The first 3 Surf Life Saving Clubs on the Sunshine Coast were Maroochydore (1916), Mooloolaba (1922) and Alexandra Headland (1924). These 3 Surf Clubs remain among the largest, most successful and most respected of the 310 Surf Clubs in Australia.

Women played a vital role in the early years of these Clubs. At the turn of the 20th Century, ladies were active in swimming and sailing activities in the fledgling farming communities clustered around the Railway town of Nambour. When the Surf Clubs were established, first under the banner of the Royal Life Saving Society of Queensland, the participation of women in the “Natatorial Arts” – swimming and diving – was part of that landscape.

In 1931,the ‘Royal’ Clubs of the North Coast, renamed the Sunshine Coast in 1966, merged with Surf Lifesaving (which began in Sydney in 1907). World War I saw to it that SLSA was an all- male pursuit, so between 1931 and 1980 the ladies either patrolled for the few ‘Royal’ Clubs, or acted in a support role, as a wife or girlfriend, to one or other of the local Surf Clubs. Today, however, women constitute 50% of Surf Club active patrolling membership. The Ladies in Lifesaving, 1900-1939, left an important legacy.

In April 1912, teams of ladies first competed in Lifesaving events for the Barry Cup. The contest was held at the Booroodabin Baths, Brisbane, near to where the Valley Pool now stands. Fanny Durack was to be Australia’s first Olympic Champion at the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games. Fanny, as the Olympic Champion and World Record holder for the women’s 100 metres freestyle, gave a display at the Royal Life Saving carnival held in South Brisbane Dry Dock on Saturday 7 December 1912.

The first involvement of North Coast women in Lifesaving was in the formation of the Maroochydore Ladies Swimming Club, affiliated with Queensland Amateur Swimming and with Royal Life Saving. The formation meeting was held at the Maroochy River School of Arts in November 1916. 17 women are recorded as having been elected to various positions within the new Ladies Club. Early in 1917, at an Interstate swimming carnival held at South Brisbane, Elsie Venning of the new Maroochydore Club fought to a gallant third place behind the Olympic Champion, Durack, in the 100yards women’s championship of Australia. Already the North Coast was punching above its weight.

While swimming and Stillwater Lifesaving for the Ladies continued at Maroochydore, Frank Venning played a key role in the establishment of the Mooloolaba Sports and Lifesaving Club, it’s first beach patrol being performed on 13 January 1923. From inception, Mooloolaba enjoyed the strong support of its Ladies. Membership was accorded to women from the beginning.

Ladies Clubs

The Maroochydore Ladies, formed in about 1924, featured the sisters, or soon-to-be wives of some of the prominent male Lifesavers – Lily Anderson, sister of Bob Anderson, married Joe Suosaari and Twin sister Sally was also a member of the Maroochydore Ladies team. The Maroochydore group were more oriented towards the Stillwater activities of the Maroochydore Club, however. In that Club, the men did the beach patrolling work, but the Ladies fully participated in the swimming activities at Cotton Tree and elsewhere between 1916 and 1930.

Alexandra Headland SLSC formed a Ladies Club in the 1928-29 Season. The Alex Ladies competed in Surf events against Neptunes (Gold Coast) in the first Inter-club contest, held at Mooloolaba Beach, in April 1929. Alex fielded over a dozen Ladies in their team, including the sisters of the famous Pringle and Wilkes brothers. This competition, for a silver cup put up by the Neptunes Club, was said to be the first of its kind ever held in Australia.

In 1929 a Ladies Lifesaving Branch was formed at Mooloolaba. By March 1930, out of a total of 70 members, 11 were women. Mooloolaba won the 1930 State Women’s Rescue and Resuscitation Championship from the Gold Coast Neptunes Club. Sadly, the Ladies Club at Mooloolaba disbanded in 1933, in the wake of the merger of Royal with Surf Lifesaving, although women’s competition continued into the 1940’s, in direct defiance of the SLSA’s “males only” edict.

After Surf Life Saving assumed control of all Surf Clubs in Queensland in 1931, the reality of an all-male membership set in. The Royal traditions continued at Bulcock Beach at Caloundra, with an all-women Club, and also with Neptunes patrolling Tallebudgera Creek.

Women supporters of the three Sunshine Coast Clubs, after World War II, formed an Auxiliary support group called MAMS, taking the first letter of each of the Clubs. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, MAMS organised many joint fundraising dances and other functions. It became a way of life for the Lifesavers, and many Surf Club weddings resulted!

Women continued in support roles in all Sunshine Coast Clubs until SLSA finally moved with the times and admitted women patrolling members in 1980. The movement has never been better as a consequence.


Women were involved in the swimming and Royal lifesaving side of the Maroochydore Life Saving and Swimming Club from the earliest days. After the Aquatic Carnival at Dunethin Rock at Easter 1916, the first official Club swim opened the Maroochydore Club’s second season in October 1916 at Cotton Tree.

Then the pattern was set: after swimming races round at Cotton Tree, involving men and women, the men would then train for surf patrol duty on Maroochy Beach.

The first female participant was 12 year old Lily Anderson who was a member of a local family who later gave so much to the Lifesaving activities through Oscar and Bob Anderson. They were early patrol members at Maroochydore. Much later, Lily Anderson was to marry Joe Suosaari.

The daughters of famous Foundation families emerged in the records of the Boxing Day 1916 Cotton Tree swim – May (9yrs), Lily (13yrs) and Elsie Venning (15yrs) competed, as well as the Youngman girls – Edie, Gertrude and Mary.

FO Venning of Royal Life Saving, Brisbane was the main driver for our first local male Lifesavers to be trained in the skills of Royal Lifesaving in December 1915 and over the following few years. OH Youngman of Maroochy River was the second President of the Club, taking over from William Whalley, who had been elected on 1 January 1916.

For the New Years Day 1917 swim at Cotton Tree, more famous Foundation families were represented by their women and girls – 18 year old Hilma Anderson swam. She was soon to marry Maroochydore Lifesaver, Harold Weston. Mrs Alice Maud Weston along with “Mrs Wells” also swam in races that day, both members of the famous Wells & Weston families of Maroochydore Swimming and Lifesaving Club.

Our Royal Lifesaving “Founding Fathers” made it very plain why they promoted the regular swimming meets at Cotton Tree for both the local men and women: it was all about promoting water safety for both sexes in the sometimes tricky waters of Maroochy River and Maroochy “Heads”, as the beach area was then called.

Elsie Venning became by far the most well-known female Royal Lifesaver, becoming the most highly-qualified woman Lifesaver in Queensland in the 1920’s as well as a Nationally-ranked pool swimmer.

After SLSA took over the Royal clubs in 1931, women had to wait 50 years for full membership recognition. We have never looked back since then!