The first woman to ever patrol at Manly Beach, as part of the Manly Surf Life Saving Club (LSC), was New Zealander Helen Duddings in 1978. Duddings, a champion swimmer in New Zealand, had already obtained her Bronze Medallion at Lyall Bay Surf Lifesaving Club near Wellington – an essential qualification for the role – and came to Manly on a working holiday visa.
During the 1978/79 season, Helen’s male flatmates in Manly presented her membership application to the Manly LSC as ‘HJ Duddings’…and she was accepted! What they didn’t disclose was that ‘HJ Duddings’ was a woman. She recalls that when she arrived at the Club ready to patrol ‘there were a few shocked blokes on the balcony of Manly LSC! But after that everyone was welcoming and friendly’.
Now, some 40 plus years on, almost half of all Manly LSC members are women.
It took Manly until 1980 to catch up to NZ and allow women to also qualify for the Bronze Medallion and go on to become surf lifesavers in NSW. We were among the first in the state to host an all-female bronze medallion course and then form a patrolling squad, and this Sunday the club will celebrate the milestone with a reunion and union of past and present female members (details at addendum).
But women had a long involvement in Manly LSC since before they were formally awarded their Bronze Medallions in the 1979/80 season. They had participated in rescue and resuscitation drills since 1911 and March Past events since the 1950’s, but the Bronze Medallion was a momentous step that allowed for women to become active patrolling members.
Manly LSC Life Member and former President Tony Bonner says the women had a difficult time of it in the early days, as it was such a male-oriented sport. In 1980 the clubs patrolling membership stood at 400 male members, but 41 years later membership is sitting at just under 2,000, and almost half of those are women.
“For the girls to break in, they really had a true passion and a love for it. Now almost half of the patrolling roster are women which is fantastic, and they bring a different discipline to the movement”.
“The lifesaving ‘clubby’ movement has moved on from being a boys club into being a part of everyday society. As with everything in society, female involvement is a vital part of the continuation of it and it’s been a great 40 years of sensational growth.”
Manly LSC Secretary Victoria Sweetman O’Halloran has a long family history with surf life saving in NSW. She is the third generation of her family to obtain her Bronze Medallion and her daughter, Zara Sweetman aged 15, is now the fourth generation after obtaining her medallion in September 2020. O’Halloran joined Manly LSC in 2001 and is a former competitor, current patrol captain, training instructor and sits on the board as club Secretary.
O’Halloran says it is important to recognise and celebrate the essential role women play throughout surf clubs.
“It was important to me to arrange an event to celebrate the history of women in surf life saving in NSW and allow women to come together and share their stories”.
“In 2021, Women are a driving force in Manly LSC. Women no longer face the challenges endured by their older counterparts and are supported and promoted within the Club”.
The event is expecting around 100 women who have had a long association with Manly LSC, including Enid Taylor, Faye Clissold and Karen Lumsdaine- three women from the 1950 March Past team.
Federal MP, Zali Steggall has been invited to attend the event, as she is a former member and current patron of the Club. James Griffin MP has also been invited, along with representatives of Northern Beaches Council including Deputy Mayor Candy Bingham and former Manly Mayor and former patron of Manly LSC, Jean Hay.
The Reunion of Past and Present members to Celebrate 40 years of Women in Lifesaving at Manly LSC was held on Sunday 16 May at 2pm.