A Brief History of Sydney Branch

In the 1880’s and 1890’s, people were starting to realise the sea had uses other than boating and fishing and they trod down to the sand to the ocean, to revel in what they believed to be the healt-giving qualities of salt water.

Swim they could not, nor even be seen in a bathing costume in broad daylight, because a law at that time forbade ‘bathing in waters exposed to views from any wharf, street, public place or dwelling house between the hours of 6am and 7pm.’

Bronte Beltmen in 1909

That was why in 1902 a Manly newspaper editor, William H. Gocher, took on the authorities and announced he would enter the surf at noon on various Sundays. Eventually he was apprehended but no charges were laid. Finally swimming was allowed, provided the bathers were discreetly dressed with neck-to-knee costumes.

In October 1907, an important meeting took place. The Surf Bathing Association of New South Wales was formed when representatives from various interested organisations and clubs met at the Sports Club in Hunter Street, Sydney.

The first annual report of the Surf Bathing Association of New South Wales to the first annual meeting of the association on Monday, 30th August 1909 shows the strength of the movement after its first real year.

The clubs represented at the first annual meeting were; A Bronte member carries an old fashioned torpedo rescue tube, used prior to 1910.

  • Bondi Surf Bathing Life Saving Club
  • Coogee Surf Life Brigade
  • Helensburgh Surf and Life Saving Club
  • Thirroul Surf Bathing First Aid Club
  • Manly Surf Club
  • Bronte Surf and Life Saving Club
  • Maroubra Life Saving Club
  • Royal Life Saving Society
  • Bondi Baths Life Saving Club
  • Bondi Surf and Social Club (now North Bondi SLSC)
  • North Steyne Bathing and Life Saving Club
  • Little Coogee Surf and Life Saving Association
  • Freshwater Surf Club
  • Redhead Surf Club

In the early days all clubs operated under the guidance of the Royal Life Saving Society. From January 1910 this changed with the formation of the first Bronze Medallion squad; Sid Fullwood became the first recipient, L.W. Abel second, C. Daley third, W. Thomas fourth and T. Walker fifth. Training for the first Bronze Medallion squad was held at Bondi Beach.

Bondi Members in 1906 with on of the worlds first surf reels with a cork filled belt. Bondi was the first beach to sport a recognised Surf Club.

It was in 1920 that it was decided to change the name of the Surf Bathing Association of New South Wales to Surf Life Saving Association of New South Wales. In 1922 it changed once more – to Surf Life Saving Association of Australia – with the introduction of clubs from Queensland. The headquarters remained in Sydney.

In August 1949, the National Council of SLSA was formed to control and direct the affairs of the movement on a national basis, in place of ‘State Centre’. A separate New South Wales State Centre was inaugurated, to which Sydney Branch is based under.

In August 1980 females were admitted into full active patrol duty and participated in formal Bronze Medallion training for the first time, despite a long history of service to Surf Life Saving Clubs all over Australia.

North Cronulla march past team as Australian Champions - 1980.

Today, under the direction of  Surf Life Saving New South Wales, Sydney Branch supervises 15 Surf Life Saving Clubs, from North Bondi to Burning Palms.