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It was August 1980 and Sue Martin was fit, loved the beach and wanted to be a surf lifesaver. It was pre-season and she was told that for the first time ever, a squad of women were about to start training at Austinmer Beach. The water was cold, but it was a great opportunity to do her Bronze Medallion, so she asked to be included in the squad.  

The first test in becoming a lifesaver in the ‘80s was proving to the Board of Examiners that you could swim out through the surf towing a surf belt. At the time, many people were sceptical that women could do it. Sue’s father Ken soon had her training in preparation.  

“Dad had me swimming in Woonona Pool with a surf belt that had a rope tied to a plastic tub half-filled with water, to replicate a person’s weight,” Sue said. 

After Sue passed the surf belt test, a date was set and examiners Ian Foreman and Steve Craig, from the Illawarra Branch, were appointed and came to Austinmer Beach on the 28th of September 1980 to conduct the Bronze Medallion examination. Sue passed the assessment, becoming part of the first group of women in the Illawarra to sit for and pass a Bronze Medallion test on an Illawarra beach. 

In her first year doing patrols at Bulli Beach, Sue not only became that club’s first female patrolling member, her patrol also won the Best Patrol of the 1980/81 Season.  

“Men were incredibly supportive, but it was a lonely time as there weren’t many of us girls around, so they had to provide and change things to suit a female in their ranks,” Sue said. 

Because of her father’s election as President of Corrimal SLSC, the next season she joined Corrimal’s March Past team and became the club’s first female patrolling member. She also became the first woman to win a Branch Championship Medal with the Corrimal March Past Team during the 1981-82 season.  

Sue Martin with her Patrol

Due to her early background in first aid at the club, Sue went on to train as a nurse at Bulli Hospital and her shift work initially took her away from rostered patrol work. Today Sue is a qualified theatre nurse at Wollongong Private Hospital.  

Sue later joined Sandon Point Surf Life Saving Club which was struggling for membership. Firstly, doing water safety with the Nippers and then training others.  

In September 2014, Sue was Patrol Captain when her patrol was involved in the rescue of a paralysed surfer. She was later awarded the SLSNSW Rescue of the Month for her part in that rescue.  

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Sue Martin assisting a paralysed surfer.

Sue went on to be named Surf Life Saving Illawarra Trainer of the Year and then NSW Trainer of the Year in 2013-14. She was highly commended at the national-level.  

“‘I love to teach and see those who I have trained become better themselves in the community,” Sue said. 

Sue currently holds a massive 88 SLS Awards - all relating to lifesaving and training others.  

Sue is quiet and unpretentious but says she is pleased to have played an active part in women’s involvement in Surf Life Saving. 

“I’m chuffed and enormously proud to be part of Surf Life Saving and to have been a trailblazer for women,” Sue said. 

Top Image: After their Bronze Medallion test at Austinmer Beach (1980): L-R Kathy Cox, Sue Martin, Myrilyn Endrulis, Dan Meehan (Trainer), Ron Morris and Maryanne Spiers.

Written by Dan Michael Meehan

Friday 26 June 2020