most importantly spending time with dedicated, passionate, generous club members from across the country.

You’re a fantastic role model and leader, what would you say to a young person about joining SLS?

I actually regret not staying more closely involved over the years, but like a lot of young adults, I was distracted by study, work and life.

I highly recommend the Surf Life Saving movement for a variety of reasons. Evidence demonstrates that volunteering is good for the mental health and social and emotional wellbeing of individuals, and the function and cohesiveness of communities.

I support the values of Surf Life Saving and the giving of time and expertise with the expectation of nothing in return. I believe this helps young people to develop empathy and integrity.

The movement is a well-established and highly regarded volunteer organisation, and many employers and universities appreciate the participation and contribution of young people in highly skilled environments like Surf Life Saving.

Surf Life Saving also represents an extensive, extended family, and a network of likeminded people across Australia and the world that offers personal development, professional development and social connection. 

What does it mean to you to be a First Nations person in Surf Life Saving?

I identify as a saltwater woman, of the Yuin Nation, from the Shoalhaven and south coast regions of NSW, my Father and Grandmother’s country.

When I was young, I was told that Aboriginal people couldn’t be swimmers because our bones were too heavy and our skulls too thick, I kid you not! Even other Aboriginal mobs would tell me we were more suited to athletics and boxing. But I have always loved swimming, and continue to train and compete in ocean sports.

So, I suppose part of me persisted in the early years because I enjoy doing what people tell me I am incapable of doing and I do not abide by being stereotyped. But I stayed because I love being a clubby.

I think there are a lot more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members out there, patrolling our beaches and raising salty nippers, but we haven’t ever really asked the question and haven’t targeted Aboriginal community members or club members as part of the inclusion/diversity agenda.

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen during your time in SLS?

Two things I want to note; I joined my first surf club not long after my local clubs agreed to start accepting women as full members. There was a running joke about the Faceless Five – five male holdouts that voted against female inclusion. I think I was 14, but even so, I recognised that Surf Life Saving was still considered one of the last great bastions of male dominance. Over time, however, I have witnessed the movement increasingly populated by extraordinary women, as athletes and leaders.

The second, unfortunately, is the diminishment of the profile of surf sports and reduced investment in athlete pathways (from sponsors and contributors outside of SLS). Competition is the reward for volunteer patrol hours and an incentive for young people to remain connected to Surf Life Saving, but athletes need financial scaffolding and supported pathways, particularly in such a highly contested space, so many other sports and social activities to choose from, to allow them to train for what is a hardcore multidisciplinary sport, particularly Iron competitors.

Why is volunteering as a surf lifesaver important to you? Why do you continue to do it?

Fun, healthy, trying to set a positive example for my children. 

PS: “The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others” Mahatma Gandhi

National Volunteer Week is a time to acknowledge the people of Australia who generously donate their time to help better the lives of others. Surf lifesavers are some of the most dedicated and outstanding volunteers who really do change communities and change lives. 

Thank you to all NSW volunteer surf lifesavers for your dedication, service and passion.

Volunteering Australia is inviting everyone to put their hand up and thank volunteers around Australia by waving a special smile of appreciation from home. Upload your wave photo to social media and share using the hashtags #NVW2020 and #waveforvolunteers.


Tuesday 19 May 2020