love of the sport runs deep and clean, unmuddied by money. Many have written
wills requesting that their ashes be scattered on the open sea by fellow club
Dennis Green, a
53-year-old who trains two hours a day for masters kayak competitions, bangs
his fist on a table. "The surf lifesaving clubs are the only place left in
our society where there's still discipline," he says. "There's no
corporal punishment for criminals here anymore, no caning allowed in the
schools anymore. But at a surf club, if someone younger than me raises his
voice to me, I'd kick his bum or put his head through the bloody wall. In a
surf club, prima donnas don't last long. The Prime Minister or a garbage man
can join, and in their shorts and sandals, they're all just club
America has no
equivalent of the Australian surf club—a frat house with a truckload of sand
thrown in and no graduation ceremonies to cut off the good times and cold beer.
The clubhouses often include weightlifting facilities, a bar, a pool table, an
administration office, a locker room and a bunk room for those who don't live
within staggering distance. The smell of stale beer is strong enough to
reignite a hangover. The sign on the wall at one club, advertising an upcoming
dance there, reads LIVE BAND. FOOD. WOMEN. AND HEAPS OF PISS [beer]. BARGIN
There are 245
lifesaver clubs in Australia, with 59,000 members, including 15,000 on active
beach patrol. On the club walls are pictures and the roll of past heroes, among
them those who died on duty. Some of the Animal House appeal of the clubs has
been muted by a 1981 rule change that enabled women to become full-fledged
members, but the social factor remains one of the clubs' most powerful lures.
Young and old gather for a schooner or four of beer in the evenings and talk of
such legends from the past as Bill Clarke, who is said to have trained during
World War II by swimming alongside his Navy ship while his deck-mates protected
him from sharks by spraying the ocean with tommy-gun bullets. Or of the wild
train rides to distant carnivals, with one-hour stopovers in remote western
Australian towns where athletes would spew from the cars like locusts and
literally devour every available drop of alcohol, every crumb of food.
A reverence comes
into their voices when they talk of Black Sunday. On Feb. 6, 1938, as a day of
intraclub events was about to begin at Bondi Beach near Sydney, the water
became strangely calm. Suddenly, a series of monster waves struck, sucking
about 200 people, most of them not lifesavers, out to sea. The athletes jumped
into action; the beach became a frantic place of whirring rescue reels and
barked instructions. Forty people were pounded unconscious, but only five died.
The day stands as a stark testimony to what officials of the Surf Life Saving
Association keep reminding everyone—that 281,273 people have been saved since
the movement began and that the competitive part of their operation exists
mainly to propagate fitness and enthusiasm for the lifesavers' real task.
The public Down
Under is convinced: Last year more than 400,000 Australian dollars—an Aussie
dollar is worth about 80 U.S. cents—was raised in donations. "It's easier
to raise money in Australia for surf lifesaving than it is for the blind or
paraplegics," says Green. "Your lifeguards in America don't get that
kind of respect. They're paid."
Goodfellow, a 66-year-old resident of Adelaide better known as Super Sid, has
raised more than $A55,000 by himself. "Fifty-five thousand, four hundred
and ninety-nine dollars and sixty-five cents, as of now," said Sid last
November, "from a total of 67,490 people. I started on the 25th of
November, 1975, at 6 p.m., and have collected for 5,067� hours, covering 2,627�
miles. I've worn out 14 pairs of shoes. I wear a crash helmet with SUPER SID on
the front and an eye on the back to watch if anyone tries to rob me. I collect
three hours a day, Monday through Friday, 10 hours every Saturday and 7 a.m. to
10 p.m. every Sunday."
Jeepers, Sid, you
must love the beach.
mate? Bloody water goes up and down and spoils me stomach. I lose me breath. I
nearly drowned three times as a prisoner of war when the Japs made us go in the
river for a wash. Then I was in three cave-ins working the mines as a prisoner,
and when they stuck me under a shower to clean all the muck off me, I was so
scared I almost cleaned all the Japs up meself.
"But if those
blokes hadn't pulled me out of the river back in Burma, I wouldn't be around,
so I decided I ought to do something to help lifesavers. This is special, mate.
There's no love in other sports."