Surf Life Saving Clubs: the backbone of beach safety

‘The day was fine with a slight wind from the east …’ so begins the report of the rescue conducted by Patrol number 2 on Easter Monday, April 17 2006. The report continues, ‘… due to a recent cyclone, the seas were over 2.5 metres and the sea was considered rough’, so began just another day in the life of the patrollers of the Brunswick Surf Life Savers Club. The beach was closed that day because of the rough conditions which brought with it rips and sweeps. The shore break was in close and there was a second break 100 metres offshore, the difficult conditions hampered further by the river which had swelled due to 7cm of rain the previous night. There was also another ingredient in the recipe for disaster: the infamous Brunswick bar.

Mark Hildebrandt and Gavin Arthur were practising manoeuvres in the Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB), or as it is more commonly known – the rubber ducky. It is essential the surf lifesavers get in amongst the rough conditions as part of their training as it is at these times when they are most likely to be needed, surf lifesavers spend 100 of hours every season preparing for the moments when they will be needed. Gavin, who had completed several years as an IRB driver and has a lifetime of familiarity with the Bruns beach and its infamous bar, was instructing Mark in the local conditions. It was during this training that the IRB’s motor failed and this is where the drama began. The pair were stranded in the outer break and after unsuccessfully trying to restart the engine, were hit by a massive wave that broke on top of them and overturned the craft.

Casey Brennan, who was yet to celebrate her 18th birthday and Luke Essery, were patrolling from the beach with the rest of the crew members and had seen the unfolding events. Both of these young lifesavers entered the turbulent swell to try and assist the IRB crew to right the boat. A one hundred metre swim through the slashing sea found them alongside the craft with the discovery that they were a man short. Mark, who had been unable to regain contact with the overturned rubber ducky, had opted swim out to calmer water but had been caught in a northerly sweep. Once Casey, Luke and Gavin had managed to bring the boat ashore, Casey took the rescue tube and swam out in search of patrol mate Mark. Luke, who could see Mark being swept north, donned flippers and another rescue tube and swam the river, a feat not easily done in perfect conditions let alone those of April 17 and headed out to assist, while Gavin, who was himself still recovering from his own ordeal, grabbed a rescue board and paddled the river to help out. Mark Hildrebrandt, now exhausted from many minutes fighting the swelling waters made it to the south wall but the waves twice pushed him back into the river when he tried to climb the rocks. Casey managed to swim within metres of him but was unable to catch him across the bar.

Mark who was by this time spent, was carried past the north wall by the sweep and was eventually able to approach a less hostile shore on the north side of the wall but another wave broke on his back and left him unable to scramble through the wash and he was dragged onto the sand by a group of local fishermen. After a 600 metres swim through conditions that would finish off many others, Casey Brennan finally reached the shore and was able to help Mark in his recovery. In all there were eight patrollers who were involved in the rescue. Behind the scenes there were radio operators, those who kept a watchful eye on the rescuers and those who managed the public on the beach.

On the day of the rescue Patrol number 2 had only two members who were over 18, and both of those were in the water in difficulty. The patrol acted as a cohesive and well trained team and performed in a manner that would be expected of lifesavers of an older vintage and not novices. Without any senior supervision, every single member of this patrol assumed the necessary duties and performed them above and clearly beyond the call – a call that for many had come at a young age when they began Nippers training. For their valiant efforts Casey Brennan received a Certificate of Merit for Bravery, Luke Essery 18, received a Commendation and the entire Patrol made up of members Casey and Luke as well as Gavin Arthur, Tierney Brennan (15 years), Courtney Essery (17 years), John Garrard (16 years), Sam Martin (15 years) and Anna Pyke (18 years) were awarded a Group Commendation.

Brunswick SLSC President Craig Reid has nothing but praise for the patrollers. ‘I am very proud of this group,’ said Craig. ‘They acted in a very professional manner to help a fellow patroller in distress.’ Many of the patrol have been members of the Brunswick SLC since they were in Nippers, Casey and Gavin in particular having been through the Nippers program, which is an invaluable tool for young life savers. ‘These are a great group of kids and they have proven the worth of their training. They displayed the skills they have learned as life savers at the highest level and they acted wonderfully in an emergency situation which resulted in a good outcome,’ said Craig.

But the fact that really hits home is that these young people and all our beach SLSC patrollers are risking their lives to save our lives simply for the love of it and the good of our community – they don’t get paid. SLSC patrollers are volunteers who give up untold amounts of their time to train and keep up to date with the latest technology and methodology and spend hours on the beach and in the tower keeping us safe as we enjoy our beaches. For more information about the Brunswick Surf Life Saving Club visit their new website: and for information about life saving in general visit

September 16, 2008 Byron Shire Echo