November 6 - 12, 2016: Issue 288

Pioneers in the equality gap: Women of Whale Beach celebrate 35 years in surf life saving

First female surf lifesavers in NSW: sisters Jill Pietzker and Sara Seifeddine (nee Peters) and Bryan Webster (middle).

Thirty-six years ago there was not a single female life saver in New South Wales. Whale Beach SLSC on the Northern Beaches is a pioneer when it comes to women in the surf and on the sand. Proudly this club and community have a strong and large group of patrolling members, of which one third are women. Furthermore 5 out of 11 positions on the Management Committee are held by women. In recognition of these recent advancements in female participation in surf lifesaving, last Saturday, October 29th, 200 guests attended the ‘Women of Whale’ event at Whale Beach Surf Life Saving Club to celebrate women in Surf Life Saving - past, present and future.

In the late 1970s discussions in the boardroom became heated as the Surf Life Saving movement decided whether or not to allow women to sit their Bronze Medallion exam as their male counterparts had been able to since 1903. Bryan Webster, a third generation Whale Beach SLSC member, showed unwavering support for the inclusion of women as active members in the club. Having been freshly anointed Club Captain, and facing a dwindling membership base, for him it was a ‘no brainer.’ For a full year Bryan trained four young women in the absence of the Chief Training Officer: sisters Jill and Sara Peters, and their friends Marion Robb and Tina Gowing. The girls trained through all surf and weather conditions and in August 1980 they passed as the first female surf lifesavers in New South Wales.

“I took female membership very seriously. I needed the members and I recognised that 3 of the 4 girls in the group were terrific swimmers, in fact were better than half of the blokes in club.” (Bryan Webster- as quoted from Whale Beach SLSC publication ‘In Conversation- Women of Whale Beach’).

To this day Whale Beach SLSC continues to lead the nation when it comes to women in Surf Life Saving, providing a pioneering mentoring program in which female members of the club are provided with training by the esteemed Milan Partners, a professional firm who has provided communication and presentation workshops to many high-profile athletes such as Kieren Perkins and the Matildas. These women are then ‘buddied’ with some of the younger women in the club to provide guidance and support in their lifesaving journey. 

About Whale Beach SLSC 
Whale Beach SLSC will be offering a Bronze Medallion course from January 2nd until the 8th 9-3pm, with assessments on Thursday 12th 6pm and Saturday 14th 9am. All interested parties are encouraged to email with all enquiries.

In addition, all members of the community are warmly welcomed to our social events: BBQs every Sunday on the deck, and monthly drinks on the last Saturday of every month 5-7pm (next one is November 26th).

By Ellie Keft
Whale Beach SLSC PR
SLSA Board Director, Christine Hopton (left) and Whale Beach SLSC Club Captain, Lara Boyle.

First iron woman champion Whale Beach SLSC

When I joined the Club, around age 13, there was only one other female member, the mother of one of my classmates at High School, Helen Shilkin (may she Rest In Peace). She set an amazing role model for an ultra fit middle aged woman. There was no sign of the original women who were the first in NSW to be trained for their Bronze Medallion and it was an absolute pleasure and privilege to have met some of them last Saturday.  It was interesting to hear that our paths hadn't crossed because they all moved overseas! 

Along with my friend Halle Purcell, we were the only two girls in the Club at the time.  It was around 1984. It did feel like we were breaking social norms by joining the Club but we just wanted to have as much fun as the boys we knew at High School who were in the Club. We were very grateful too for the support we received to do our Bronze Medallion. Soon after, my friend Anja Colby joined too, then some girls from the lower north shore like my respected competitor Kai Look. I'd like to think that our daring, well before there were even enough women to hold female competitions, paved the way somewhat for other girls to feel comfortable enough to join too. 

I'm delighted to hear that now 50% of all SLSC members are female. I would encourage any girl or woman to be involved in SLSA. It was a wonderful opportunity to give back to the community, to look out for people who weren't as proficient in the ocean as we were and to stay fit and healthy. 

Once a lifesaver, always a lifesaver: whenever I am at a beach anywhere in the world, I am always watching out for people in the water, sometimes mentally calculating what I'd do if they got into any more trouble. I'm looking for the closest tube or board. Mostly, now I'm not as fit as I was, I'm looking for the closest lifesaver who could help if need be.
Danielle James

Long time members Pete Tosi (left) and Chris Hendrikson.