Apr 26, 2017
Our master chronicler of all things Bondi, Alan Scott, has asked for contributions to supplement the huge amount of social history he has somehow managed to remember about that famous Australian beach suburb and our equally acclaimed surf club. He has suggested it may be interesting to explain to his many readers, and especially to all our mates at the club in the ‘60s and ‘70s, that curious aspect of surf club competition that is the Rescue & Resuscitation (R&R) event.
‘Curious’ because it was such a collage of other activities – part marching, part swimming, part rescuing and part dressing up in what then would have been regarded as a woman’s full-length swimming costume. To an uninformed observer on the beach, it must have been difficult to work out what six men were doing in the water and on the beach in a routine not unlike a cross between the Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the Russian Bolshoi Ballet.
R&R is a simulation of the rescue of a swimmer in trouble out in the surf and their resuscitation on the beach. Back then, there were only a few options for rescuing a swimmer who had got into trouble:
- Run in over a sandbank, maybe do a few ‘porpoises’, do a few swim strokes and grab the hapless soul — by the arm, around the chin, under the armpit or any other available spot and swim them back to where they could stand up.
- Grab an inflatable ‘surfo’ of the Bas MacDonald variety (if there was one around) paddle out a few strokes then get the patient half on and half off the surfo’ and paddle them back to the shore.
- For rescues in bigger waves and further out to sea, jump in the belt attached to a handily placed surf reel and swim out to the patient while your mates in the patrol ‘paid out’ the line, hopefully controlled the reel to prevent tangles and then dragged the two (or more) of you back in.
Of course, rescue by boat, surf ski or board was possible, but only if the craft were down on the shore at the time and a crew or a good board paddler was there. Plus, all three types of those craft that were used 50 or so years ago were big lumps of things, made from heavy wood or plywood, and bore no resemblance to today’s modern craft. So, for ‘decent’ rescues, requiring a swim out the back to prevent the patient taking up residence in Auckland, the reel and the belt and half a dozen or so mates was the best option. Thankfully, the patient usually didn’t need resuscitation — as long as the other patrol members didn’t pull you in with too much enthusiasm and you went ‘over the falls’ on a wave – backwards and hanging onto the patient for dear life.
The R&R event at carnivals was meant to simulate this activity but, to the uninitiated, it may have looked quite queer indeed. One of the major, but perhaps not so obvious, differences was that we had to march in sand. Unlike the 4th Brigade Queen’s Own Lancers, Fusiliers and Grenade Throwers at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, we had to march with toes pointing downwards to dig us into the sand and give us some grip so we didn’t stumble all over the place. The Edinburgh mob, like all military units, usually march ‘heel-toe’ wearing boots on hard surfaces. So, mastering ‘toe-first’ marching in soft sand was a prime requirement, as was keeping the reel dead level and absolutely horizontal to the ground.
It doesn’t sound too tricky until you realise that a key member of our teams in the ‘60s and ‘70s was Lenny Harris, who was as tall as a lamp post and we were all way below him. We will never forgive him for making us hold the reel up near our armpits while he just carried it ‘at full stretch’.
Most things after that were aimed at the six of us all ‘looking the same’. The swing of our arms had to rise to the same level, likewise the lift of the knees in the march. No one could wear the brilliant white or pink Zinke Cream, the straps on our caps had to be tied perfectly and wrapped in on themselves so they didn’t come off in the water and so we could identify our patient and beltman as they swam towards the buoys. The tricky ‘quick march’, ‘halt’, ‘about turn’ and ‘stand at ease’ manoeuvres had to be all performed at exactly the same time and in exactly the same manner. Again, this is a lot easier to do when wearing boots on solid ground but was much trickier when you had moving sand under your feet. Losing your balance was a no-no and stuck out like the proverbial canine appendages.
Unreliable History will return next edition with more from Leigh Emery on R&R events in the 1960s and 1970’s.