"Swim between the Flags"
Australia, at an approximate estimate, has over 11,500 beaches, stretched out over some 36,000 km (that's about 22,400 miles) of coastline. Only about 400 of these beaches, however, are collectively patrolled by members of just over 300 surf life saving clubs. So why bother, if only just over 3% of our beaches can be patrolled?
Well the answer is a numbers game. Although lifeguards are employed by local councils to patrol our beaches, they only cover the busier beaches (funded only by the larger councils) and there is also great reliance on volunteer surf lifesavers who patrol these beaches mostly on weekends and public holidays. Irrespective, experience and statistics indicates that by far the most near shore drownings and accidents occur at unpatrolled beaches, or outside of surf life saving hours, thus emphasising the importance and success of regular patrolling at the most popular beaches.
Surf life saving began in Australia in the early 1900s due to the surge of popularity of our sand and surf. It appears, however, that many of our bather visitors couldn't swim and had little or no knowledge of the dangers of the sea, with its breaking waves, currents and rips. Consequently there were many drownings, and so, after a particularly batch of multiple drownings, a group of Sydney locals banded together to form the Surf Bathing Association of New South Wales. The success of this service ultimately grew into what we now take for granted, a national facility known as Surf Life Saving Australia.
The rescue equipment and facilities were quite different back in those days, as is evident by these photographs provided as a series of fund raising postcards by the Surf Life Saving Foundation.
Back in the days of these photos, it took five men (ladies only joined the association later in its development) to operate the 'reel, line and belt'. This work, however, can now be done as effectively by one person on a 'rescue board' or a 'jet ski'. Furthermore, for accidents and incidents further offshore, the historic 'surfboat' with a crew of five rowers has now been replaced by an inflatable rescue dingy operated by a crew of only two.
Some of these old techniques are nevertheless practised in regular competitions, by which these skills are still kept alive.
Of the thousands of locals and tourists (the latter both domestic and overseas) who visit our beaches every year, a very high proportion still has little or no knowledge of the dangers of the sea as it breaks onto our shoreline. This is why these volunteers mark the safest places to swim with red and yellow flags. To reinforce the importance of "Swim between the Flags" this now well known slogan is advertised on our radios and television regularly, aimed primarily at those who are unaware of the beach dangers or who choose (intentionally or otherwise) to ignore the dangers.
The following is taken from an ABC (Australia) News post and concerns the danger of 'rips':
Today someone, somewhere around Australia will drown in a rip. Two days later another person will die the same way. And just days after that, so will another. Surf life savers say rips are a danger to inexperienced beach-goers and those who do not know how they work. But they say if people are aware of how to spot a rip and what to do if caught in one, many of these summer tragedies will be averted.For the uninitiated, a rip is a narrow and fast flowing current, located at regular intervals along the beach, which either returns the water coming inshore back out to sea, or which circulates within the surf zone. Rips are characterised by calmer water (which is also deeper) and are hence deceptive, often attracting those who may be a little 'wave shy'.
Swim between the Flags
When not researching the weird or the wonderful, the comical or the cultured, the sinful or the serious, I chase my creative side, the results of which can be seen as selected photographs of my travels on my website at:
The author of the above, Ken Boddie, besides being a sometime poet and occasional writer, is an enthusiastic photographer, rarely leisure-travelling without his Canon, and loves to interact with other like-minded people with diverse interests.
Ken's three day work week (part time commitment) as a consulting engineer allows him to follow his photography interests, and to plan trips to an ever increasing list of countries and places of scenic beauty and cultural diversity.