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Honouring WWII Female Surf Lifesavers

The group demonstrated immense selflessness, thinking nothing of their decision to enter unfamiliar territory.

Women who took it upon themselves to perform surf lifesaving duties during World War II have been formally recognised for their achievements. Cathy Cole from the Terrigal Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC) has championed ‘Honouring our First Female Lifesavers’, an initiative acknowledging the women who patrolled the Central Coast beaches in NSW between 1942 and 1945.

Cathy explained that these courageous females protected beachgoers while 72 of the 76 male surf lifesavers at Terrigal SLSC were at war. Surf Life Saving policy did not recognise female surf lifesavers at the time and so the women never received their Bronze Medallion. That was until recently, when they were given their awards at a ceremony held at Terrigal SLSC.

The Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, presented the Bronze Medallions to six of the surviving women, some of whom were in their 90s, while 17 Bronze Medallions were posthumously awarded to their families. Another woman, who has since passed, received her award at a ceremony at the Gold Coast, while a woman who was heavily involved in surf lifesaving activity during the period was also acknowledged.

Cathy said the group demonstrated immense selflessness, thinking nothing of their decision to enter unfamiliar territory.

“They had no prior training and some of them didn’t even know how to swim beforehand but they just took it on and saved lives over and over again. What they did was heroic,” she explained.

“I have since learned that these women went on to have full, interesting and powerful lives. They were school vice principals who worked to engage and empower young women, they were presidents of golf clubs in the 1950s, they were strong female businesswomen and social innovators.”

The women are set to feature in a filmed interview series created by the young members of Terrigal SLSC. The interviews form part of a new program that Cathy is helping to develop called the Inheritor’s Program. It aims to provide young SLSC members with a greater awareness and respect for the surf lifesavers that have come before them.

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