December 21 - 27, 2014: Issue 194

Roger Sayers OAM

 Roger Sayers

Roger is a very proud father, grandfather, father- in- law, and husband and will happily tell you about the various academic and other achievements of his family members, but has to be reminded that this interview is about ‘him’... 

A member of the Avalon Beach SLSC, a former and longest serving Club Captain and Life Member, Roger is another ‘backbone’ gentleman, one of several without whom our surf clubs wouldn’t exist at skill level they do without people like Roger happily giving over a part of their Summer year in year out as volunteers on our coastal stretches.

Roger has three daughters and four grandchildren, and counts these as amongst his best achievements. All his daughters went through Avalon Beach SLSC as Nippers and the senior club; two daughters live in Pittwater and all three, and two husbands, are surfboard riders.

Roger is happily married to Annette and their dog Rex is part of this large family. He still surfs and whenever we drop in to Avalon Beach SLSC's clubhouse he's there, smiling, joking and ready to help us out with the thousand questions we ask him each year.

Mr Sayers is also one of the stalwarts of the Avalon Beach SLSC's 'Gun Patrol' in IRB's and in his current capacity as PR gent for the club allows us to share The Gun Patrol of Avalon Beach Surf Life Saving Club! - A Short History - as a special Aquatics page this Issue, replete with lots of Christmas Issue 2014 colours!

Roger in IRB photo by Geoff Searl summer 2010-2011

Where and when were you born?

In Sydney, Crown Street Hospital Surry Hills, 1946. The first five years of my life we lived with my grandparents in their terrace house in Surry Hills. We then moved to Gladesville where I went to school and Hunter’s Hill High, where I got into swimming and played first grade water polo at High School - which developed my swimming stamina for surfing and rescues later.

Around that time a mate said he had a mate with a car who was going to the beach and he had a couple of surfboards – do you want to come. I said ‘too right’. We used to go surfing almost every weekend and we’d go everywhere – south side, north side ....

Which was your favourite wave?

I had so many, North Av. of course, but also on the north coast and south coast – we’d go for trips away – this was during the early 1960’s when malibu board riding was just starting to become popular. 

Angourie - 1967

My first ride on a malibu was down the south coast– and I thought: wow! I did try a toothpick board once prior to that but they were way too heavy and unrideable for kids like me, and virtually had to be stored at a surf club because of their size (16 ft long).

Were you a hippie Roger?

Haha...No. I was a responsible young man... at times with longish hair haha. After I finished school and started work I decided I really wanted to go to Uni so passed the Sydney uni matriculation exam and decided to go to UNSW. I did all my University degree part-time, with lectures etc at night after working during the day.

Very good for character building, earning your degree that way. 

What did you get a degree in?


That’s what you were interested in?

Absolutely. Economics concerns all aspects of life.. It doesn’t matter what you think of, economics are or can be involved. I’m still working fulltime, applying economic principles in my work, but economics also matches my range of personal interests which is The World and Everything In It. 

How did you come to live in Avalon? 

My dad was a city boy, (part of several generations from the 1830’s on who had lived in Sydney) and he first introduced me to the beach and surfing (besides cricket, footie etc).

We spent many happy holidays at Narrabeen. My mother was from the country, north-western New South Wales (her side of the family are also long time Australians, having been up in that area since the early-mid 1800s) so I’d spend a lot of holidays when young up in the bush with my other grandparents, cousins etc and I also loved the bush.

Dad and me Narrabeen c. 1949 or 1950

There came a time when I was younger when I was thinking which direction should I take in life- ‘the bush’ or ‘the coast’? ... The coast won out. I was really hooked on surfing and busy studying etc..

There was one weekend where I had an exam coming up, my mates had gone up the coast surfing and I’d stayed home studying. But I still needed to have a bit of a break so I drove out to the beach and the surf was dead flat. I’m lying on the beach at Newport thinking ‘this is pretty useless, I should be studying’, had a swim and thought if I’m not studying I should do something constructive... I’ll go and have a look for a block of land... and I’d always liked Avalon and its surf.

So I went to Stapleton’s Real Estate office in Avalon Parade. I walked in wearing a dirty old pair of jeans and old t-shirt, and asked the bloke who was sitting down having his morning coffee with a biscuit: ‘Do you have any blocks of land for sale that overlook the ocean?’.

He looked me up and down, unimpressed. He didn’t even get up from his chair, pulled out a piece of paper, drew a little mud map on it, handed it to me and said ‘Here, go and have a look at this’. – That was the level of salesmanship he thought I deserved! haha.

I drove up there, climbed up on the block and thought ‘Crikey, I can see the ocean from here... And I can see the beach... And I can see Pittwater!

I decided then and there: This is where I want to live!1969 that was – I was 22 at the time.

So I went back down to the Real Estate agent and said ‘I’ll take it’ – He nearly dropped his biscuit. He said ‘I’ll need a deposit’ – I said ‘how much?’ reached into my wallet and told him I had 20 bucks, would that do? And he said yes!

How did you become a member at Avalon Beach SLSC?

When my eldest daughter was 10, this would have been 1986, she asked: ‘dad, can I join Nippers?’. I said ‘yes’, knowing that meant a commitment from me as well on Sunday mornings and thought there goes my freedom to cruise around checking for the best waves... oh well..

I have always encouraged my daughters in everything they’ve done, so we went down to the surf club and I found I knew a few of these blokes and other families, and they were good fun to be with.

One day one of them said ‘A few of us are going to do our Bronze – do you want to do that?’ – I said I didn’t have time and wouldn’t be fit enough. They said I would be, and as they were board riders too, I said ‘Ok then – but I’m not going to do Patrols or anything like that’.

A case of famous last words?

Yes; you start off helping at Nippers, then you’re an Age Manager, then get your Bronze, decide you’ll do Patrols...“but only as long as I’m having fun’..., next thing you’re Patrolman of the Year - twice.

Your other daughters join Nippers and you’re enjoying it so much having fun, that you do more – Advanced Resuscitation, then we needed a driver on our Patrol so I did my IRB licence. I found driving IRBs to be great fun and a real challenge - driving a boat in the surf is quite different to smooth/still water - and was a surfing-related skill that gave me a lot of pleasure performing many rescues.

Before you know it you’re Patrol Captain and then next thing, Club Captain and longest running Club Captain the club has ever had in its 89 year history. 

You’re still there now doing voluntary work?

Yes; I said to one of the older blokes: I’m only going to do this so long as I’m having fun.

And you’re a Life Member too?

Yes, I’m very proud of that. It’s a great honour. – It’s a fantastic club.

What is the best thing about being in surf lifesaving to you?

The friendships you form – they are lifetime friendships – when you do lots of rescues with people you become very close. Some of us on our patrol have been around and on the same Patrol together for quite a few years and know each other very well. You become very effective as a team.

For me it’s all about doing responsible community service while having fun, and catching up with mates.

Have you had to do any difficult rescues?

Lots over the years; but this is what you’re trained for, keep fit for. Several times as Club Captain when I’d say ‘well done’ to young blokes who’d just performed a rescue, they would say ‘that wasn’t much of a big deal, I just paddled out and got the person’. I would say to them, it may not be much to you, but to the person you just brought in, it means a lot, because they couldn’t get in by themselves.

They were going to drown if somebody didn’t bring them in…

Correct. I once had a lady come up... we were in the duck at the time and had just picked her young son up in shallow water, he was on a boogie board and floating out in the rip...and she came and thanked us about three times, said we were angels. I explained we didn’t do that much, to which she replied ‘But I can’t swim!’; As far as she was concerned, her little boy was going to drown.

It’s ‘thanks’ like that make you realise it’s all about what you can do for other people by using your own knowledge of the surf and the beach and everything else you learn. We may take it for granted because we’re around the beach a lot and are confident in the surf, but the fact remains a lot of people don’t have that knowledge of rips and what are safe or unsafe places on the beach.

Avalon Beach can be a dangerous beach. It has a rating of 7 - one of the most dangerous - on SLSA’s Australian beaches safety ratings.

You also become part of the community of Avalon in joining the club though – it’s not just having Maxie Watt as your neighbour – there’s all the rest of those here who are part of that club…

Absolutely - Avalon Beach SLSC is a very local club, which is great. I was already part of the local Avalon boardriding community at North Av and it’s pleasing to me to see that today many of our surf club members are also boardriders. We even have a couple of former pro surfers in the club, one of whom recently told me that doing his bronze and joining the surf club is the best thing he’s ever done. I would also agree with that assessment for me.

If you could give people an insight into how to stay safe on the beach this Summer, what would that include – ‘swim between the flags’?

Yes- that’s a good simple message for anyone who isn’t familiar with the surf. No alcohol on the beach would be another good piece of advice; there’s nothing worse than trying to rescue a drunk. Be aware of your own limitations as well – having surfed in big swells I’m fully aware that I am ‘maturing’, and am now more discerning in the kind of surfs I go out in, both in bodysurfing and when riding my board. The waves are getting smaller and smaller for me!

But it’s also great to see some of my contemporaries from North Av. who are far fitter boardriders than me, as they’ve been doing it on a daily basis.

Now, the fishing – and your fishy tales…

Yes, my favourite was the one I caught with my bare hands. I like eating fish and my dad taught me to fish....... The fish I caught with my bare hands was a few years ago, when surfing up at Rainbow Bay in Queensland. I’d just finished a ride and was in the shallows and saw something sparkling in the water beside me.

I looked down, saw it was a fish, reached down and grabbed it – it must have run into my board and stunned itself.

So I picked it up, held on tight to it – it was still alive but it wasn’t doing much and it was a nice bream – there’s dinner! Very tasty.

What is your favourite place or places in Pittwater and why?

I like all it - the coast, Pittwater, the bush - Avalon Beach – one of my favourite places is North Av. I love going for a surf there, being there, talking with my mates. You just have to go to North Av. car park or the surf club or into Avalon and you see someone you know and you have a chat, which I think is great – Avalon is a terrific community because of that.

I also think that’s what makes the surf club so strong too – people are connected within the local community through the schools, the high school, through their kids at the surf club or the footy club and this creates a great community spirit. I hope it stays like that for a long time... for good.

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

Ha! That’s a hard one...

I guess I have different ones for different situations: Have fun. Enjoy life. Do your best. Never give up. Be positive and optimistic. Look after yourself and your family and other people – do things for yourself, your family and the community at large.

Above: Ocean Beach (top) - The Bower both 1964

Below: Crescent Head quite recently 

Roger Sayers – Avalon Beach SLSC

Joined Club – 1986 - Nippers Parent; Water Safety, Junior Activities

Bronze Medallion – December 1987

Club Positions held

Junior Activities
Water Safety 1986/87-94/95
Age Manager (jointly shared) 1987/88-91/92
Branch Delegate 1987/88-88/89
Registrar 1989/90-92/93
IRB Captain 1990/91-93/94

Senior Club
Patrolling member 1987/88 – 2014
IRB Driver 1988/89 - 2013
Patrol Captain 1990/91-91/92 
Committee Member 1990/91-91/92 
Branch Delegate 1992/93
Publicity Officer 1995/96-1999/2000; 2005-06-
Board and Ski Captain 1995/96 
Assistant Secretary 1996/97
Club Captain 1992/93-1999/2000 - Longest serving Club Captain in Club’s 89 year history 
Chairman, Beach Management – 2000/01
Life Membership Committee (as Club Captain/Chair Beach Management) – 1992/93-2000/01
Avalon Beach Surf Swim Committee - Inaugural Committee Member 1992/93
    - Water Safety Coordinator 1992/93-1999/2000
Australian IRB Titles at Avalon Beach Committee – 1997-98
Club Delegate to Surf Life Saving Australia National Conference, Narrabeen – 1998
As Club Captain, coordinated the Club’s team effort winning the inaugural SLS Sydney Northern Beaches “Most Outstanding Club” Award in 1995/96 among the 21 clubs on the Northern Beaches. 

Surf Life Saving Australia Awards

Bronze Medallion - 20 December 1987   (N53824)
Advanced Resuscitation Certificate – 9 March 1988   (N0 11257)
IRB Driver’s Certificate – 2 September 1989   (N0 02716)
Radio Operators Certificate – 25 April 1992   (N0 04287)
First Aid Certificate – 2 March 1993   (N0 01161)
Gold Medallion (Advanced Life Saving Certificate) – 13 April 1996   (N311)
(SLSA’s highest proficiency award - one of first two such awards in the Club’s history).

Club Awards

Patrolman of the Year Award twice – 1990/91 and 1991/92
Norman Cook Award for Most Outstanding Club Member twice – 1994 and 1997
President’s Award for Outstanding Service – 1998/99


Finalist, NSW Volunteer Lifesaver of the Year 1996/97 (State Championships, Mollymook).

Competition – Representing the Club

Competitor, SLSA Australian Master’s Titles 1992 – board (finalist), surf swim (finalist) - the first of the Club’s Australian Masters teams.
Competitor, SLSSNB Branch IRB Titles – driver (finalist)
Competitor, Club Championships.


Life Member Avalon Beach SLSC (July 2007)
Publicity Officer
Active Reserve Patrol Member.

Okanui ad in a 1980s surfing magazine - my neighbour across the street went on a surfing trip to a remote island in the Philippines - he said he caught a light plane from Manilla, then a boat, trekked through the jungle, avoided armed rebels, made it to the grass hut they were staying in, opened up a surfing magazine someone had left behind and there was a photo of me looking at him! Couldn't get away from me  Haha.

Roger's good mate Warren Young OAM thought his recent farewell email to his Treasury workmates would make a good addition to Roger's profile.  Roger reluctantly said okay, provided it was made clear that he didn't suggest it himself ...noting that there's nothing confidential in it.
From Byron Bay today .. exp max 30, blue sky, sunny, waves and sparkling water calling my name...)

Dear friends in Treasury

After more than 50 years of public service to the people of NSW, and Australia, I have finally decided it's time to spend more time with my family and friends and pursue my various personal interests more actively.  

Fifty years sounds ridiculously long to have been working, but I did start as child labour. The time has in fact flown by for me... too quickly. 

My working career began with the Commonwealth Government in Martin Place and officially finished last week with the State Government, surprisingly or fittingly, in Martin Place. 

In the Commonwealth I progressed through a number of organisations which are now called Telstra, Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) (Sydney and Canberra), and the Productivity Commission (Sydney and Canberra), all of which provided great experience and high job satisfaction.

I joined the State Government almost 40 years ago and have enjoyed working in a wide variety of agencies in policy development and advisory roles, contributing positively and practically I hope...Mineral Resources, State Economic Development, Business and Consumer Affairs, Premier's Department for 7 years, a Parliamentary Committee secondment, and Treasury for 22 years.

It is very pleasing to me personally to be able to see now all over Sydney and around the State, the numerous completed major and minor infrastructure projects, and the tangible results of policies, that I've been involved with over the years.

I'm happy to say I have no regrets about my career choices, or about any recommendations or advice I've given on policies or projects over the years.

I have been very lucky that most of my jobs have provided high job satisfaction levels. I had many bosses who were perceptive enough to know how to encourage the best out of people, and have been fortunate to have had many workmates who have made those inevitable times when it hasn't all been plain sailing, more bearable with their good humour.

There are so many people over my career I'd like to say thanks to, and so few where that's easy to do, because they aren't around any more. Those who are still here will know who I mean.  Most recently, thanks to Ophelia for being patient while I made my decision.

There comes a time when you decide that you've done your bit, passed on your experience as best you can to others, and it's time to quietly fade away to enjoy exploring life's new horizons. When I joined the State Government, the Deputy Secretary of Premier's Department was retiring, and his advice has stayed with me... "No one ever said on their death bed: 'I wish I'd spent more time in the office.'"

I plan to stay in touch with my Treasury friends, as I do already with former Treasury staff. I still keep in touch with good workmates from 45 years ago in the Commonwealth.

Good luck in your careers and good health to you all.

Happy trails...

Roger Sayers

(Former Principal Economic Analyst, Fiscal and Economic Group, Economic Strategy Division)

Copyright Roger Sayers,  2014. Photos Courtesy Roger, Geoff Searl and Warren Young OAM.