1920’s and 1930’s

Port Noarlunga began life as a farming and fishing community as well as a small shipping port.  In the 1920’s it became a popular destination for holidaymakers.  Guesthouses and other accommodation sprung up all over the town, as well as teahouses and other shops.

With its popularity also came the crowds to the beach.  In the mid to late 1920’s Dr. Edward Harold Davies was very concerned about the safety of the bathing public and formed a small group of lifesavers.   The depression in the early 30’s caused a decline in holiday crowds as financial hardship and other social problems affected the community and had an impact on the lifesaving group.  The group was made up of members of the local community as well as friends from Adelaide who would travel to Port Noarlunga each weekend to assist with patrols.  A decline in membership resulted in this group being disbanded around 1929-30.  We have no records from this time but have been told the story about this group from a number of local sources.  While this group was only in existence for a short time we are indebted to Dr. Davies whose concerns for the bathing public and vision for a safer beach became the foundation for future members of the community to build on.

(footnote:  We were unable to ascertain the starting date of the 1920’s lifesaving group as the dates were conflicting – some records state 1926 and others 1928)


Summer of ’33

The beginning of 1933 promised to be a great summer for beach goers but this was not to be and what happened left a permanent mark on all the people of Port Noarlunga.  In January 1933 the community of Port Noarlunga was shaken when it experienced a number of tragic drownings during that month.

Newspaper reports of the time told the story of the drowning of Rev. C.A. Weibusch, a Lutheran Minister of Gawler who was visiting Port Noarlunga.  Rev. Weibusch, a poor swimmer, was bathing about 7 yards from shore, when knocked over by some large waves.

His friend tried to rescue him but had to call for help when he became exhausted and in danger himself.  Two local lads, Lionel Whalan and Ronald Adamson managed to bring Rev. Weibusch in to shore where resuscitation methods were vigorously applied, but to no avail.

Another tragedy reported in the Advertiser of the day concerned the drowning of four young people at the river mouth in the same month. It was described as the worst surfing tragedy in the history of the town.  These swimmers lost their lives when eleven people got into difficulty whilst bathing about a mile south of the jetty.  The body of Daphne Dodd was recovered on the day of the tragedy.  The body of Charles Bowen was found the next morning and in the afternoon the body of Raymond Kennedy was recovered from the jaws of a shark.  The body of Mavis Dodd was never recovered.

These experiences were unsettling not only for the rescuers and searchers but also the local community.  It called for some action and discussion on the subject.

On 7th February 1933 a public meeting was held in the local institute. The publicity in the press about the drowning tragedies had not been good for the district. This well attended meeting was held to discuss the forming of a lifesaving club at Port Noarlunga.  It was from this small beginning that we grew to what we are today.

At a later stage the District Council approved the suggestion of a proposed erection of a club house.  Sketch plans for a casualty room for the housing of life saving appliances and for the treatment of patients to be erected on the foreshore had been prepared. Some of the materials required to build the room had been acquired through donations or at reduced prices from companies and a local builder agreed to supervise the building work.

It is also interesting to note “that in the erection of the casualty room attention be given to the erection of a superstructure as a clubhouse as soon as funds allow”.

The Annual Report as presented at the First Annual General Meeting of the Port Noarlunga Life Saving Club on 30 November 1933 indicates that we had 21 gentlemen who had joined the club as associates and 15 active members.  Each active member had been presented with a bathing costume in the club colours of chocolate and gold (same colours as the Primary school at that time), These had been purchased from Foy and Gibson who kindly presented a pennant to the club.

A shark was exhibited on the beach to raise funds.  Two weeks after the incident regarding the rescue of the body of Mr. Kennedy, a shark was caught and brought to shore and put on display.  It was said to be the shark involved in the Mr. Kennedy incident, but there was no way to be certain if it was the same shark.  The money raised from charging the public to view the shark was our first fundraising venture.

At a meeting on Thursday 30th November 1933 Mr. W. Parham was elected as President and Mr. H.W. Charlick s Secretary & Treasurer.

The election of other officers was postponed until December 3rd 1933 with the following result: Captain L. Whalan, Vice Captain H. Salter, Instructor in Chief J. Shaw, Assistant Instructor Messrs. G. Raynor & A. Cook, Committee member B. Raynor

The Annual Subscription for Associate Members was 5/- (50c).

Minutes over ensuing months tell us of progress of the casualty room and its expenses.

On 1st January 1937 Port Noarlunga was proud to officially launch its first surf boat.  Named the “Pete McKay” it was named to honour a local resident who had been instrumental in saving a number of lives in the area.

1933 Foundation Members

The above are excerpts are from the book “To the Reef and Back” Port Noarlunga Surf Life Saving Club 1933-2008. This Publication is available for purchase from the Club.



The years of World War II were a trial for many clubs along the coast.  Our club was no exception.  It would have been so simple for the club to close its doors and fold.  Such is the spirit of the Port Noarlunga community, who were the original instigators of forming the club; they stood up again and found a solution to the problem.

To understand how these events occurred we have to realise what sort of society our earlier members lived in.  Young, fit men, patriotic to their country, patrolled our beach, and when their country called for more men for the armed forces, they enlisted.  This left us with no men to keep the beaches safe.

To keep the club alive our members had to be recruited from people too young to be enlisted.

Our club continued on and was being run by a group of teenagers, with some guidance from  a couple of older gentlemen to help them through.  They took on all the responsibilities including patrolling the beach, competing and raising funds because right from the very beginning of the club, fundraising played a huge role in club life.

With the drastic shortage of males, local girls were asked if they would like to join the club and become life savers.

The girls’ team became part of the club possibly around 1941 with all the girls aged between 14 and 19 years.  Our club had a Club Captain who led the boys and a Ladies’ Captain for the girls.

To get qualifications members began by obtaining “still water awards” in the river and then the “surf awards” back at the club in the surf.  To get Examiners to come and conduct exams was next door to impossible as there were very few of them left also.

Club members used to volunteer to teach swimming in the school holidays.  Parents would come up and ask the lifesavers to teach their children how to swim.

In 48-49 and again in 49-50 we were only accredited with 11 awards for the season.  This would appear to indicate a loss of members as points awarded to the club for awards gained began to decline.

This must have been a trend across all clubs as the 1951-52 Royal Life Saving Society Annual Report says “It is confidently anticipated that the Metropolitan and Port Noarlunga clubs will return to strength in the next six months.”



The club existed but there was not much happening.  Port Noarlunga Life saving club continued into the 50’s with a dedicated group of male and female members, some basic equipment, and limited funds but always maintaining a beach presence.

Clubs, which were affiliated with the Royal Life Saving Society, had been trying for some time to join the Surf Life Saving Association.  On October 10th 1952 a meeting was held between the Royal Life Saving Society and Surf Life Saving Association, which resulted in Surf Life Saving South Australian State Centre being formed.  Port Noarlunga Life Saving Club joined Surf Life Saving in the 1953-54 season and became known as Port Noarlunga Surf Life Saving Club.

One of the results of us joining the Surf Life Saving movement was that women could no longer be members of the club or patrol the beach.  This was a sad day for the girls of the town and the end of the women’s involvement at the level they had known for many years and who had kept the club alive during the war years and into the 50’s, but they still continued on as the backbone of the club.

In notes on the formative years of the Port Noarlunga Surf Life Saving Club, we are told of the new start.

“Our clubrooms consisted of a small concrete block house about 5 metres by 3 metres with no power or light.  This together with a tiny attached shower room of dilapidated state was the entire facilities of the Life Saving Club.  We had no funds whatsoever and our equipment consisted of one aged surf reel with a non release belt.  We had a set of old moth eaten march past costumes and caps, a march past flag, several tin drums and nothing else.  As virtually all the Royal Life club members had departed, to say we started with nothing would not be an over statement.”

Port Noarlunga Surf Life Saving Club had evolved and began to claw its way upward again.

The first aim was a new clubrooms and they were going to cost money.  Thus began a flurry of fundraising activities, including dances, balls, beach collections street stalls, and circularising the local community seeking funds.

Although women were no longer allowed to patrol the beach or be members they were a big part of the social side of the club and were very active in the fundraising side of things.

The club members worked hard at raising money.  The local council in 1953 granted us a portion of crown land to build new clubrooms on.  The club had arranged for Judge Adrian Curlewis, President of Surf Life Saving Australia, to include in his itinerary while on a visit to Adelaide, the opening of the clubrooms.

From starting with nothing in 1953-54, just 3 brief years later the club had new clubrooms, a surfboat, skis and boards, several reels, provided full beach patrols and assisted the community in such things as fighting bushfires, and flood relief, and had proven itself on the field of competition and was a known force in the world of Surf Life Saving.”

By 1959 the cycle of life turned again and with that next turn we hit some big obstacles.  The surf  board riding movement had gathered momentum giving young people a new interest and some of the young men who made up our membership obtained jobs which took them to other places and new adventures, and then discontent set in and we lost some members.

Once again we were back to square one – no money in the bank and a desperate lack of members.  We did what we have always done.  Gritted out teeth and started to climb the ladder again from the bottom rung upward and onward.

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