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Bronte Junior Surf Brigade demonstrating resuscitation techniques

Date: c 1908
Sight: 225 x 283 mm
Overall: 530 x 626 x 37 mm, 3.2 kg
Medium: Albumen photographic print, paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Photograph
Object No: 00018414
Place Manufactured:Sydney
Related Place:Bronte,

User Terms

    Photographer unknown. Sydney, Neww South Wales, Australia, c 1908. Albumen photogrphic print on paper. Object is an albumen photographic print from the Charles Kerry studio. Depicted in the image are eight boys all from the Bronte Junior Life Saving Brigade in full uniform performing resuscitation techniques under the watchful eye of their instructor Walter Biddell. The image has been taken in a studio with the seascape painted in the background.
    SignificanceBronte beach was one of the earliest, if not the first, surf lifesaving clubs in New South Wales. They led the way with surf patrols and lifesaving classes and advocated early on that both girls and boys be taught nececcsary water survival skills.
    HistoryWalter HV Biddell (1859-1933) emigrated from Surrey in the late 1890s and set up in Sydney as a mercantile merchant. Following a nervous breakdown in 1904 he the beneficial effects of surfing at Bronte Beach. In 1903 Biddell took an active interest in lifesaving classes and surf patrols that had been organised at Bronte by Major John Bond since 1894. In 1907, Biddell formed the Bronte Surf Bathing Association.The Association then formed the Bronte Volunteer Lifesaving Brigade.

    Biddell invented the Skeleton Belt, a lighter and adjustable belt used with a surfline and reel. He also invented Dr Lee's torpedo buoy, named after the baking powder he was manufacturing at Bondi Junction.

    Biddell's refusal to allow Bronte members to use the standard cork belt in interclub competition led to member sbeing banned from competition. This controversy led to the formation of a breakaway group - the Bronte Surf and LifeSaving Club. Biddell countered by forming in March 1908 the Bronte Junior Surf Life Saving Brigade followed in April of that year by the formation of the Bronte Ladies Life Saving Brigade. The Junior Brigade was for boys under 16 years of age (accordingly Bronte became the first club to cater for junior members).

    On 23 April the first ladies squad passed the Royal Life Saving Society's Bronze Medallion examination. Included in the squad was Rita Biddell, Walter's wife.
    The Bronte Brigades handed over responsibility to the Bronte Surf Life Saving Club c.1910. The badges worn on the costumes of the boys and girls in the photographs use as part of the log , the torpedo buoy.

    In the 1890s, women in the UK and New South Wales were actively encouraged to acquire water safety skills and to impart their knowledge to children. Women throughout New South Wales also gained formal qualifications as lifesavers, with newspapers at the time reporting many hundreds achieving proficiency certificates in lifesaving.

    The need for surf lifesavers in New South Wales intensified in 1903 when by-laws restricting swimming at metropolitan beaches during daylight hours were relaxed by councils. While removing such restrictions drew thousands of Sydneysiders to the city’s foreshores in the summer months, it created a major headache for emergency service workers because most of the new beachgoers were poor swimmers.

    The summer of 1904 set a record for drownings at Sydney beaches and the gravity of the problem meant that local councils were not inclined to prescribe the gender of people authorised to rescue or resuscitate beleaguered swimmers.

    In November 1904, Sydney sports newspaper The Referee reported that a Mrs May Loftus of the Sydney Ladies Swimming Club passed her examination for a Bronze Medallion. According to the paper, she was the first woman in Australia to achieve the feat, which remains a prerequisite for becoming a beach lifesaver.

    Loftus’ achievement was recognised by the NSW branch of the RLSS and many other women followed in her footsteps before the national surf lifesaving body in the 1930s slapped a blanket ban on ladies vying for the award.

    Loftus inspired many other Sydney women to equal her milestone before the ban took effect. In 1910, the Wollongong Surf Life Saving Club invited its female members to present for bronze medallions and four were successful.

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