THE 1930s AT MAROOCHYDORE
By Life Governor Ralph Devlin AM QC, Club Historian
1930s LIFE ON THE NORTH COAST was idyllic for the young men who loved the sea. Maroochydore Surf Life Saving Club’s first decade under the banner of Surf Lifesaving, rather than under the banner of ‘Royal’ Life Saving, had been a reasonably happy hunting ground.
In 1934 Maroochydore had even purchased its first surf boat from their sister club on the South Coast, Tweed Heads and Coolangatta Club, called ‘Greenmount’ for short. Maroochydore was keen to take on the dominant Mooloolaba Club, who rowed their boat, ‘The Spray’ to success in many competitions. Maroochydore’s first boat, formerly named ‘Greenmount’, was christened ‘Swan’ on 2 December 1934. It was named by a young State Parliamentarian, Frank Nicklin, later Queensland Premier and a prominent leader of Lifesaving on the North Coast for over 30 years.
This was one of the great rewards for the switch to ‘Surf’ from ‘Royal’ a few short years earlier – surf boat competition as a sport. State Surf Life Saving Championships were held each year and this often meant hosting them (1933 and 1938) or having a great trip away by railway, to such places as Bundaberg (1935). The mood among the Surf Clubs was always competitive but always friendly. The athletes from the different Clubs tended to travel as a group to these venues. Life was simple and good.
Such was the reputation of Maroochydore SLSC with its champion swimmers, in 1934 Olympic Champion Andrew ‘Boy’ Charlton visited the Surf Club from far-away Sydney. Charlton told the Nambour Chronicle reporter that he knew the Suosaari brothers and the Petersen brothers as outstanding Champions in his sports of swimming and surf life saving competition. Andrew told the reporter that he decided to visit this faraway place called Maroochydore because those Champions lived there.
During the 1930’s there were some great ‘characters’ serving on the beach and enjoying the surfing, boating and fishing delights that the Maroochy Heads offered. One of the most colourful of all joined in 1932 and remained at Maroochydore until he joined the RAAF in 1940: Jack Evans. A raw-boned, barrel-chested extrovert, Jack won the respect of all for his barnstorming wading and superb body surfing skills in surf racing. Jack was in the four-man Surf Teams which won the 1940 Queensland Championship event.
That same day, another character and outstanding athlete, Norm Weir, became the Queensland Junior Surf Race Champion. In those days all winners were in the ‘Queensland Team’ to contest their events at the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships, always held in Sydney.
Jack and Norm attended the 1940 Aussie Championships for Maroochydore in the Queensland contingent. Their outstanding surfing skills won the admiration of the Sydney press corps. Both Queenslanders were tipped to be among the medals. They both threatened to cause upsets, but it was not to be on that occasion. But without doubt the North Coast of Queensland was on the surf life saving map.
Jack in particular made many friends among the Sydney lifesavers. North Bondi SLSC, in particular, took the Maroochydore boys under their wing. A group of North Bondi boys came to Central Railway Station to see them off after the conclusion of the Championships? Jack had proved himself an avid ‘foodie’, so a parcel of ‘fish and chips’ was generously handed to Jack for the long trip home. As the Interstate train pulled away from the platform, Jack hungrily opened the package to find – a dead creature…very funny.
Another strong contingent in Maroochydore SLSC during the latter half of the 1930’s was the boxing contingent – Bill Potter and Archie Warbrick were the leaders of this group. Archie, from Nambour, was an Australian Amateur Boxing Champion. Such was the prominence of Maroochydore SLSC in those days that there were press reports that Tommy Burns, the well-known Australian Lightweight Boxing Champion, would join Potter and Warbrick at Maroochydore Surf Club. Though this doesn’t appear to have eventuated, the two Maroochydore boxers trained at Nambour under the guidance of Surf Club Secretary and Coach, Jack Tyrrell, so the Surf Club links with the boxing fraternity remained strong during the 1930’s.
On 1 September 1939 Hitler’s forces invaded Poland. The Second World War had begun. Australia, as part of the British Empire, was at war with Germany. In the first two years of the War Australian Diggers served mainly in the Middle East. They were very, very good fighting men.
By the close of the 1939-40 summer surf season, 48 young men of Maroochydore SLSC had enlisted in the Australian Forces. By the winter of 1940, two of them had already paid the supreme sacrifice in battle. The young boxers, Potter (Navy) and Warbrick (AIF) were in uniform; the young swimmers, Evans and Weir, joined the RAAF. In all, five of the 48 were lost. Lest We Forget.
Barbed wire appeared on Maroochydore Beach, a futile measure to repel the Japanese. The Club President Gordon Petersen was returned, in his absence, at successive wartime Annual Meetings until he returned from active service in Papua New Guinea. The Second World War decimated the Surf Club membership. Only an end to hostilities brought new hope and optimism for the future.