(Compiled by Ray Webb November 1998)
Prior to the 1960’s the beach now known as Gunnamatta was called “Paradise Beach”. It could accessed by winding along sandy tracks, created in the first place to enable goods from wrecked ships to be salvaged, then used by fishermen and salvagers of spars, timbers and flotsam from passing ships.
It took the aboriginal name “Gunnamatta”, meaning ‘beach and sand hills’, in the early 1960’s (precise words are sketchy) when the Shire of Flinders took an interest in opening up the area for visitors. A Committee of local public minded citizens, known as the Rye Ocean Parks reserve Committee of Management, was convened on behalf of the Shire to consider the form of development of the “back beaches”. With initial grants of 2,000 pounds from the Department of Tourism and 500 pounds from the Shire, the area was developed with a water bore, windmill, toilets and railings.
In November 1962, prior to the commencement of the works, The Shire of Flinders wrote to the Secretary of Surf Life Saving Australia (c/- 120 Husband Rd. Forest Hill, Victoria), advising that the Shire was “………proposing to develop an area of the Rye Ocean beach near Boag’s Rocks by construction of access roads, parking areas and facilities for swimmers and tourists generally”.
“As the ocean beaches on this Peninsula have not enjoyed a good reputation from a safety point of view, I would appreciate it if it would be possible to have a report on the area from an official of your Association”.
The Committee of Management then acted as a steering committee to form a life saving club at the beach, with much of the foundation work being carried out by local Rye resident Ken Doe.
Truemans Road was opened by the Shire in mid-1963. By November 1963 the Shire had expended 6,200 pounds on fencing, bore water, planting marram grass, constructing two changing roads and temporary road works.
The water from the bore (approximately 30 metres deep) was tested by the State Laboratories of the Department of Agriculture, Health and Mines of Victoria in November 1963. The report noted:
“This water is very hard, and requires softening if it is to be used in a hot water service”.
A recipe of limil and washing powder was provided for softening the water to be used in fuel or stove-type hot water systems. The water was, in January 1962, confirmed as suitable for drinking.
Investigations in May 1964 regarding the building of a clubhouse to serve the future life saving club led to the Shire of Flinders to estimate that a clubhouse would cost 1,000 pounds and a gatekeeper bot of 100 pounds.
On 2nd January 1966, the drowning of a 19 year old man at the Rye back beach highlighted the concerns of some sectors of the community that the beach should not be opened to swimmers and that the Shire was neglectful of its duty of care by promoting visitors use of the beach. The Council countered this accusation by stating that the area was initially opened up for picnics and sightseeing and that despite warning signs on the beach, it was impossible to prevent people from swimming when they were determined to do so.
Council also explained that it had installed a vehicle at the beach equipped with a loud hailer and direct two-way communication to the Council Depot and thereby the Rye police. Other plans included the setting up of the life saving club, for which considerable efforts had been made for years, and/the introduction of a rocket rescue despatch system (whereby a line would be propelled from the beach by a rocket out to the swimmer in distress). Needless to say, the latter did not proceed and the former was thankfully achieved later the same year.
The concerns at the time on issues of tourism and soil erosion were expressed by the Soil Conservation Authority which advised the Minister for Conversation in January 1966:
“The Authority has never been in favour of development for tourism in this area, because of these factors (erosion, vegetation protection, maintenance costs, etc.) and also because the beaches are poor and dangerous for swimmers. It is a scenic area.
Because the developments are being sponsored by the local Foreshore Committees, the Shire of Flinders and the Tourist Development Board, the Soil Conservation Authority has been virtually forced to take action in foreshore erosion control works.
In terms of beach classification which the Soil Conversation Authority hopes to produce in the near future, the Point Nepean/Cape Schanck area would be classified as scenic and not as either swimming or surfing. Because of this, the needs of the area are different from the treatment which is at present being imposed upon it”.
After years of meetings, discussions and the combined efforts of public-minded citizens and Shire Councillors, the framework for the establishment of a new life saving club lacked only the young men to serve in it and a tram to make it work.
At about this time, some of the members of the Pt. Leo Surf Life Saving Club began to venture to Gunnamatta for the excellent surf it offered. Inevitably, they undertook rescues and eveloped a passion for the beach which enjoyed a location close to towns, yet relatively untouched by development.
The Inaugural meeting of the Gunnamatta Surf Life Saving Club was held on 7th August 1966 at the Rye Sea Scouts Hall, adjacent to the Rye pier.
THE CLUB IS ESTABLISHED.
Thirty people attended the inaugural meeting, including the following that were elected as office bearers on the day:
President: Ken Dobson.
Vice Presidents: R. Alsop, F. Hewison, K. Doe, R. Brew.
Club Captain: Geoff Alsop (formerly Chief Instructor, Pt. Leo SLSC).
Vice Captain: John Hewison.
Gordon Dann, who was Flinders District Supervisor of Surf Life Saving Australia at the time, attended the inaugural meeting.
Also attending the meeting were representatives from Pt. Leo and Anglesea Surf Life Saving Clubs and the Frankston Royal Life Saving Club.
The Club colours and design (navy blue and white) were accepted “……….with the provision that they are accepted by the State Centre”, on the motion moved by G. Dann and seconded by K. Doe.
The newly elected Geoff Alsop reported that it would cost in excess of 650 pounds to patrol thje beach. This was made up of the following seven pieces of equipment:
3 Reels * 300 pounds.
Surf ski 75
Patrol Gear 89
Tables & cupboards. 27 (For the First Aid Room).
First Aid Gear 81
Patrol Tower 50
Two way radio 75
*The Shire of Flinders later donated these reels, for the first season.
Geoff Alsop also reported that the aim of the Club was………..”to patrol the beach and win the patrol efficiency competition run by State Centre”. It subsequently took the Club one year to patrol the beach, three years to win the District Patrol Competition and twelve years to win the State Patrol Competition.
Membership fees were as follows:
Associates 5 pounds.
Active members 4
Junior Active 1 pound 6.
Provisional Cadet 1
(And that the membership forms adopted be the same as those used by the Pt. Leo SLS Club).
In a meeting which lasted one and a half hours, the Club was born – the culmination of many years of work by the Shire of Flinders and local residents.