People who change the world

Australian surf life savers

Australian surf life savers

I'm walking along the beach at Surfers Paradise, sunny Queensland.

Up and down the long stretch of coastline people are enjoying the surf. It's a beautiful, but dangerous place. These waters are notorious for their rips that every year suck out unsuspecting swimmers. Almost all of them are successfully rescued. About every five hundred meters, there are lifesavers on duty dedicated to keeping the beaches safe for holiday makers.

It's Sunday morning and the "Little Nippers" are gathering at the Broadbeach Surf Life Saving club for training. These primary school age children are learning what it takes to be a lifesaver. They will all grow up with an appreciation of safety in the water. Some of them will join the in the proud Australian tradition of surf lifesaving.

It wasn't always like this. Over one hundred years ago there was no need for lifesavers on Australian beaches. It was illegal to go swimming during daylight hours. People were scandalized at the thought of bodies in bathing costumes. Things began to change when in 1902 William Gocher broke that law. He swam in broad daylight. Soon the moral decay became contagious. Others dived in.

The year 1903 was a milestone in Australian history. That year the first law was passed permitting daytime swimming on Australian beaches"”although men and women were not allowed to swim together. The men wore bathing suits that covered them from neck to knee. The women were required to swim in loose dresses, stockings, shoes and caps.

It wasn't long before swimmers began to get into difficulty. Some had to be rescued by other swimmers. Others drowned. Soon strong swimmers formed volunteer groups to help people in trouble. They knew very little about lifesaving. Their techniques were experimental. On occasions they would link hands to try and form a human chain out to the drowning person. At certain beaches there were belts, heavy ropes and reels for dragging the rescued and the rescuer back to safety. Some rescuers drowned when they were trapped in this cumbersome equipment. Old whaling boats were pressed into service successfully. Later surfboats were to copy their design.

In 1907 small groups of volunteers banded together in Sydney to form the world's first Surf Life Saving club. Today Surf Life Saving Australia is one of the largest volunteer lifesaving groups in the world with 70,000 members.

For one hundred years Australian beaches have been kept safe by a volunteer movement that arose spontaneously to meet a need. Generations later around the Australian coast the "Little Nippers" are going through their Sunday morning drill expecting one day to become a lifesaver.

As I finished my walk and plunged into the surf I knew that someone on the beach was looking out for me.

Australian beaches are safer today because a band of committed people successfully pressed for, and implemented, change. They formed a movement. We have all had our lives reshaped by the impact of such movements for change. For both good and evil, movements have remade our world in every aspect: culture, politics, social values, and religion.

The Twentieth Century was dominated by the influence of movements. In the West the century began with the push by the Suffragettes to give women the vote. In the second half of the century the Feminists picked up the baton and set the agenda. The environmentalist movement emerged in the seventies and a generation later we're all a bit greener. Wars were waged over Nationalism, Fascism, and Communism. By the end of the century the West faced the challenge of rising Islamic fundamentalism. So much of world history is the result of the clash of movements vying over their conflicting visions of the world as it should be.

Jesus founded a movement that has always been threatened by decline and is always being renewed by the Spirit.

A healthy garden is an eco system where new plants are always coming into existence, other plants are flourishing, others are dying: but the garden lives on in a continuing state of renewal. The Christian movement is best understood as a garden full of life and diversity, rather than just an individual plant. It is through the birth and growth of new movements of churches and mission entities that God has renewed the Christian movement down through the ages.