History of Bilinga
|(1948) DOOR TO FIRST AID ROOM, DOOR TO SHOWERS, TOP WAS DORMITORY|
Let us now turn our attention to the clubhouse, which, at the time served as a public dressing convenience for the solitary bather who, perchance, should come this way. It was perched aloft like an eagle's eyrie - a lonely two storeyed shelter. Part of the lower storey was open to rain and wind; the remainder was divided into two rooms of approximately equal size. A staircase at the rear ascended to the upper storey which consisted of one room, roughly sixteen feet square and was, to our surprise, judging by the external appearance of the building, in a very good state of preservation. It was perfectly waterproof, had a sound pine floor whilst the roof ceiled with fibrolite. The walls were lined with green painted plywood and fitted with two windows. A door opened on to the front veranda, which extended the full length of the facade. This verandah provided a first-class look out. Thus would, we realised, be obviated the necessity of spending money upon the erection of an artificial watch-tower. Of fittings, however, and anything of practical living utility, the edifice was totally devoid. Still, here was a beginning, some place at wherein we might dwell until circumstances allowed us to equip and improve it and it should merit the name of home. The property to the Town Council of Coolangatta, which implied that it would be ours, rent-free, once our activities commenced.
Between the clubhouse and the road behind stretched a grassy lawn, dotted with shade trees, which setting augured well for camping popularity when a regular patrol was established here.
|(1948) CORNER NEAREST KITCHEN, CORRUGATED SHED TOILET, THE BOTTOM PART WAS SAID TO BE THE OLD TOILET BLOCK FROM ONE OF THE KIRRA BEACHES|
The following week we began our recruiting campaign. As we three were officials of the Railway Department, we figured upon forming a Railway Club and, as a consequence, most of our early enlistments were from that source. Alas! Good follows, graciously met, are not always of the calibre to meet the travails of a self-effacing endeavour. Our indiscriminate selections endowed us with a wealth of casual sportsmen, some indeed who were still-water swimmers of no mean ability. I deem it opportune to mention here that Jacky Astill was a swimmer who would command respect in any circle to which he had accesses. His was a natural talent which, due to expert coaching during his college career, had developed into something both delightful to watch and capable of achieving excellent resalts. Moreover, had he taken the care to train seriously and devote himself whole-heartedly to this work, I honestly believe that, to-day, he would be revered as one of Queensland's finest swimmers. His prowess was not limited to one distance and was possessed of the stamina to win events in middle and long distance. But then, as a surfer and surf swimmer, he was superb. Another surfer of great ability was Jack Tully, whose association with us did not survive our fist season.
The time came soon when, with our large coterie, we began our weekend journeys to the scene of activities. I vividly recall our first weekends there. Our camping gear consisted of one primus, one small can, two knives, one plate and three cups. A box served for dining table, the floor for our chairs. A large acetylene lamp was continually guttering and fizzling out and it was positively dangerous to attempt to light it. Firstly, we would toss a coin to determine the hero. Then we would all shrink to the walls whilst he gingerly applied the match and frantically used the pump. This done, we would emerge from obscurity and devour the inevitable repast of bully beef, tomato, bread and butter. Our first nights would find us stretching upon the boards, wrapped in a blanket apiece, surrounded by untidy heaps of gear and habiliments. Members who, today, enjoy the comparative comfort and utility which our sea- side home provides, would find it hard to visualise things as they were in those early pioneering days. Yet, despite all this hardship, our ideal was rapidly being lost sight of. The place was being used as a veritable rest house - a base from which to stay for hilarious Saturday nights at the 'gatta or Tugun. The early hours of Sunday morning would disclose the most swashbuckling of the band plodding their weary way homeward with vistas of a warm, secure position on the hard, hard floor.
During the days, we were wont to disport ourselves in the blue waters of our little paradise. But to training for the big qualifying task of Surf Lifesaving, no one gave any serious thought. It was here that McDonald obviously failed in his leader-ship, for he knew something of the ropes and we did not. There were a few lads with honesty of purpose and will to strive for fulfilment of ideal but they were adversely influenced by the conduct of the majority, and were rendered impotent by lack of leadership and discipline.
Things proceeded in this fashion for several weeks. The only semblance of Life-saving activity was a reel which the Kirra Club generously loaned to us. Within a few days, someone had broken a chunk off one of the flanges. Matters went from bad to worse. Our "dignified" nocturnal escapades were receiving unfavourable comment from the public whilst our lack of club management was glaring at all and sundry. A storm was imminent, but before the gathering clouds could deluge their rain upon us, Astill, acting Secretary, pro tempore, raised his voice and convoked a general meeting.
The general meeting was held in the Committee room of the railways Institute on the fifteenth day of February 1938. The gentlemen present numbered approximately a score. We took the precaution of issuing an invitation to Mr Ted Maher who, at that time was Chief Instructor to the Kirra Club. He was kind enough to accept the chair. There was one other gentleman present whom I deem worthy of special mention, for he was destined to play a cardinal part in Bilinga's future moulding. This was Mr Les Hamilton, a property owner of Bilinga. It was indeed a fortunate chance which threw him into our midst. Wherever Astill unearthed him I do not know for he possessed a remarkable aptitude for encountering relevant personages.
Mr Maher's address was confined to a rhetorical exhortation to give our whole hearts to the movement and to spare no pains for the achievement of our end. We were to be known as Bilinga Railway Surf Lifesaving Club. The officers elected were: - Patron Mr Harry Griffiths; President, Mr Les Duggan; Secretary, Clubhouse Director and Caption, Mr Astill; Treasurer, Mr McDonald. Several Vice-Presidents were chosen, the most illustrious being Mr Hamilton. In this connection, I should like to mention Mr Fred Vowles who came along, I think, of his own accord, drawn by news of the project. He afterwards proved a very valuable asset for, though he was voted no office, many an assistance and many an improvement in the "club-house" was attributable to him. Well do I remember little Ted, in his quaint attire, moving about here and there, a hammer and saw in his hands, adjusting this and erecting that - all of which tended to embellish and render the shack more comfortable. Although he is almost a stranger these days, his annual subscription is always forth-coming and his will to assist is always in evidence.
Before the conclusion of the meeting, Mr Hamilton cordially invited us all to partake of meals at his Bilinga residence on the following week-end. This offer was promptly, almost wolfishly, accepted, for it held promise of much better fare than was our wont at the clubhouse. Mr Maher terminated the meeting by offering his services as an Instructor until such time as we should possess one of our own. They were gladly accepted.
The Secretary's first duty was to provide training facilities in the city. Ithaca Baths were chosen and the following Tuesday night was set aside for the club's initial training effort. Tuesdays and Thursdays were to be our practice nights for the future.
The week-end following the meeting beheld an earnest improvement. We began to take an interest in surf swimming which differs from its still- water counterpart in as much as the water is never still and very often its roughness makes some strength essential to penetrate the "break". then there are side currents or sweeps to be reckoned with. These entail the careful choice of a course, in order to allow for drift which, if not taken into account, may carry the swimmer down beyond the buoy, making difficult, if not impossible, to swim back against its force. This is of particular significance in the case of a belt swim, as encumbered by the belt and weight of surging line, progress for the swimmer is much more onerous. There are, of course, other phases of the game to be learned, and, one by one, they are assimilated.
We were duly visited on the Sunday at 10AM by Mr Maher. Six of us were selected for the first lesson in drill and discipline. The work was entirely novel to all of us, save Don, and I must say that only a vague idea remained in my mind after this initiation. Our instructor was quite hopeful of building a competent squad, provided we six trained during the week with no absentee at the week-ends. We felt quite elated with our experience and enjoyed thoroughly the excellent fare which Mr and Mrs Hamilton so generously provided.
Alas! Sundays came and went. Our tutor appeared punctually, but each day found some places vacant in the squad, necessitating continual substitutions. after a few weeks, Ted became "fed up" with the whole business and severed his connection with us. Easter was now upon us and the silver star of promise was swiftly paling before our vision.
Easter came, bringing with it but a small complement of holiday-makers, for, if the world had received any news of our existence, it could not have been of a complimentary nature and, thus, confidence in bathing at Bilinga was but dubiously felt. Nevertheless, we enjoyed it from a vacation point of view and many hearts were tinged with regret when the time came to say 'au revoir' to our seaside home.
The season had been a stark failure from the viewpoint of co-operative utility, yet, looking back upon it, I realise that it was not entirely bereft of merit, as valuable experience in surfing conditions was obtained and a glimpse into the interior of club offered. Therefore, to those few ardently stood behind the business and were to remain in the fold, the environment would be no longer strange. The ensuing season was to see us rid of all lackadaisical members who, not only are no asset, but are a positive hindrance to officials and all others. It is a compensating feature that persons of this class do not survive the test of time but invariably drift away with sighs of relief trailing in their wake. Hence, those who remain alike through success and failure, adversity and prosperity, are to be treasured as precious jewels; for they are the life blood of the body - bulwarks which symbolise progress and enduring solidarity.
The winter months passed uneventfully by. Our various sports and pastimes cast us out like pieces of driftwood which come to rest upon many shores. Rugby league claimed me again; Rugby Union, Astill. Don, Jack and I were very much together but, of the rest we saw little. And the time drew swiftly near for the concerted launching effort of another season, and we began to make arrangements accordingly.
The dawn of September smiled and brought response to a fervent prayer. In fact, in the light of wisdom after the event, it seemed that Heaven had, at length smiled upon the cause. For into our midst came a saviour. I have mentioned previously the remarkable flair of Astill for unearthing relevant personages. Firstly Mr Hamilton - and now a man who was to dynamically thrust our club onto a stable footing. I have the great privilege, gentle readers, of here presenting to you George Harris; the most forceful and colourful personality to have so graced our club preserves. When we consider that George had ready access to any club in Queensland, we realise what a stoke of fortune his advent was. The Secretary, in his annual report for the season (1938-1939), stated. "We would like to place on the record how fortunate this club was, in securing the services of Mr George Harris as Captain and Instructor. Mr Harris came to us - at the time probably the lowliest club in Australia - from Coo-gee Club, one of the largest, and shouldered the whole responsibility of drilling and coaching our candidates for their Bronze Medallions. We are greatly indebted to him and we hope he will continue his association with us for many years to come." The organising ability of the cohesion between George and Les Hamilton, during the season, is, to my mind, primarily responsible for our position at its close. The Secretary recorded our progress very nicely when he wrote "the 1938-39 season has seen Bilinga Club rise from a position of obscurity to one of equality with the other clubs of Point Danger Branch. We had cast aside our swaddling cloths and are striding out - a healthy young club. At the commencement of the season we had only one qualified life-saver in our ranks. At the close of the season we have increased this number to no less than eleven.
The clarion call was sounded and members convened for the General Meeting which was held in the Committee Room of the Institute on the night of. Many new faces were seen this time and among these were men who were to become stalwarts, learning to love the club and to tread the path of duty not as a duty but as a joy. Two very welcome visitors were present. Mr Allan Kennedy, Point Danger Branch Superintendent, consented to act as Chairman, and, I must remark, he conducted affairs splendidly and with expedition. Mr Stan Casta, State Superintendent, was the other. Both of these gentlemen delivered sound advice and painted attractive pictures of a goal to be won. We viewed things in a different light now, probably inspired by the proximity of George Harris, which then loomed ominously, seemed to have paled into insignificance.
The Officers elected were:- Patron, Mr M.H.H. Wills; President, Mr Les Duggan; Secretary and Club house Director, Mr Astill; Captain and Instructor, Mr Harris; Registrar, A.J. Schlecht; Treasurer, Mr J. Mangin; Hon Auditor, Mr K Brett: Mr Hamilton was foremost among the Vice-Presidents. His ardour and apparent ability presaged an early elevation to the major office. This was to eventuate, as we shall later see.
Mr Harris impressed everybody, in a short address, by his enthusiastic mien and his obvious knowledge and capability. He stressed the point that training for the Bronze Medallion must begin immediately. Firstly, by organised swimming on club nights at the baths and then by drilling at Lang Park on two nights per week. This, of course was to be supplemented by continuous work on the beach at week-ends.
When the meeting concluded, we felt a sense of achievement for we were no longer groping indiscriminately; but were to proceed with certainty along the line of a definite plan.
Our training began at once but George was dis-satisfied with the attendance and, within a fortnight, he had convoked a special meeting in order to select six men to form the first squad. Six were selected and on we moved.
Following a request by the sporting officials of the Railways Institute, with whom we were affiliated, we made our swimming nights coincide with theirs - for they were fostering a swimming class. In a short time, then, we were taking part in Railway competition. Mr J. Ohlrich, their Sporting Secretary, was pleased with the success of the competitions and we mutually decided to organise a Grand Carnival; Bilinga versus different Railway Clubs from the metropolis and Ipswich. This was done and the night proved to be a success both aquatically and financially. Discord, however, soon began to creep in, for the Institute it became apparent, was reaping the full benefits. The cash proceeds from the carnival fell into the Institute coffers with nary a crumb for Bilinga. The Railway swimming class, due to our cooperation, was proving rather successful, but this alone was of no material success to us; so, once again the reward was one-sided. A third very important aspect of the matter was that the response to our call for suitable members was coming, not from within the Railway Service but, from without. So gradually matters came such a pass that, like Caesar of old, having crossed the Rubicon, we were forced to delete the word "Railway" in order to put an end to a farcical position. From the new year of 1939 then, our club was known as "Bilinga Surf Life-Saving Club."
Simultaneously with our Brisbane training, our duties on the beach began. If recollection serves me accurately, my first week-end of the season began on Saturday, October 15th. I remember this accession very vividly, for its variety of unusual and irrelevant incidents is probably unique in our history. Among members present this time were George Harris, Jack Astill, Bill Wissler and a newcomer, Harry Gorden. A touch of officialdom was added by President Less Duggan who, with Vice- President, 'Happy' Smythe and 'Devil-may-care' Larry Gillespie comprised a splendid trio of entertainers. A summing up of this sojourn would be 'a riotous feast of mirth and revelry.' This was the first visit to Bilinga of George Harris. Most of us had arrived by train on Friday night. The Saturday was Caulfield Cup day which meant, of course, that all operations must be suspended during the Saturday afternoon, to allow us to saunter forth to Tugun Hotel to hear the race run. This was the decision of Mr Duggan and his two sporting satellites. And we, sheep like and leaderless, fell into line. The upshot was that our club Captain, arriving from Brisbane by car, stopped at the hotel to ascertain if, by chance, one of the boys should be there. What a sight greeted him! From the maelstrom of joy and laughter, he inquired if anyone were on the beach. The derisive answer from Mr Gillespie was, "Who the blazes did you think would be there?" what a day! What a week-end! But this was just a prelude to a burst of devotional endeavour. From thence, the really great personality of Harris asserted itself and was communicated to all of his malleable subordinates.
I have already introduced Harry Gordon who was conducted to the club by Astill, seconded by me. Mention of him takes my mind back to an infernally hot day in 1937, when those two brilliant exponents of the racquet game, Von Gramm and Henkel, were delighting the crowd with their artistry. It was when I first met Harry. Little did I realise then an indissoluble friendship was to develop and mature between us. From the moment of his advent to the surf club, this bond was evident, and swiftly it grew mutually stronger. It has weathered the stress of time and circumstances, has reached its apex and would always flow serenely on, oblivious of mundane crises. Harry has departed from this life but I revere him as I did when here, and I fervently pray that his spirit goes on, happily living, in the greater world beyond.
Soon after the week-end just alluded to, I departed for a holiday in Tasmania. It was upon Melbourne Cup day, November 2nd. I did not return until mid- December. During that interval, a few things of mote occurred. Firstly Mr Hamilton was elected Secretary in lieu of Mr Astill. I understand that a special meeting was called, relative to certain irregularities involving the latter. The view was held by some that Mr Hamilton being older and more stable man, would be more suited to occupy this very important post than one so young and mobile. The resultant vote favoured the motion. Mr H.J. McGrath, President of Pt. Danger Branch, was chairman of the meeting. I wish very strongly to decry any reflection upon Jack's loyalty and well-meaning; but the time had arisen when a more firm and experienced hand was needed to guide the destiny of an undertaking which could not afford to fail a second time.
The second noteworthy happening was the resignation of McDonald. He was not the builder nor a genuine stalwart, as this step proved; for, once relieved of office, and called upon to labour under the direction of others, he simply ' could not take it'. Nevertheless, Don had shown his mettle and the seed was now firmly planted upon productive soil.
Disappointment was mingled with gladness when I became aware of the third cardinal event. I left, of a Bronze Squad well on its way to qualification when I returned, was not realised. The six elite had become disrupted. Three had forsaken the sanctity of our halls - not being endowed with the spirit we needed, we mourned not their loss. One of the remainder - junior Hughie Ovens - had ventured on his own and secured his medallion. He was thus our first member to gain the coveted award and we are proud of him because of it. It was a grand tribute to Hughie's ambition and zeal and a testimony to George Harris's capability and will to work for speedy attainment of end. We shall later see haw Hughie was to make his presence felt in competitive spheres and bestow much credit on the club which fostered him.
The squad, I have remarked, had disintegrated. Therefore, another had to be built up. The three still remaining were supplemented by three others. The squad now stood as follows; H Gorden, E Rees, T Keating, K Brett, J Schlecht and J Mangin. I should like to comment briefly upon those members I have not introduced.
The worth to the club of Jacky Schlect cannot be estimated upon purely material basis. To those who new him well, he is just one man whose ardour and ready sacrifice for this, his greatest amateur ideal, are such as are not to be found other than in the rarest circles. He was to prove his worth later in official capacities and, I must avow, he has ever preformed his duties with dourness and commendable efficiency. To Jack, the club is greater than the individual, and the individual is part of the club. Hence his general popularity.
Tommy Keating came to us early in November, 1938. The receipt for his Annual Subscription is dated November 9th, and, as Tommy is never in monetary arrears, this would be near the date he joined. He bought with him a follow Ipswich man, Teddy Rees. I have scarcely, if ever, known a more pleasant, good-natured and completely unassuming fellow than this solidly-built, curly headed rascal with a frank, kindly face and the hand ever stretched forth to render succour to those in need of it. To work with him officially is easy and pleasurable; to play with him makes sport a song of freedom; to talk with him makes speech true and dignified. He is, verily, a fish of the purest and clearest water.
Teddy Rees is an old collage mate of mine. He was elected Club House director, after the exit of Joe Kydd, who had usurped Astill's position during my absence. Teddy's is a volatile nature. He was always ' a great scout '. He dedicated himself to Bilinga Club the moment he set foot in it. I have not yet known a keener member, whether in Bronze Training or in Club House Direction and maintenance. As Club House Director, he took his duties extremely seriously. He gave of his best and he insisted that all other did likewise. This sometimes caused him to clash with those of sensitive spirit, but I have never known Teddy to lose an issue in this regard - and the club was always better for the victory. In short he formulated an ideal, within his powers, and saw it through to the bitter end. He was endowed with endless club spirit, and was ever a grand companion.
You have made Kev Brett's acquaintance at the Annual Meeting. He was, up to his departure for the war theatre, our Hon. Auditor. Kev is widely renowned as one of nature's gentlemen, possessed of many sterling and charitable qualities. He, like his other comrades of the first Bilinga Bronze Squad, is a lover of his one and only seaside brotherhood. A powerful tie has always existed between the units of the six, which, as time passes by, fuses with its subsequent equals, thus forging an ever lengthening chain.
I made a remark in passing that Joe Kydd usurped a position. Allow me to elucidate this assertion. Joe is the son of a lady who owns a house, adjacent to our club 27 house. Our relations with this family have always been cordial and, oft. Times, materially to our advantage, Joe was, from the time we became stabilised, keenly solicitous of the welfare of our body. It was principally as a recompense for this interest, in addition to expediency (as Joe was at the time a local resident), that Joe was made Club House Director. His reign was not a success. I attribute this to the fact that he was an outsider. He was not one of the boys and was, therefore, unable to appreciate that Intangible thing called club spirit, or more conventionally, ésprit de corps. Allied with this defection, Joe had a remarkable aversion from strawberry jam, what is more, he forbade the purchase of it by our members and, as Joe controlled the larder purse, he held sway up to a point. One day, Astill and I toddled forth to buy some provisions which we charged to Joe's account. We returned with a large tin of contraband product in our possession. This last straw precipitated the resignation of our esteemed director. Teddy was the unanimous choice, for his ability to play the role of a thrifty housewife had for some time been noted as a contrast to Joe's comparative ineptitude in this regard. Occasionally now, Joe pays a visit to Bilinga. He is always welcome for I doubt if there was any question as to his popularity among us.
By Christmas time the comforts of our club home had greatly increased. Keating and Rees were spending annual holidays on the spot and several pieces of constructional usefulness were due to their efforts. The sturdy piece which we still use as a dinning table with two forms to mach were the first products of their tradesmen ship. I remember well the first weekend I journeyed down there after my absence on leave. Smoke was issuing from the old chimney, with fragrant scent of frying sausages wafting on the breeze. Tommy and Ted, standing in the doorway, smiling cheerfully, formed a welcome greeting to a heart which was glad to be back again. A stove was now in commission and lo! The joy of a hot meal. Our days of bully beef, cold tomatoes, bread and jam with, perhaps, a mug of black tea (primus prepared) were relegated to the limbo of forgotten things. From thence we enjoyed what we considered, and indeed were, good and varied reposts. The stove had been donated in McDonalds time by a resident of Bilinga. It was a third rate battered article but, to us, it was the acme of perfection. This model was later to be stolen by a collector of Antiques - at least such was the calling to which we then granted him affiliation.
We are grateful to Mr J.R. Blane of Brisbane and Mr J. Currie for the installation of possibly the greatest comfort item - electric light. The former firm's price for materials was in the nature of a donation whilst Mr Currie, a friend of Les Hamilton, Performed the installation cost-free.
A great incommodity, at that time, was the absence of water in the house itself.
The closest source was a tap on the roadside, sixty yards away. It frequently
amused passes-by to behold bronzed fellows crouching beneath the tap, in various
stages of nudity, engaged in the delectable act of taking a "shower". Thus,
another characteristic of the Bilinga of that time ceased to be when water was
made to flow within the domicile.
The Christmas of 1938 was a notable one for our men. It was the first X'mas spent on the spot - their first taste of organised patrol duty, and was to provide a good grounding experience for the future. There are three special periods of the Surfing Calender; X'mas, New Year and Easter. At these times the crowd is at its zenith and all patrols must be constantly on the ' qui vive ' under the able guidance of our club Caption, though our bronze training had just begum, we were smoothly organised into patrols, and, for a period, enjoyed the confidence of the surfing public.
During these festive stays, the fellow feeling already evident in our ranks, deepened into genuine camaraderie. The essence of club spirit was there. Each succeeding year, despite the nullifying influence of the war years, to day the terms, "club spirit" and "Bilinga" are synonymous. We shall always preserve it so, regardless of cost; for in this synonymity lies our greatness.
Yet, even this time of happiness was marred by a sad occurrence. Jacky Astill's association with us was abruptly terminated. Suffice it to relate that a breach occurred between him and the committee which precipitated his exit from the edifice he had so ably helped to build. He transferred to Bribie Island Club, obtaining his bronze medallion under their banner. And so, with a ting of sorrow, we bade 'Ave atque vale' to our finest swimmer. Firstly McDonald, then Astill, and I alone of 'the intrepid three' remain to sanctify their early deeds.
Our regular mode of transport to the coast was then and still is the railway. It was about this time that we were granted the Surf Life-Savers concession fare. This is a great boon to us, as, without it, the expense, to lots of the youngsters, would almost be prohibitive. In those days the complete journey was made by rail. Subsequently, with the formation of the coordinated service, a combination of train and 'bus became the vogue.
The brining of the bronze squad to the pinnacle of preparedness was now the primary object of George Harris. The exam was barely a fortnight hence and our time was fully occupied. I can almost feel again the quickened tension of the week preceding the great test. I held a delicious sense of attempting to achieve something unique in our annals. The days passed in one long thrill of expectation until the eve of the great event arrived. All that Saturday was devoted to the embellishment of our preparation. An oral examination occupied two hours of the night and, promptly at nine o' clock, we sought the solace of sweet slumber. Breakfast at 5 am, mass for some of us and, at 8 am, we stood on Kirra beach, slightly agitated but quietly confident.
Mr. Ted Mahet was our examiner. A very exacting one he proved to be. The proceedings occupied some two hours and a half and imagine our delight when the verdict was announced that we had to a man been successful. Les. Hamilton whooped like a Red Indian and Mrs H. almost crowed with ecstasy. It was, too, a great personal triumph for George Harris, as this was his first Queensland squad. Yes, verily was January 15th, 1939, a red letter day for us. Bilinga was now the proud possessor of eight qualified life-savers. Honours of the day went to Teddy Rees, for his were the greatest times as both patient and beltman. I must convey my deepest gratitude to the residents of Bilinga. The rousing send-off in the mourning before we left, and the wonderful ovation we received upon our victorious return were very touching in there sincerity, these people had grown to us as their own and our first conquest, particularly, they proudly acclaimed and shared. The Kydds, the Carricks, the Goodfellows, the Howarths, the Willues and others were the nucleus of a band who have grown through the years to regard us as an asset. Any adversity which might come our way they have always demonstrated their will to encounter on our behalf. Our thanks are due for several fine monetary responses to our holiday appeals. They may rest assured that everything they have so generously subscribed has been, and always will be devoted to the increase of our competency to render them even greater service on the beach and in the environs we were pleased to call our own. One man who has consistently proved his devotion to our welfare is our late Patron, Mr Wills. A monument to his efforts to improve our swimming prowess was his Annual "Wills Cup', the first year of which the winner was Hughie Ovens. Mrs Kydd is another benefactor of whom no eulogy, I think, would be too extravagant. Her kindness, both individually and collectively endowed, are almost too numerous for tabulation. A visible and durable mark of her beneficence is the Oregon flag-pole which rears its timber to the sky.
Elated with our success as we were, the practice of the moment now began to assume a deeper and more significant aspect. For now we found ourselves discussing keenly every ever phase of competitive activity; pronouncing names such as Boast, Burniston, bright etc. with easy familiarity. More and more qualified men were urgently needed, however, and almost at once we had four more men in training. Murray Minders, Doug Meldrum, Paul Kerswell and Noel Quelch were thrown into the routine. George Harris was again busy for some weeks and, at length, in the month of March, again on Kirra beach, they faced the acid test. Three were successful but, to our regret, Noel Quelch failed in the belt swim. He was later to fail a second time. He was a grand fellow, immensely popular, but he seemed to lack the "big match temperament".
Our club life, at this time, was exceedingly happy. We were all good pals
together, be it work or play. Who could ever forget those Saturday nights when,
physically tired from the day's exertion, we relaxed in cheery companionship, 'neath
the spell of the old five gallon at Tugun? And then, with a song and a smile for
all the world, we sped to town to dancing or cupid. In those pally days there
was no greater pal than my esteemed Harry. Big blonde and handsome, like a
Nordic deity, he cast a lovely subtle spell on all contingent humanity.
A welcome adjunct to our gear from which we derived great pleasure was a surf ski. This we purchased from Ted Maher early in January. It was second hand, lamentably so, as we found after a few weeks usage. Due to constant patching and caulking, however, it lasted through to the end of the season. The five pounds expended on it was in true nature of a gift. Nevertheless the ski was invaluable in the conduct of surf races, placing the buoys etc. prior to the arrival of the ski, our buoy which was merely a steel drum, anchored by a bag of sand on the end of a thick rope, had to be "swum out" by a squad of boys. A smack in the face from the drum was not a pleasant experience, I can assure all and sundry.
The cardinal point of the remainder of this season was the conduct of the Wills
Cup competition. It proved a great fillip to keenness and friendly rivalry with
resultant uplift of swimming standard. Many keen contests (on a handicap basis)
were witnessed, in both surf and still water. The registrar's records reveal
that the issue was in doubt until the very end of the season. The ultimate
winner was a giant junior, Hugh Ovens. In the course of that season occurred the
hardest surf race I have ever taken part in. one Sunday morning, the surf was so
vicious that we could not "swim the buoy" beyond the "break". The course was
made to consist of a triple circuit, which meant that one was in heavy trough
and crest for the duration. After an eternity, it seemed, I staggered to the
finishing line - second. Ovens was there first by three seconds. As my successes
were very few, I mention this, not in a spirit of ego, but to illustrate the
colossal ability of this junior who had given me enough start to enable me, as I
thought, to gallop to Tugun and back before he entered the water.
Time, remorseless and resolute, disdaining mortals, sped through our Eden with incalculable swiftness, bringing Easter with, for us, its festive finality. I had business in Bundaberg and so missed, according to the troops, the most pleasurable Easter in the annals of surfdom. It was a fitting 'au revoir' to the season of religious execution of duty and of concerted social fellowship. The pain of loss was very acute, but we extracted great solace from the knowledge that in a few short months, Harry, Jacky, George and the rest of us would be intermingling once again in the haven we had now learned to adore.
A significant guide to the public confidence in us, which grown during this - our first earnest season, is contained in the records of our Registrar, Jack Schlecht. He wrote; "Good Friday, 7/4/39 Beach popular. Over one hundred people in, between 6am and 8am. Good surfing conditions. Excellent weather." And again, "Easter Saturday, 8/4/39. Early morning surf very popular. Again more then a hundred bathers between flags. Good weather and good surf."
The social spirit, engendered during this summer, was perpetuated during the winter months. The climax was the holding of a Dinner in June. The preparatory work was essayed by Schlecht and myself. The Railway Institute was the venue. The tables were beautifully arranged; of food and drink there was ample; but lo! Between us we "bungled' the invitations to officials and members, with the result that, as a night of revelry it was splendid, yet as a Annual Dinner it was a fiasco. Still large oak trees from little acorns grow, and today our Dinners concede nought in quality to any others held within the orbit of the Qld movement.
The months passed and Winter gave place to budding Spring, bearing with it the date of the Annual Meeting. This time on the 19th of September 1939, the concourse assembled in the room of the Association in Adelaide Street, Brisbane. To the familiar row of faces (sixteen from the previous season) were added three more: Tommy O'Donohue, protégé of Harry Gordon; George Burns, and George Gunderson, the later a boy who, in a season or so, was to develop and maintain the junior standard so ably set by Hugh Ovens. Mr Frank McGrath again condescended to take the chair. It was his pleasure to present the Bronze Medallions to the ten of us who had lately qualified.
Many resolutions of a practical nature were made that night. Improvement in Clubhouse, entry into competition, and plans for the speedy graduation of more trainees absorbed most of the discussion. Mr Hamilton's proposal that we apply for an Opening Carnival was conducted by the Branch; prizes and additional expenditure were defrayed from the proceeds of the entries and the collection on the beach, whilst any deficit was born by the Branch.
Mr Hamilton was elevated to the position of President. Mr Schlecht was unanimously elected Secretary. Mr Wills was again Patron and Mr Keating our new Vice Captain. The remaining positions saw no change of hands, except that Mr Mangin was the new Treasurer.
The official Season then ranged from October until the last day of Easter. Two weeks later, therefore, we resumed active duty.
We were much impressed by the excellent manner in which young George Gunderson preformed his trial swim at Ithaca Baths. His ease of motion and crisp, neat style won our acclaim, as did the short time he took for the distance. He was to prove a major acquisition to us both as a swimmer and an ardent clubman. His sunny and innocuous temperament and readily available energy have won him great esteem from Bribie Island even to Fingal.
The Carnival was scheduled for November 20th. An R & R squad, Bilinga's first, was chosen. The elite were; Rees, Schlecht, Gordon, Ovens O'Donohue and Mangin. Tommy O'Donohue had come to us from Southport, where he had already obtained a Bronze Medallion. A month of intensive training was the lot of this squad. Two nights per week at Perry Park, learning, ever learning the finer points from the best Instructors in the Branch viz, Messrs Kennedy, Donaldson, O'Callaghan and Harris. Another night was devoted to our club swimming competition. Friday nights saw most of us, at this stage, entrained for Bilinga and, thus, only on Monday nights were we left to our own devices. These were times when the game becomes very onerous, but the fulfilment of such a duty brings its own sweet compensation.
During this period, the tuition of our new men was not being neglected. A new adjunct arrived, during October, in the shape of Kev. Grehan. This short stocky, red-headed gentleman was a member of the swimming clubs of Sandgate and the Taxation Department. His proficiency was soon proved in no uncertain fashion. Hence three men - the nucleus of the squad - were being moulded according to our plan.
A busy time was experienced by our committee, attending to arrangements for the great day. At last it dawned and our beach was the scene of unprecedented activity. All the morning, competitors from the various clubs arrived, transporting their gear, whilst our boys were extended in giving the final touches to all our construction and arrangements re accommodation of competitors, issue of refreshments etc. by 2 pm, all was ready. The arena was roped off; the buoys adjusted; the boats ready to be maned, and the competitors ready for action. The public had turned out in their hundreds - or thousands. The Carnival was officially blessed by Capt. Jos. Francis, so on we moved.
I shell not dwell on the victories of other clubs, particularly Burleigh Heads, the aggregate winners for the day. Those giants of the surf, Thor Long, Tom Beast, George Turpin and company were well to the fore. Bilinga's initial R & R attempt was doomed to failure. Jack Schlecht drew number one position, lost a lot of ground, whilst Tom O'Donohue, beltman, became sick on route and failed to make his buoy. Tommy was inclined to despondency, but we soon made him realise that accidents can happen in even the most elegantly regulated circles.
The redeeming feature of the afternoon was the sterling display of the junior, Hugh Ovens in the Junior Surf Race. This was his maiden effort and he was opposed by tried men, inter alia, Jacky McLean and "Tiny " Gordon. During the whole course of the race, excitement was continually simmering. At the close, Les Hamilton and George Harris, to the well-demonstrated horror of officialdom, vacated their posts, leading the jubilant rush to "chair" the victor. Whenever Hughie's exploits recounted, (and many a success had he) fond memory hails this feat as the greatest and most stirring of all.
|BILINGA’S 1ST R+R SQUAD IN BRANCH COMPETITION JACK SCHLECT, TOM O’DONAHUE, HARRY GORDON, HUGH OVENS, TED REES, JIM MENGIN|
Strong contributing factors to the smooth and efficient running of the Carnival were the efforts of our Ladies Committee which comprised Mrs Hamilton, Misses Molly Winter, Jean Shaw and Audrey Carbin. We warmly applaud the yeoman service they rendered in the refreshment "parlour". To our stately President, too, must go a large measure of the kudos. His business acumen in the soft drink booth, assisted but spasmodically by Messes Rees and Brett, was almost solely responsible for the magnitude of the sales. When Les does a job, he invariably does it well.
The Bilinga Carnival was followed, at close intervals, by those of other clubs, at all of which we entered in several events, with very moderate success, save for the fruits of Hughie's consistency. I shall enumerate these in a later passage. The matter, however, most clamouring for attention was the novitiate training. The three lads awaiting were now supplemented by two others. Jack Buttner and Dick Abbott, the latter another junior who was to improve to such an extent that he won the Wills Cup in his first season.
The rigid stratum upon which our competitive prowess now rested was shaken by the loss of one whom we had grown to regard as an integral part of our composition. Yes we lost Teddy Rees - a clubman and a worker - in the month of November. He was our first member to enrol in the forces. He joined the Air Force in the dawn mists of its potentiality. We missed him then as we showed in no luke-warm fashion.
If early enthusiasm is any criterion, then "Baby" Buttner's club worth was assured from the outset. He was offered a choice of absorbing all the Bronze routine in two weeks, thus enabling himself to join the other four for examination or to avoid 'cramming' and go through with a later squad. His sponsor, George Burns, allied himself with Harris, and "baby", choosing the former alternative, laboured to such avail that he lined up with the others on the morning of December 9th, with Mr Jack Gordon as Examiner.
The swimming course, on this occasion was a fairly lengthy one; although the surf was breaking with only moderate severity. The times of the contestants, both in the belt and as patients, were very satisfactory. I must commend Kev. Grehan and George Burns for obtaining respective honours. The resuscitation was, however very mediocre. Still, this is a department in which practice works wonders, thus no trepidation was called for. The five successful to our intense satisfaction. Our efficient life-savers now numbered sixteen, from which reflection we derived just pride.
On this day there occurred a unique event for our adolescent club. For not only, it was now shown, could Bilinga produce life-savers, but it could promote its elect to the dignity of instructors. To Tommy Keating and Jack Schlecht we hand the bouquets. It was wholesome to view this rising from the ranks of commissioned officers, and for this primal step we salute once more the plan and executive ability of George Harris.
It is axiomatic that honesty and sincerity of purpose reap a material and lasting reward. And so we find that with the ingress of those popular juniors, "Gunga" and King Abbott, sterling champions in the form of their patness, followed in their wake. The benefits, both moral and material, emanating from our association with these big-hearted elders, are like silver mountings on a casket of ebony. Mr Gunderson was the donor of the eighteen tier bunks which enhance the interior of our upper storey to day. In addition, he was the artisan who erected them. They shall long be a monument to his generosity and a mutual link between us. His frank and hearty demeanour is a most endearing charm. May he always regard himself as one of us and may no rift ever occur !
I deem it a propitious moment to give a brief resume of the deeds of our carnival Ajax. His record for the season: -
|KIRRA (STATE CHAMPS.)||JUNIOR BELT||28/1/40||THIRD|
|PALM BEACH||SURF H'CAP||11/2/40||FIRST|
|SURFER'S PAR.||SURF H'CAP||25/2/40||THIRD|
|SURFER'S PAR.||JOE FRANCIS CUP||25/2/40||THIRD|
|BURLEIGH (GOVERNOR'S CAR.)||JUNIOR BELT||3/3/40||THIRD|
A splendid chapter of achievement, indeed, including, as it did a place in the State Belt Championship! The latter feat awakens an echo in the vocabulary of our then beach sprinters who claim to have secured third place in a carnival or two; which facts seem to be enveloped in a dubious mist. Yet, still, my memory is subject to lapses.
The essays of our senior members in carnivals were instigated chiefly by a desire to gain experience. For who could visualise any major success against the elite of the State, such was that pantomime surfman, Tommy Boast? Yet "Blue" Grehan and his co-diehards were ever triers and gained many eulogies for their unremitting tenacity. In this connection, the closest approach to drowning I ever experienced was on the day I carried the belt at Currumbin in the Beach Championships. Line after line of mountainous waves reared aloft and crashed to the depths of the ocean, while a strong current raced northwards with the same destructive intent. Ten minutes of frantic battling and I had gained but a hundred yards. When hauled ashore, I could scarcely stand erect. George Harris's first words to me were, 'Ten minutes is a long time, isn't it?" Ron. Roslan and Alan Imvie alone, of that heat, reached the allotted buoys, they're times exceeding nine minutes.
The boldest bid for victory during the season was made by Harry Gordon in the Governor's Carnival at Burleigh. Though beaten by to fine beltmen in Billy Dalley and Tommy Walsh, Harry filled third place and kept both these men on the 'que vive'. It was a very creditable display.
An exemplification of club pride was the practice, now in vogue, of members spending their Annual Holidays at Bilinga. This practice, which we always encourage, is a manifestation of internal amity and a tribute to the allure of our location and its environs. Semper vivas Bilinga!
Young men of an admirable type continued to attach themselves to our cause. Maurice O'Connell and Terry Grehan were closely followed by Bernie Lee and George Cook. Several pieces of straw, of course, did appear among the ears of wheat; but invariably these remained only long enough to convince us of their ineptitude.
Another trophy which sharpened our competitive claws during this season was the President's Cup. Mr Hamilton is to be commended upon his judgment in stipulating that events for this Cup, both in still water and in surf, be on a scratch basis. Thus a chance was offered for those, who, in the Wills Cup competition might be unable to overcome the handicaps, to come into their own.
Though the days were fraught with exacting toil, sublimely we glided into the embrace of another Christmas. I can see it clearly again - the concerted activity on the beach and in the club house, the subduing of Australian slang in deference to campers and house-owners and the usual snarl of those placed on latrine duty - X'mas day and the sky overcast, with filmy moisture dripping from the trees. The elaborate preparations for dinner - the Old "dining room" decked with silver bells and festooned with garlands of wild flowers and bracken. Crude perhaps, but pregnant with sentiment.
This period marked the advent of Mr Frank Abbott, whom you have already met. He is a man destined to command respect and attachment. He is a 'mixer' of A1 quality whilst the basic soundness of his advocacy has stood us in good stead, both in club matters and in our relations with fellow clubs and the Branch. The next season was to see Frank as a Bilinga delegate, and so great was his appeal, that he was chosen by the Branch as an envoy to State Centre. And with Mr Hamilton as Branch Treasurer the capability of our officials was made forcibly apparent to all others in the movement. To Frank we are indebted for the presentation of yet another trophy, the Abbott Cup. Truly, so great was the worth of big men of this calibre that we cannot afford to be without them.
Boxing day - and our popular club mate, Harry Gordon, was the victim of one of Fortune's hideous reverses. He, in motoring to Bilinga, accompanied by members of his family, was involved in an accident which was to bring legal repercussions. This was the sole blot on the clarity of the horizon.
The New Year was ushered in by an event of momentous import, which made Bilinga the cynosure of all eyes. In the early afternoon of December 28th, far out to sea between us and Kirra, there appeared a huge, dark-brown "shadow", which at the time went by, seemed to be drifting towards the shore. Speculation was rife as to its meaning, so George Harris set out on the surf-ski to reconnoitre. Whilst yet some distance from the object, he was seen to turn about and paddle frantically for shore. There was now no mistake - it was a large whale whose sides were being ravaged by fierce sharks. The news spread like the wings of the morning, and when, two hours later, borne by the gentle south-easter and the incoming tide, the dead whale beached between our flags, there had gathered several hundred spectators. It was gruesome to behold the big sharks, riding in on breaking waves to rip pieces of flesh from their victim and spear back again to avoid becoming stranded.
By sunrise of the next day, the tiding had started a veritable pilgrimage. Thousands upon thousands from near and far arrived to pay homage. Our cash-boxes made the rounds (the four days netted five pounds); and the notion was acquainted with the story. Greater publicity no beach did know. The ignorant were enlightened and the world now knew Bilinga.
The whale's advent thus bought concrete advantages, but it also accessioned extreme trials and labours for every member of our body. The presence of sharks made surfing impracticable, and greater was our chagrin when, for a whole sunny day, we were denied the pleasure of sporting with excellent "shoots". On the next day, however our captain ordered a special area to be heavily patrolled. Two days of intense vigilance followed and although, on several accessions, we were compelled to clear the water, no mishap took place. The boys co-operated splendidly during this spell of arduous necessity and emerged with colours flying.
After a day or so the Council began to partition and bury our sixty-two feet visitor. This labour was rewarded in royal liquid style. In all, the job of removing his reputed hundred tons took four days, and with him went his unique and nauseating odour.
Many deprecatory remarks were addressed to us by members of neighbouring clubs, for the steady south-easter had spread o'er alien strands remnants of our mammal. I remember the startling burst of profanity from the Tugun skipper, "Tibby" Faulkner, which descended upon my head, after his men had spent three hours in disposing of some large pieces of offal. Still it was a gracious gesture of nature, for its good vastly transcended the resultant annoyance,
Looking back on this period and comparing it with the X'mas of 1938, the contrast is truly amazing. For here was an excelling smoothness of discipline and cheerful efficiency which had matured until it was glorious to behold. I have often reflected that, in every way, this X'mas and new year period, was the most pleasurable I have ever known.
The Eve of New Year was marked by a spectacular beach Concert. Electric light threw the improvised stage into bold relief, whilst a bon-fire blazed and crackled, illuminating the large audience. Behold, the leaping outer rim of incandescence fell the tumbling surf, with the shadowy hulk of our unbidden gest looming like a grim, silent monitor.
Comedy was the theme of this show. Long shall live the memory of "Bluey" Grehan, "Baby" Buttner and "Moses" O'Donohue, accompanied by our ubiquitous and versatile President, Les Hamillton upon his saxophone in their humorous and, at times, unmusical rendition of topical melodies, - their persistent refusals to vacate the stage - and lastly "Bluey's" decidedly imperfect offering of "Coming thru' the 'roy'". "Baby", by he way, has a very pleasant tenor voice, but he was sadly 'hamstrung' by the pair of villains in his company. Mangin's sketch, "He's mocking my daughter" 'almost stole the show'. "Blue" to day vehemently stresses the 'almost'. At the conclusion, our Patron, Mr Wills, expressed the club's appreciation of the large attendance and initiated a collection, to which he, himself, generously contributed.
It was pleasing to note, in the latter half of the season, an expansion of our internal and external active rivalry. Two cups were now competed for, and finalised. The Wills Cup, won by young Dick Abbott; and that of our President, annexed by Hugh Ovens. An R & R display at Tugun, incorporating a challenge, was sought by Tugun Club. We emerged from this conflict with honours. Ovens and Grehan drew our swimming positions and tested to the last ounce the capacity of the rivals, Faulkner and Leone. A Surf Teams Race was won comfortable by our men; Ovens, Gunderson, G. Cook and Grehan securing four places in the first five. A sprint, combining sportsmanship and intense keenness was shown by the Tugun boys, and depicted the nobility of their character. Bilinga and Tugun clubs have always collaborated and demonstrated the virtue of mutual assistance. This 'entente cordiale' reached a happy climax on Easter Sunday night, when our men were guests at a "beans"' given by that little gentleman, Jack Cooper, though no longer young, as light-hearted as an adolescent.
The latest supplement to our club-house convenience was the installation of water and showers, part of the excavation work being performed by a few members of our club whilst on Annual holidays.
As the curtain of darkness is rung down on the lovely, roseate glow of a perfect sunset, so Easter paled and was obscured. And another golden letter in the march of our time was written and sealed irrevocably. Our active season now was over, but consistent with dignity, a grandiose 'au revoir' was called for.
The Annual Dinner was held towards the close of April, in the Roma Café Brisbane. Mr McGrath, presided once again. It was good to see maturity and youth merging in spontaneous fellowship. The highest order of club-spirit was warmly manifested and the air was charged with its fragrance. O, noble stimulus, may thy influence ever lead us on, and thy mantel ever envelop us !
(Conclusion of 1939-40 season)
No surf rescues had up to date been recorded, but upon several occasions first aid had been rendered. J. T. Mangin being, with the exception of Mr Ted Vowles, the only St. John's Certificate holder in the club, was the cardinal operator in these cases. In one instance, Sam Gougmley, one of our trainees, was struck upon the head by an incoming surf-ski, with the resultant contusions and considerable shock. The other major incident was the encounter of the mudguard of a utility truck and a member of the public, on the highway near the Bilinga milepost. The truck delivered a K. O. in the first round.
"Hitch-hiking" has always been a staple mode of transport to and from adjacent points such as Coolangatta and Tugun. But, today, it is not nearly as comprehensive as it was at that time. For then, not only were personnel "hitched", but articles such as reels were included for beaches as distant as Southport. Hughie Oven's position, in this regard, was akin to the horse employed in Bullen Bros. Circus. This animal's duties were to draw the tent and gear, help to erect the former, and then to buck to popularity.
It was during the recess this year, 1940, that I discovered a recruit who was due, as the years passed on, to rise to epic heights of self sacrifice and stolidity. He, with our old friend, Tommy Keating, was to prove the key-stone of Bilinga's edifice, when the tempest of war's rapacity and division was raging in full fury without. I have often reflected upon the kindness of destiny which arranged my encounter with Jacky Flynn. It was the period of mid-winter - that magic time when the whole sea-board stands transfigured in celestial purity and elegance; when the air is incredibly clear and bracing, and the chill in the breeze fines the blood of the imaginative.
As the westering sun's last slanting rays dipped behind the green hills of Tugun, "Baby" and I, engaged in the pleasant diversion of sipping small ales and throwing darts at the bar-room wall, we were noisily hailed by a newly arrived foursome of revellers. We were to see much of these during the week-end and a friendship was cemented between Jacky, "Baby", "Kingfish" Gary and me. I persevered in my resolve to enlist Jacky in our ranks, and, at length, I was successful.
A steady little source of club revenue, which was created just prior to the close of the season and carried forward during the recess, was a commission allowed on our sales of Jazzland Dance tickets. This oft served a second purpose - that of giving an 'open sesame' to establishments such as Beach House, wherein dwelt femininity.
Another mercenary essay was the conduct of Dances at O'Connor Boat House, Brisbane. These returned a dividend for a short time only, teaching us that superb organization and venue are essential in this connection, hazardous as it is at the best of times.
On August 30th 1940, Harry Gordon was married at Maryborough. He conferred upon me the unique honour of officiating as his Best man, the actuating sentiment of which was not confined to the requirements of the ceremony.
If I am correctly served by memory, the question of the Club Colours arose during the train journey home on the evening of Sunday, March 3rd, 1940 - the day of the Governors Carnival at Burleigh. George Harris, it was, who preferred it. As most of the club members were present, George suggested that the matter be decided there and then. Many ideas were advanced; some meritorious, others notorious, until we, at length, adopted his recommendation, the result was the colours of his old Sydney Club, Coogee. The smart, dressy, yet unostentatious blazer which our members wear today, was, in a very short space of time, in evidence. Rees Keating and Magin were the first three to display it. You will now understand, gentle readers, why the blazer of the winter appears bobtailed and distressed, for I can vouch for the colossal amount of onus it has been called upon to endure through the years.
Chris Walker has transcribed this document, with the help of Travis Johnson.
converted from HISTORY_OF_BILINGA_V1A.pdf
From the Work of Chris Walker, adapted for the Internet by David Bray