IT was the summer of ‘59 when Jimmy Newton joined Stockton Surf Life Saving Club.
A time when surf lifesavers used a waxed rope and reel to rescue swimmers from the busy shallows and dangerous surf.
“You used to have to swim out dragging the rope behind you and the further you swam the heavier it got,” Mr Newton said.
“At the time it was high-tech equipment. Things have certainly changed a lot on the beach since those days.”
A life member of Stockton SLSC, Mr Newton will join 160 past and present members and 100 nippers at a special ceremony on Saturday to celebrate the club’s 110th anniversary.
Stockton is the second oldest surf club in the Hunter branch, formed on January 15, 1908, just five days after Newcastle.
As in everything, Mr Newton said it was the people who made the pioneering club.
“I’ve made life-long friendships and met the most amazing people, it’s been an absolute honour to be involved,” he said.
“We’re on a peninsula, surrounded by water, so there is no better place for a kid to learn water safety. It’s a crucial skill for everyone.”
A Stockton resident all his life, Mr Newton joined the surf club with a group of mates when he was 14 years old and has been going down to the beach every summer since.
The former club beach sprint champion still runs the nippers’ barbecue every Sunday.
Now 72 years old, Mr Newton said it had been “a privilege” to help watch over generations of Stockton families and visitors revelling in the summer sun on the beach.
But he urged Newcastle City Council to “act immediately” to save the popular coastal strip from erosion.
As detailed in Friday’s Newcastle Herald tonnes of sand has been stripped again from the beach by huge swell threatening the Stockton childcare centre and surf club.
Nippers were unable to march along the beach for the anniversary celebrations due to the severe erosion.
“It’s heartbreaking to watch it getting worse, the recent works have done little. The council and state government need to act, and now, before it’s too late,” he said. “We need a permanent solution, an artificial headland or groyne, before we end up losing the club.”
Stockton SLSC traces its history back to the early 1860s with the Stockton Rocket Brigade, a group of men devoted to rescuing seafarers who became shipwrecked trying to enter Newcastle Harbour. Historical records show the men, who crewed the Rocket Brigade rescue boats, were the same men who later formed the surf club.
Twenty club members have received 34 Meritorious Awards from Surf Life Saving Australia, the Royal Humane Society, Australian Defence Forces and Royal Life Saving Society, and club member Tom Brady is first entry on the SLSA Roll of Honour for members who lost their lives during rescue attempts, his on February 28, 1926.
Many of the awards were earned in attempts to rescue people from shark attacks.
Legendary deeds include the 1954 Stockton Bight disaster rescue of army personnel by five club members, Col Whyte, Barry Jones, Frank Littlewood, Bill Arthur and Harry Rowlatt, who was the only one still alive when the group received Australian Defence Force Commendations and the club a group commendation in March, 2004.
Forty club members also made rescues in the Maitland floods of February, 1955, and six in the Maitland floods of 1972.
Stockton members have won world championships, national and NSW titles, and five have represented NSW overseas, with one representing Australia overseas.
Among the club's champions are Les “Sharkey” Ireland, Jeff Dawson, who was a member of Stockton and Newcastle as a surf and belt champion, Colin Whyte and Barry Jones, champion ski paddlers, and John Anderson, a board-paddling champion. More recent Australian champions include Paul Bernard and John Rowlatt.
President Callan Nickerson said the club’s 450 members, including 280 nippers, were an integral part of the community.
“Our relevance and importance to the community has not changed since the days when blokes were rescuing stricken sailors when ships ran aground entering Newcastle Harbour,” he said. “Surf and water safety is paramount.”
Celebrations begin at 11.45am on Saturday with an army band leading a march from Stockton RSL to the surf club and nippers march at Dalby Oval from 12.45pm.
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