The Black Swans – 100 Years Between The Flags

The vast majority of Australia’s population lives in cities and towns on, or near, the coast, which stretches over a distance of more than 36,000 kilometres. The Beach has replaced the Bush as the symbol of the Australian way of life – pleasure, freedom, independence and enjoyment – and Maroochy Beach, in the heart of the aptly named Sunshine Coast, is the very epitome of this sun-drenched idyll.

In April 2016, the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships (“The Aussies”) returned to the Sunshine Coast for the first time in 36 years. It was a fitting tribute to host club Maroochydore, which celebrated its centenary of service between the flags. Operational since 1 January 1916, “The Black Swans”, as the club is known, is believed to be the oldest volunteer community organisation still serving the area today, with the proud record that no life has been lost on its watch.

At the turn of the last century, the Cotton Tree camping reserve, on the headland between the mouth of the Maroochy River and the beach, was a popular holiday destination for families from the nearby districts of Maroochy, Mooloolah and Nambour. Each Christmas and Easter from 1896 the Salvation Army erected a tent city at ‘The Heads’ to house and entertain as many as 2,000 holidaymakers who came for the aquatic pleasures of boating across the river bar or surf bathing at Maroochy Beach. As many of them were poor swimmers and unfamiliar with coastal hazards, there were many drownings, including a triple boating fatality in 1900.

On Saturday, 1 January 1916, a meeting of citizens at the Cotton Tree reserve resolved to form the Maroochydore Swimming and Life Saving Club. It was only the second “surf lifesaving” club to be established in Queensland – the first being the Greenmount surf club at Coolangatta, formed in 1909. A six-man squad from Bli Bli and Maroochydore patrolled the beach for the first time on 2 January 1916 and were immediately called into action – rescuing five people, one of whom was brought unconscious from the water and had to be resuscitated. Royal Humane Society Awards were bestowed upon the rescuers.

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