March 29 - April 4, 2015: Issue 208

Richard Stewart OAM

 Richard A. Stewart OAM

Richard Stewart has spent 73 years enjoying beautiful Whale Beach. Since the age of 13 he has been a member of Whale Beach SLSCand is now a Life Member.  This was the beginning of a life dedicated to giving to and doing for others.

Mr. Stewart was awarded an OAM in the June 2009 honour lists, “For service to the community through surf lifesaving and church organisations.”

A wonderful, gentle man, who quietly gets things done, this week we share a small insight into a man who swam in the first Big Swim, who ensured it grew and prospered, and whose service to Whale Beach SLSC has always been above and beyond. And this is just one aspect of his contributions to many a local community organisation and other even older organisations that are dedicated to looking out for and after others.

When and where were you born?

I was born in June 21st, 1942 in Sydney. I grew up in Whale Beach and Concord/ Strathfield.  I went to school in Strathfield and Summer Hill, at Trinity Grammar. All my uncles went there, as had their uncles, so my brother and I were third generation. My brother Graeme is medical Professor at Westmead Hospital and Sydney University. He researched and developed a breakthrough in Multiple Sclerosis in identifying the additional gene. Graeme is also a member at Whale Beach SLSC and a member of the Grey Whales patrol.

I’m a CPA, graduating as a Certified Practicing Accountant. I worked as a Chief Financial Officer in various organisations in Australia and North America.

What was Strathfield like when you were growing up?

It was the kind of place where you could leave your door open, unlocked. The Baker would come down and deliver bread, the milkman his milk. They were simpler times and it was very safe and quiet. Kids would ride their bikes around all day and come home for dinner and a bath.

Your children?

I have a daughter who is Senior Veterinary Pathologist for New South Wales DPI. She works at the Elizabeth MacArthur Complex in Menangle. My son is the global Marketing Vice-President of Converse; he lives in Boston, which is covered in snow right now.

They’re very high achievers?

Their mother and I are both graduates and were of the opinion that our children should do better than us if we do our job right. So we did.

Richard and Libby - 1970's

When did you join Whale Beach SLSC?

My parents had a block of land here in 1939, my wife’s parents’ family had a block of land here in 1929, and so we both basically grew up here. As soon as I was old enough, which was 13 years old then, I joined the club. That would have been the 1954/55 season. We did what was called the Qualifying Certificate and is now the Surf Life Saving Certificate, the SLC. We then did our Bronze and then moved through the entire introduction to resuscitation techniques, introduction to radio, introduction to mechanical vehicles carrying all the gear down, prior to that we did it by hand.

Right: 1960 Richard at left with Whale Beach SLSC members and 10'6' Balsa Board

You would have seen the club forming?

We were here. We were building the surf club. The bottom deck was opened in 1953. We then built the top deck, which became Moby Dicks and is now the restaurant, through the late ‘50’s early 1960’s. So we would swim in the surf race and come up and move bricks, carry up timber, pour cement until we had it built. I’ve been here forever and went through the ranks. I was Vice-Captain for two years, Captain for four years.

What are the best things about Whale Beach SLSC for you – apart from members actually owning it?

Well, that is a very important one. Our continued focus on vigilance and service is too.  As I haven’t been in any others, and they all have their own flavour or culture, their own style of operating, but all have a common thread that goes throughout surf life saving, the base thread which you can build on, that of vigilance and service, which is what we do here. As long as clubs keep their eye on that they’re good. If something else takes over, such as too much emphasis on the social aspects or too much emphasis on competition, that diverts you from that common thread of responsibility. That’s the reason we’re here.

Over my time here I was President for 13 years, Treasurer for 9 years and 4 years as Secretary, so I’ve never really been out of a responsible position. I do the Gear these days with Colin Timms and have been Gear Officer for 20 years. Now that we’re retired we come over on a Thursday and clean up, do maintenance, disinfect, look after the First Aid room and make sure that is all clean and disinfected.

This not only keeps me in touch with the beach, it also keeps me in touch with the young lifesavers and ensuring we’re resourcing and keeping compliant gear for the Patrols.

I’m also a member of the Grey Whales Patrol a fine bunch of ‘older surf life savers.

It’s like another home for you here then?

That home up there on that cliff is the one we built in 1968/69. We don’t live there now, we sold in 2003.

My kids grew up here; both were in the surf club, both got their Bronze and were Officers. The way we looked at it was when you live on the side of a hill you don’t have a backyard, but you have a beach and that’s your garden, that’s your playground. So the kids used to come down and run around on the grass here, that was their backyard.

Young Richard - board rider at Whaley

Richard with children Melinda and Ian

You must have seen a few changes at Whale Beach SLSC?

A lot of changes. I was President when the ladies came into Life Saving and that was a challenge as we had to break a fairly strong bloke mentality. Fortunately the ladies who came in were all strong women and they weren’t pushed around or intimidated. 

There was a level of acceptance that was good, bad or indifferent and I think ours was pretty good after the couple of boofheads had been sorted out.

The other main difference, having got my Bronze in the 1950’s, was that everything was manual, all your resuscitation, reel, line and belt rescues of In the 1960’s (64 or 65) mouth to mouth came in and replaced all the manual resuscitation, the Holger Nielson and Eve Rocker. 

When mouth to mouth resuscitation came in it changed resuscitation and the way we did things and I think we were one of the very early clubs that actually did a mouth to mouth and revived a young lady when it first began.

From there the change has been more and more towards becoming paramedic; we now have oxygen resuscitation and defibrillation; there are suctions to clear out the mouth, and we are expected to be able to cover everything and to do an annual proficiency. We have a Senior First Aid award which is the same as what the Fire Brigade and Police are required to do, so that’s a very high level of medical first aid.

In my days as Captain through the 1960’s and right through my days as President through the 1970’s and all through the 1980’s and some of the 1990’s, in the early days, if you had a problem, you dealt with but called the ambulance, you got help straight away. We still do that, but in the interim there’s a responsibility on us to provide what Paramedics do; we are moving towards being Paramedics on the beach.

The changes to the landscape are vast too. In the old The Gunyah cottage, we began a local protest of sorts. In 1972 Warringah Council decided they were going to do a very ugly and inappropriate and somewhat unnatural picnic set up on the Whale Beach beach-front. And in those days, those who can remember, the road was along the front of the beach. When we saw these plans we thought this would be appalling. So a bunch of us from Whale Beach and Avalon all of us residents and surfers got together.

We met and formed the Whale Beach Preservation Society. I became the Chairperson, John Pratten the Treasurer and Geoff  Watson our Secretary, and Honorary Architect, and we redesigned the beach as you see it now. We redesigned it so the cars are at the back. Our belief was, ‘why would you put the cars at the front so that when people are picnicking behind they can’t see their kids on the beach, they can’t see the beach itself, the safety element would not be good and visually – how silly!’

So Geoff did up the plans, John, Geoff and I took them to Council and argued our hearts out until they gave in and then they redid in the way that you see now. We asked for the mounds, we asked for the grass. We actually asked for the road to be brown aggregate, which it was initially, not black. We weren’t Greenies but we were very conscious that we live here and we love the place and wanted it kept in its best state not only for us but also mostly for all the people who come here.

Our Preservation Society lasted quite a while, I was President for about 5 years, and then I bowed out when I was sent to Canada for three years by my Company, and Hal Bailey took over, he’s a bit of a character from around here. Eventually it almost petered out and was amalgamated with the Palm Beach Preservation Society, became the Palm Beach – Whale Beach Progress Association thereafter.

We were pretty happy with what we did in the early 1970’s to preserve Whale Beach.

If you joined in 1955, and this is 2015, that’s 60 years – a lifetime here?

It is. 

What are the worst rescues you’ve been involved in?

Living here, you were involved all the time, seven days a week. There were so many. Probably the most horrible rescues are fishermen off the rocks, mainly because you’re not geared up; it’s early in the morning, there’s no patrol and you have to respond as best you can. They are the horrible ones as mostly they have big boots on, are dressed in heavy clothes and many have no surf awareness, and shouldn’t be there to begin with.

You are part of the Grey Whales Patrol?

Absolutely, I’m Vice Captain.

How long have you been patrolling together?

Colin Timms and I, also a Grey Whale, have patrolled together for 60 years.

What’s the best thing about patrolling as one unit for that long?

Protecting the swimmers.

We’re the same age, have the same interests. When we were young blokes, as the younger patrols do now, all we'd talk about is girls and what we did last night.

The one thing we don’t talk about is health issues. There was a time when we would all go down and say ‘…oh my macula’s not good’ or ‘I have to get a stent’ and all this stuff that goes on, I’ve had cancer as you know and had to do lots of Chemo. One of the blokes on our Patrol, David Strong, he’s a farmer now but used to be the CEO of Apple Computers Australia, a very bright lad, we were all going on about one thing and another and he one day said ‘for God’s sake shut-up. We used to come down and we’d talk about last night and the girls, and a few years more, our kids, and now all you buggers are talking about is your blinking health – just leave it out.’

There’s never been a word mentioned about age health related issues since – we don’t even ask each other ‘how are you? no one is game! 

You were awarded an OAM in 2009 Richard – what was that for?

You actually never quite know . Building the Uniting Church Community, Youth and Pre-School, Respite Centre at Jubilee Avenue Warriewood. Myself one of a four person team of the Architect, the Project Manager and the Structural Engineer. We were the team who raised the funds by getting Development Applications on three of the Pittwater Uniting Church’s at Mona Vale, Narrabeen and Elanora and with the funds managing and developing the building of the Centre. 

The funds flow of the project was $18 million and any one who has visited would agree it is a first class community complex.

Perhaps being on the committee organising the Palm Beach to Whale Beach Swim ocean swim for 40 years.

Perhaps for my work in the Outback with the not-for-profit that works out there.  There was also our involvement with Northern Beaches Interchange. We had a young boy from 2 until 16 once a month for a weekend to give respite to his family.

I did lots of things I guess, one was NSW Chair of an organisation that runs 3-day retreats for physically disabled people mostly at the Elanora Conference Centre on Powderworks Road, all little bits and pieces, which accumulate together. 

What’s your favourite place in Pittwater and why?

Whale Beach, mainly because I grew up here, it’s my home. I’ve spent a lot of time working in the outback for Aboriginal people as part of a not-for-profit organisation, and I very firmly believe that the Aboriginal people have a spiritual attraction that pulls them into their land and that I have that same attraction and attachment to Whale Beach. I’ve worked with and known lots of Aboriginal people, they’re wonderful and beautiful people. Their culture we ruined because we came and mucked the whole thing up.

What is your motto for life or a favourite phrase you try to live by?

Well I am a Christian and I believe in Christianity and there are many good mottoes for life within the teachings of Jesus. So, a focus on community service to others.

My work in the Outback was through an organisation that was started in 1912 by John Flynn. I was on the staff there for some years – I left a high paid job and took a low paid job so I could do service to Australia. 

I ended up on the Board of Frontier Services, Chaired the Finance and Audit Committee, and am a Trustee of the John Flynn Foundation and still very involved. 

So I think caring for others, particularly those who are isolated, disadvantaged or marginalised or separated from services or disabled so all can better enjoy life is a very good blueprint for life.

Photo of the 1st, 1974 Palm Beach to Whale Beach Ocean Swim. I'm the one with goggles on head immediately behind Ozzie Fabris in white, who once owned Jonah's and sort of sponsored the event (The keg). Rob Berry's head is sticking out from behind Ozzie's left shoulder and looking disgustingly young.

The winner was Paul Hughes a Morella Road Whale Beach neighbour of mine. Paul is the blond bloke on the right next to an even younger looking Colin Timms. Bob Lynch who sowed the seed of the swim with me during after work beers at Moby Dick Club is kneeling bottom on front of Colin.


Richard - ski race competitor


Richard Stewart IRB launch

 Whale Beach SLSC's afternoon patrol the ‘Grey Whales’ - 2015

 Graeme and Richard Stewart - 2015 - on patrol

 Newly Renovated Whale Beach SLSC  Clubhouse - great gym, surf equipment and facilities

Copyright Richard A Stewart OAM,  2015.