September 7 - 13, 2014: Issue 179

  Carol and Don McManus

 Carol and Don McManus 

Don McManus, Coach of the Year – SLSNB 2014, the gentleman whose Bilgola Gold crew were selected for this year’s Trans-Tasman Crew 2014 and won, has over 50 years of surf life saving surfboat experience and knowledge. If you had to carry away the medals this gentleman has won you would need a several buckets with sturdy handles.

At his side is the lady he met soon after he began his cadetship in surf life saving and who is always on the beach with him throughout the season. 

Mr. and Mrs. McManus are a team for the ages, so much so, that those they have coached and supported through decades of surfboat crews seek to emulate their partnership in their own marriages and the way they approach being part of the surf life saving movement are synonymous with what being part of a team are all about.

There are many couples who spend each Summer as part of their local surf lifesaving clubs, their children becoming members as Nippers who then bring in their own children too. This week we are privileged to share a small insight into one of Pittwater's success stories of whole families and generations in surf lifesaving and a couple who epitomise what a team is:

How did you two meet?

We met at Flynn’s Beach in Port Macquarie in 1960.

You two have known each other forever then?

Don: for a long while. 

Carol – Bilgola SLSC, how did you get involved there?

Mainly because of Don and his involvement with the surfboats. I’ve always loved the beach myself. I’d go to all the carnivals with him, I think I’ve missed two Australian Titles in the whole time we’ve been married. I got my Bronze in 1985 and started competing in First Aid Competitions after that. 

I’ve only been in the surfboats once, at Port Augusta, when one of the girls couldn’t turn up and the points were very important to get the Premiership. Don had a plan and I was proficient, having done my Bronze, and so he told the girls to arrive and he put me in the boat up there as he had to have four in the boat. I got in the boat, I wasn’t allowed to take a stroke and had to throw my oar over the side – I was just to balance. 

They did go on to win the Premiership that year so I ended up with a medal.

Above: Carol winning at First Aid Competition - and Below - with daughter Kerry - winning again! - both Carol and Don underplay their  achievements - they just get on with, whatever needs to be done and done well.

You also take on a few other duties at the club?

Carol: I do. Over the years at the different clubs we’ve been members of I’ve been Tour Manager and I’ve always done the catering down at the Bilgola Surf Club for the annual carnival in October. I also like to help out when and where I can. 

We’ve been married for 47 years and been at Bilgola since we came back from Byron Bay, so that’s 20 years.

How did it feel to have a surfboat named after you last season?

I was totally shocked. It was a great honour – there were so many comments about it being named after me, it was just unbelievable – I was a bit overwhelmed. I was very honoured. 

Carol with the surfboat named to honour her contribution to Bilgola SLSC

What are you looking forward to this season Carol?

Well first off the cruise we’re going on – we were going to go to Montpellier and Biarritz for the World Titles, and there was going to be an Ocean Thunder. Unfortunately that has all fallen through but as I’d already booked the cruise to go on after those two carnivals, as a present for Don for his 70th birthday, we’re both looking forward to that.

During the season I always look forward to the Carnivals, going to all of these, and just being part of it. 

We have a very happy life together, we’re good together. We’ve just been away on the motor home with the boys for 18 weeks – we went right around Australia from the Aussie Titles – up north to Darwin. It was fantastic – we had a great time doing this. We were living together in a confined space for all that time and got on well together.

What is the best thing about being a couple sharing this passion for surf life saving?

Carol: we work well as a team I think. We support each other; we get involved with the crews. The Sweet Cheeks girls, which was their first time rowing as a crew last season, they all came around for scones and cream, you do get to know the crews really well. 

You seem like a family…

Yes, it’s a bit like  an extended family – you get to go to their weddings; they aspire to be like us, to be a Carol and Don and grow old and grey together. We’ve been involved in Surf Life Saving as a team for a long long time together.

Don, when did you first join the Surf Life Saving movement?

When I was a cadet at Port Macquarie Surf Life Saving Club at Flynn’s Beach in 1959. I was 14 then. My brother was a lifesaver there, a permanent lifesaver, so he would look after the clubhouse and the beach. 

And how did you start in the surfboats?

We started in an old double ender boat, which are obsolete nowadays.

The banana boats?

Yes; he used to take us out at Flynn’s Beach and we used to row this thing – what was then called a carvel boat. I remember we used to have to sink it so the water would swell the planks up so there wouldn’t be any holes in it and it wouldn’t leak. We were in and out of the surf there with what were then straight oars – he was learning to Sweep and we were learning to row with a couple of my mates. They were really heavy boats.

When did you move to Sydney Don? 

I moved to Sydney in 1962. Having had a rural background and studying biology and agriculture at school my headmaster at that time directed me to Port Macquarie Bowling Club where a position in greenkeeping had become available. I trained to become a tradesman through Ryde school of horticulture in Sydney by correspondence. After completion I moved to Sydney taking up a position as greenkeeper at Mackellar’s Women’s Bowling Club.  While working there I joined the North Narrabeen Surf Life Saving Club as they ended up coming fourth in South Australia and fourth in the State Title at Tathra. 

At Port Macquarie we had had a bit of success there with a guy called Warren Molloy sweeping; he was a policeman, and my brother rowed too up there and we won the State Championships for Port Macquarie in 1960.

After that double ender I was in boat crews after my brothers with Warren and ended up in the Junior Boat Crew – we won the State Title at Tathra Beach .

We then went on to the Australian Titles in Moana on South Australia and ended up third in the Inter-State and third in the Australian Titles as Juniors. 

I decided I wouldn’t go to the top two clubs, I’d go to the one behind and hopefully get a position as a rower there.

I ended up in the North Narrabeen C Crew – we had A, B, C and D there. We were going quite successfully there and getting good results over and above the A Crew. 

After a while the Sweep, a guy named Woofer Barnett, he’s a legend, said ‘righto, we’re going to have a change of the guard here’.

He promoted myself and a junior rower into the A Crew and dropped two of the older guys. We ended up with four guys my age rowing Open Boat.

The 1962-63-64 North Narrabeen open boat crew: Keith Montgomery, John Foster, Marcus Romain, Don McManus, 'Woofer' Barnett - who states of this team; 'the most accomplished and best boat competitive crew I have ever been associated with' - Taken on Narrabeen Beach for North Narrabeen Annual Report.

What age were you then?

We were only 19 at that stage. We went on to the Championships at Collaroy in 1964 and were second in the Australian Championships in the Open Boat. I think we got second in the State Championships and second in the Metropolitan and I think we won the Branch that year, and second in the other three. 

Carol and I married in 1967 – we have two children Kerry and Jodie and now we have five grandchildren too.

How did you progress from rower to being the legendary Sweep everyone wants to row under?

What happened was I kept rowing at North Narrabeen and it dwindled there due to a lack of interest. I was the only guy left. I raced around the beach and grabbed some kids and started sweeping Junior Crews in 1975. From there we started to get some success – by the time I’d finished at North Narrabeen we’d won four Australian Championships. 

From there we went up to Byron Bay in 1991. We joined Byron Bay Surf Club and had a small property at Alstonville.  We were going to plant macadamia nuts but unfortunately they had a big drought up there at that stage. It was pretty chancy in those days – you could put the trees in, and we didn’t have any trees at all to start. We bought a beautiful home with a nice shed and had it all ready to go but the drought had set in and it is seven years into productivity before you can make a profit out of your plantings. Once the drought came, and other factors were affecting life there – in the surf club you’d find kids wouldn’t stay at those coastal towns, they’d migrate to the city, we were also missing our friends.

We decided to sell and came back to Sydney, to North Narrabeen.

We went back into the Surf Club at North Narrabeen in 1993. I went back into Sweeping the crews – another young guy had taken over when we went to Byron and the regime there made us think it might be better to move. We decided to move out to Bilgola.

The A Crew and about 20 other members came with us at the same time.

There was only a Junior Crew there at that time with Howard Christie sweeping that crew. I brought the A Crew, the club didn’t have an A Crew at that stage. 

In that 1995 season we rowed and got second in Australia. We rowed again the next year and the next year we won both the A’s and the Junior Titles in 1997. 

Carol actually has an Honour Board here that she had made up for all the Australian Championships so we’d remember the years and the boys that rowed in the crews. Matt Clymer made this for us.

Right: Don's Honour Board

Yours is a surfboat success story Don – the young ladies, the Sweet Cheeks, wanted to be rowing with you, the Bilgola Gold A Crew that represented Australia in the Trans-Tasman, and won, there’s a phenomenal and long record of achievements.

What was it like being Selected for the Trans-Tasman and then winning?

At my age, I’m 70 now and going on to 71, and after going through a lifetime in surfboats, it was a great honour to represent your country.  The crew was ecstatic.

It’s not easy to become a representative- we had to go through a rigorous assessment process including a series of 7-8 rows at North Steyne Beach and they nominated and selected the best crews in Australia to row there, so we had to shine amongst that group, which we did and to be chosen that afternoon was just absolutely fantastic. 

It just makes you so proud to represent your country – it doesn’t come along every day. 

You have also been to the Aussies (Australian Championship Titles) a few times though?

I missed two; I was ill when I was 23 and so missed the Australian Championships that year but each other year I’ve been there. So I’ve missed one since I was 15. 

What’s the best thing about going to the Aussies for you?

In the old days we used to travel to different states as it was transferred from one state to another. We’ve been to Tasmania on three occasions, we’ve been to South Australia, Western Australia and to Queensland a few times and then it comes back to New South Wales and Victoria. The travelling in the old days meant we used to camp, usually not far from the Carnival – these were tent setups and Mess areas etcetera, and this was brilliant as the kids had the times of their lives. 

Is there a favourite, one that sticks in your memory for a certain reason; a championship or a venue?

The venues have been pretty great in each place – it’s always nice to be in surf; there’s been some huge surfs at Kurrawa and that’s probably why they don’t go there anymore, the cyclones made the surf unpredictable – I remember there was great surf in Tasmania at Clifton Beach – in Victoria at Ocean Grove, places like that are memorable.

So you like a decent wave?

It’s the challenge for you and your crew. You train to do just this – you train to challenge the surf and challenge yourself. Apart from racing against the opposition the most important thing is to conquer the surf  - you forget about the opposition – they’ve got their own problems trying to get out. 

So in training all these crews you’re also teaching them to develop themselves as individuals?

Oh yes; you hone their skills and, as a coach, make sure they reach their full potential. That’s what you want to instil; no mistakes, mistakes cost races – you can be eliminated quite quickly through mistakes. The idea is to be absolutely a perfectionist about doing it and make no mistakes; eliminate them. Then make the most of what is in front of you; the challenge of going out to sea; make sure that you pick the right way out, the most harmonious way to get to sea. But sometimes you have to take it head on, which we have had to do a lot. You have to have those  skills to get across a wave; over and out the other side and clean and make sure you’re in a position to row the boat as it goes over the wave and drops on the other side. 

The other thing is you have to pick your wave back home and make the most of what is behind you. All that has to be taken into account, practiced.

At the boat carnivals we’ve attended you seem to be one of the calmest sweeps – is that your nature or is that experience and skill?

I think it does come from a lot of experience and I knew when I rowed at the highest level that you do get the butterflies and that all of a sudden this settles as soon as the gun goes off. I think if the Sweep remains calm and you’ve got a plan in place; you know where you’re going to travel off the beach, which direction you’re going to go, to have confidence in your crew, and the crew has got to have confidence in you, you’re far better off in those circumstances where everything is together. You’ve done the work and the challenge is there and away you go – it’s not a big problem then.

What are you looking forward to this season Don – the SLSNB Boat Premiership …or what else is coming up?

Our A Crew this season – one of them has gone to Queensland, another is having the season off , Brandon has just started a new business – I suppose coming off  a season they have just had they all would like to rest. I have made some calls and hopefully we will put another crew in the water.

We’ll start off with Squad Training where people can turn up and we’ll sort the crews out. Our Veterans at the club are already in place so they’re looking pretty good (Bilgola Old Gold); our young girls love their rowing and have been doing really well so I expect we’ll see some good results from them this season. They’re still very young 

They got some good runs last year, their confidence will stem from those, see them blossom.

They’re learning all the skills that you need. I would say that this year they will start to get competitive. They won a race last year in one of the heats at Warriewood’s carnival so I think they’ll continue to develop well.

From my point of view it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to take young girls or boys like that and take them through and take them up to the top. They’ll make their club proud, and their mums and dads. More importantly it points them in the right direction in life - they become good mates, they feed off what they’ve done and they get to know a lot more people, they get job opportunities offered to them – there’s many things that come with being part of a surf club that aren’t obvious. 

What is your favourite place/s in Pittwater and why?

Carol: Obviously Bilgola. Also North Narrabeen as our children were involved there as well – Kerry is now a member at Bilgola too.

Don: The whole of Pittwater – the whole area is God’s country. It would be hard to find a place that offers so much as this does, all the beaches. It’s always nice to come home to.

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

Carol: To love as long as you live and live as long as you love.

Don: Long and strong – you can’t go wrong!

Don McManus' 50+ years in surfboats is also available HERE

Bilgola Gold - 2013/14 Season.