THE ROARING 20’s AT MAROOCHYDORE
By Life Governor Ralph Devlin AM QC, Club Historian.
THE POST-WAR RECOVERY at Maroochydore Lifesaving and Swimming Club started as a trickle and ended as a flood. As 1919 drew wearily to a close, Australia was counting the cost of its 5-year involvement in the Great War of 1914-18; our galant Diggers were still returning to their Homeland in the southern winter of 1919.
Those returning Diggers included 11 Maroochydore men from the Club’s 1916 Foundation. Is it any wonder that their Surf Club struggled to meet its patrolling obligations in the Christmas and Easter holidays of 1918 and 1919. Yet while Royal ‘Head Centre’ in Brisbane helped the Club with Patrols at Easter and Christmas 1918, by Easter 1919 local members Bob and Oscar Anderson were on hand to take care of those beach duties. As our Diggers were demobilised through 1919, Maroochydore received a trickle of them back into active Lifesaving service.
By far the most significant member to change his dungarees for a bathing suit was Tom Prentis. His recruitment efforts in the early 1920’s laid the basis for a champion club. Tom fought in France with the 9th Infantry Battalion during 1918. Like so many others, Tom arrived home over 11 months after the Armistice. It didn’t take long for him to realise that his old Club needed a helping hand: in the summer of 1920-21, in a gesture reminiscent of the Great War Recruitment Marches which took place throughout Rural Australia, Tom walked the Bli Bli, Maroochy River and Rosemount farming districts looking for members to revive the fortunes of his beloved Surf Club.
Tom’s 1920-21 recruitment drive is arguably the most important event to found the illustrious history of the famous ‘Black Swan’. The young men who unselfishly stepped forward for patrol duties included the great family names of the next three decades – Suosaari, Petersen, French, Prentis, Ambrose, Carter and many more. In 1928-30, these men guided Maroochydore Life Saving Club from the ‘Royal’ stable to the ‘Surf’ stable. The Royal Clubs located north of the Brisbane River joined their South Coast (Gold Coast) cousins to form Surf Life Saving Queensland in late January 1931.
The newly-branded ‘Maroochydore SLSC’ became the first Champion Club of Queensland, at the first State Championships held at Coolangatta Beach, in January 1932.
The leadership and commitment was offered by Tom Prentis, Club Captain and Chief Instructor, until he married in 1928. The reason for this altruism is easy to understand. In 1908 Tom’s uncle Claude and two of his young cousins died when the vessel ‘BP’ capsized on the Maroochy River Bar. Could that triple tragedy have been prevented by a Lifesaving service at ‘The Heads’? Tom put his sad thoughts into decisive action. He was elected to Life Membership of Maroochydore SLSC in 1965, on the 50th Anniversary of his beloved ‘Black Swan’.
How were such dizzy heights scaled by a Surf Club which during the 1920’s was still being accessed by motor-vessel or occasionally by ‘charabang’ (open bus) or by open car travelling on boggy, sandy roads over Buderim or through Kunda Park? A Surf Club whose patrolling members were mostly drawn from the hard-working farming families of Bli Bli, Rosemount and Maroochy River Districts? The answer lies in the extraordinary events of the “Roaring Twenties”. A decade which saw the rise and rise of a successful ‘Royal’ Club and an even more successful Swimming Club, renowned throughout the swimming fraternity of Australia for its impressive stable of Champions.
INSERT IMAGE – Beach Cafe
On New Years Day 1921 the 100 yards Freestyle Championship of Queensland was held in the Maroochy River at Cotton Tree under the auspices of the Queensland Amateur Swimming Association (QASA). Maroochydore was also a swimming club affiliated with the Queensland Amateur Swimming Association (‘QASA’) and so could host a State Championship if selected to run it.
A very young Joe Suosaari of Maroochydore Club secured a very creditable fourth placing at that Championship. Early in the summer of 1921-22 Joe set an Australian Record in Breastsstroke. Joe became a multiple Australian Swimming Champion in that stroke. In other events for younger swimmers held on that New Years Day in 1921, Alan Petersen, a future Surf Race Champion of Queensland, and Jack Suosaari, another Queensland Surf Champion in the making, were recorded as performing well.
Arguably the greatest-ever Surf and Pool swimmer of this era was Axel Suosaari, younger brother of Joe and Jack in this amazing family of Finnish émigrés. Axel first appeared in the Club colours in the summer of 1922-23, when two Surf and Lifesaving events were being contested – the Whalley and O’Connor Cups. By then, Mooloolaba Lifesaving Club had formed (November 1922) and local Interclub surf competition began. Alexandra Headland Life Saving Club was founded in late 1924, and willing three-way local competitions became the feature of each summer season until 1930.
The overall ‘Royal’ surf competition became the Cameron Shield (1926) and the stillwater competition was the prestigious Duncalfe Shield (1924). These competitions were open to all of the ‘Royal’ clubs of Queensland. Maroochydore won most of these contests until switching to Surf Life Saving in 1931. Mooloolaba and ‘Alex’ clubs always provided stiff competition and each had a win or two during the decade.
1931 Flying Squad Relay
The star of the show, though, was the great Axel Suosaari. Axel was the 100 yards Freestyle Champion of Australia in 1930 and 1931. He was Champion Beltman of Queensland, in ‘Royal’ surf competition, for three straight years – 1928, 1929 and 1930. Sadly, Axel contracted Tuberculosis in 1932 and never competed in Surf Life Saving. He died in 1934, a great Champion lost.
It is extraordinary that in 1931, five Maroochydore Surf Lifesaving Club members formed almost half of the 11-person Queensland Amateur Swimming (QASA) Team to contest the Australian Swimming Championships, held that year in Brisbane. Maroochydore boasted two reigning Australian Champions at that meet, Axel and Joe Suosaari. Maroochydore also won the Blue Riband event at the 1931 Queensland Swimming Championships – the five-man ‘Flying Squad Relay’.
For a few years during the 1920s, under the ‘Royal’ banner, women played an active role in the club swimming activities. Sadly, upon the switch to Surf Lifesaving in 1931-32, the club became a men- only bastion until 1982.
Little wonder that Maroochydore became the first State Champion Surf Club in 1932, winning the Belt Race, Surf Race and main rescue event, the six-man Rescue and Resuscitation (R&R) Championship. The Roaring Twenties set the Club on a successful course, right up to the outbreak of the Second World War.
[PHOTO – VOL 1 pages 82,83]