"It was a sultry summer Sunday at Bulli beach, the salty haven in the metropolis of Wollongong. On 6 February 1966 history was being made. Over 1000 boys aged seven to thirteen, including some who had travelled from as far south as Moruya and north as Forster, had congregated for the first 'unofficial' New South Wales Juvenile State Championships." - Neil Cadigan, from Evolution of an Icon.
The following is an excerpt from Evolution of an Icon, pages 168-173
The Bulli event was the product of the work of hundreds of volunteers from a growing number of surf clubs who, through the previous few years, had taken the initiative to foster surf lifesaving among the younger members of their communities. Despite some initial cynicism from the senior club traditionalists, their efforts grow into a widespread club movement that would later prove to be one of the most important strategic developments in surf lifesaving in this country.
The man recognised more than any other for his work, and vision for surf lifesaving internationally and in Australia, SLSA president Adrian Curlewis, was taken aback with emotion as he watched the hordes of attentive and proud boys parade in the march past. The sight moved him during his official speech, to declare:
"If you live to be 70 or 80 you can look back on this day and feel proud to have taken part in an historic event, not only in Australia but throughout the world. This is the most thrilling event in the years I have been involved in the movement. It is an example for the world what youth can do. I have no doubt of the future of the Surf Life Saving Association with these youngsters coming up."
These were prophetic words which have become a sort of signature statement to emphasise the significance of the establishment of 'Nippers'; four sentences that will never be forgotten by anyone who was on Bulli Beach that day.
Of that first event 'the voice' of many Australian championships, John Jones recalls the following;
"In late 1965 we sent out a circular to clubs, through the Branches, informing them we had decided to run a juvenile carnival. We thought we'd get about 150-200 kids and we got a huge shock when well over 1000 from Forster Club and clubs from Newcastle, Central Coast, Manly-Warringah, Sydney and the South Coast Branches, plus plenty of local boys, registered. We had to get some girls come down and type up the draws, it was all hands on deck getting organised."
Nippers from 37 clubs competed that February day and many of them had been conducting regular activities for juniors on summer Sundays for many years, but the success of the Bulli carnival was the catalyst needed for the formal establishment of a junior movement in New South Wales, and in many cases, to provide a kiss-of-life to the senior clubs.
Young members having an active role in surf clubs along the east coast was certainly not new. There is much anecdotal evidence that suggests young 'nippers' compete in cadet events and learned basic water safety skills from shortly after the establishment of surf clubs early in the twentieth century. A photograph hangs on the wall of South Steyne Pavilion, home of the Manly Life Saving Club, of four junior members aged 10 and 11, taken in 1907. Photographic evidence also shows members of the Bronte Junior Life Saving Brigade, which was formed in 1908.
The minutes of the Newport Surf Club reveal that a juvenile surf club existed there in 1926, and Bondi's records also detail junior members know as 'Life Boys' in 1933.
The Illawarra clubs are seen as the pioneers of more organised 'juvenile' activities...The Thirroul 'Sandcrabs' were formed in 1945, North Wollongong juniors in 1947, and the Stanwell Park Seagulls began activities in 1955 and officially became an organised 'club' in 1958.
As Juvenile clubs started to evolve right along the New South Wales coastline, it was inevitable that the movement would grow into its own official organisation. Hot on the heels of the success of the Bulli carnival, it was decided to invite all 'interested parties' to a meeting on 24 September 1966 at Wollongong Leagues Club with the view to formally establish a junior movement... There were 15 delegates from six branches in attendance.
Collaroy had been selected to host the 1967 state titles, to take place three months after the inaugural meeting... It has since been recognised that the first state championships be recorded as those held at Bulli in February 1966, even though it preceded the formal formation of the state association.