Safe in the Surf at Yamba
Like many seaside resorts around Australia, Yamba has a Surf Life Saving Club that happens to occupy a site with stunning sea views. It has a long and illustrious past dating back to 1908, making it one of the oldest clubs in NSW and the oldest surf club on the North Coast.
The surf was new to most surf-bathers. Moral values changed, as by-laws that had banned bathing in daylight hours since the 1830s were gradually repealed between 1902 and 1905. Many could not swim, so with its increasing popularity came more drownings and consequent attempts at rescue.
This was certainly the case in Yamba. The first documented drowning was of Turner Turner (Turner’s Beach is named after him) in 1901 which led to life saving equipment being installed at Yamba beaches. A few rescues had already been made by local swimmers before March 1908 when two local lads, Walter Freeburn and Clarrie Redman took a lifebuoy out off Main Beach to rescue a Maclean man, Samuel Dhu in heavy surf. The rope on the unwieldy buoy broke so the two rescuers bodily swam the man through the surf and rip to the safety of the beach. Their efforts earned Freeburn and Redman awards for bravery and inspired the community to finally establish a surf club.
Members used the public dressing sheds and equipment before a purpose built clubhouse was erected in 1913, on the current site at Main Beach. The clubhouse has been modified and expanded a great deal since then but still retains the 1930s verandahs.
In such an exposed position there are inherent dangers from flood debris, cyclones and erosion from big seas. Memories listed in the Centenary History of YSLSC book (copies available from the Yamba Museum) paint a vivid picture as members “scramble to rescue boats and gear stored under the clubhouse…The roaring surf that crashes onto the upstairs verandah and the juddering wave action that more than once seemed to threaten the very existence of the clubhouse is a tribute to the first and subsequent builders that it is still standing.”
The equipment and life saving techniques have changed since that first unwieldy lifebuoy. The first surfboat appeared in 1930. Little Nippers commenced in 1966, and females were accepted into membership from 1980.
Today the Surf Club proudly lays claim to being one of the few clubs with a continuous history. It remained active through both World Wars thanks to the support of the community throughout the lower Clarence.
Clifford Lowien, a life member of YSLSC who joined the club in 1939, recalls his early days at the club when members who lived outside Yamba were allowed to bunk in the clubrooms when on patrol. A nearby boarding house would also provide free meals to patrol members.
For over a century the Club has produced several champions and legendary identities. Tommy Walker, who was a foundation member of the YSLS Brigade, is now credited with bringing the first surfboard to Australia in 1909. Tommy has been immortalised in a photo showing him doing a headstand on his board at Main Beach (on display in the Yamba Museum).
You can discover more about the Surf Club and other stories at the museum in River Street (next door to the Yamba Golf Club).