Busy New Years for lifesavers after City rips funding

Jon SolmundsonGeraldton Guardian
George Giudice, right, and members of the Geraldton Surf Life Saving Club, pictured on Christmas Day 2015, patrol Back Beach throughout the busy summer season.
Camera IconGeorge Giudice, right, and members of the Geraldton Surf Life Saving Club, pictured on Christmas Day 2015, patrol Back Beach throughout the busy summer season. Credit: Supplied, Russell Jones

Many welcomed the new year with a trip to the beach, but the Back Beach surf was a “dishwasher” according to members the Geraldton Surf Life Saving Club, who rescued seven beachgoers from the surf in less than an hour.

Lifesaver Pete Saunders was patrolling the beach that day and said there were two major rips in the water, and the sandbar was collapsing throughout the day.

“We had a mass rescue of a family of five — the sandbar collapsed and they were being dragged out,” he said. “It was a pretty hectic rescue — The current was amazingly strong.

“Then probably about three-quarters of an hour later, a young boy was on a surfboard, and his father was on the sandbar.

“The boy got caught in the rip and the father ran out to go after him, and before he knew it he was sucked out too.”

The barrage of rescues was so intense, even club president George Giudice — who was enjoying an off-duty surf — pitched in to help rescue yet more swimmers.

“The waves were huge, I reckon they were eight-foot waves,” he said. Mr Giudice said days like New Year’s Day showed how necessary surf lifesavers were, and he was confused by City of Greater Geraldton chief executive Ken Diehm’s assertion the community’s demand for smaller rate rises had dictated the recent axing of GSLSC’s funding.

“The community is very supportive of the GSLSC, and all surf lifesaving in general — they help keep us going with financial donations, so I don’t see how the City can say this is what the community wants,” he said. “They’ve said this won’t affect lifesaving patrols, but they’re relying on our community responsibility to keep doing it without resources.

“It will impact seriously on the servicing and repair of vital lifesaving equipment, first aid equipment and supplies, repair of vehicles, patrol uniforms and hats, rescue boards, tubes, oxygen and resuscitation equipment.”

Mr Giudice said GSLSC performed 37 rescues and assisted in 45 first aid incidents last season, and the beaches were only getting busier as more tourists came to Geraldton, many of whom were unfamiliar with the sometimes turbulent conditions found at Back Beach.

Member for Geraldton Ian Blayney, who is also a patron of the GSLSC, said he was particularly offended by the City comparing GSLSC to local sporting clubs when suggesting it needed to find independent funding.

“They aren’t a sports club, they actively get out there and save lives,” he said.

“If it’s Geraldton City’s choice that during the week, or the holiday season, there are no lifeguards at the beach, then there are other people who are going to be affected by that choice, and I don’t see how that’s something Geraldton people would want.”

Champion Bay Surf Life Saving Club also reported a huge number of holiday beachgoers on its new year patrol, and although there were no major incidents club president Peter Nelson said people still had to pay attention with the increased number of swimmers, jet skis and boats in the water around this time of year.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails