A COAST with one of the most dangerous surf beaches needs one of the best surf lifesaving clubs and fortunately, Venus Bay has the best club in Australia.
The Venus Bay Surf Life Saving Club was awarded the prestigious National Club of the Year Award at surf lifesaving’s night of nights, the Surf Lifesaving Australia Awards of Excellence Gala.
The club’s president and 10 Venus Bay SLSC members attended the event at the Art Gallery of New South Wales on Saturday, where the finest surf lifesavers in Australia were recognised for their service to the community and amazing acts of heroism.
Venus Bay SLSC, which has 540 members, including 90 patrolling members, beat out more than 300 surf lifesaving clubs across Australia to claim the night’s top honour, the 2017 DHL National Club of the Year Award.
To qualify for the national award, the club defeated 59 Victorian clubs to win Victorian Surf Lifesaving Club of the Year in August.
The six national finalists – clubs from Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania – had spent the day before the ceremony presenting to the Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) Honours Committee in a final determination of the winner, and Venus Bay SLSC president Craig Watson, who accepted the award on behalf of the club, says an impressive set of lifesaving statistics and achievements over the past season was what clinched the victory for Venus Bay.
These included a record number of patrolling members receiving a lifesaving awards (92.3 per cent); record patrol hours (an average of over 38.4 hours per patrolling member); record competition results (a 375 per cent increase in state medals); record funds raised and record funds invested in the club; and a 600 per cent decrease in number of rescues, despite beach attendance increasing.
Craig says in presenting the award, the SLSA judging panel made special mention of the work the Venus Bay SLSC has driven in its local community, and the club’s efforts in raising awareness for river safety and swimming between the flags.
“Our members have really stepped up,” Craig said. “We’ve had high numbers of patrol hours, we’re better trained and we’ve been working hard on community education, like how to identify a rip.
“We go and talk to groups on the beach. We work with schools and community groups. And we do things like partnering with the Vietnamese community, who do pipi harvesting.
“We try to educate about water safety, such as appropriate attire. We focus on prevention, so people don’t get into situations where they need rescuing.”
Craig says the club’s rising strength in life saving competitions has also engaged members who might otherwise have transferred to more competitive clubs.
Craig has been involved with the club since the late 1970s and says the honour is “definitely the biggest thing that has ever happened to our club”.
“It’s a real David versus Goliath story,” he says.
“It’s extremely rare for a Victorian club to be awarded this accolade. It nearly always goes to clubs from Queensland or New South Wales. The only Victorian club that’s ever won the national award is Anglesea, and that would’ve been about 15 years ago.
“It’s something the whole region can celebrate, having the best lifesaving club in the country right here. It’s an amazing group of people.”
Craig thanked the South Gippsland Shire Council for its support, particularly Cr Alyson Skinner.
“The shire’s been our major supporter in the past few years. Alyson Skinner has been especially helpful in identifying ways we can reach out to the community.”
He also praised the South Gippsland-Bass Coast region for being one of the best planned and most harmoniously working surf lifesaving regions in Victoria.
When contacted for comment, Cr Alyson Skinner, of Coastal Promontory Ward to which Venus Bay belongs, congratulated the club on its “amazing” achievement.
“I’m really thrilled for the club and the community,” she said.
“Venus Bay is small, isolated, very quiet town but in summer it’s heaving with people. To engage those visitors is very difficult. What the club has accomplished is astonishing.”
Cr Skinner said the club’s work was especially admirable as they raise most of their funds themselves.
“We have three volunteer organisations that help keep our community safe: the CFA, the CERT and the Surf Life Saving Club. The lifesaving club is such a critical service yet it’s the only one of those organisations that doesn’t get any significant funding.”
Cr Skinner said the council only provides money to Life Saving Victoria to fund two paid lifeguards, meaning the Venus Bay club “has to go around rattling tins all year to raise money,” and that “everything they do: patrols, training, rescues, updating equipment, putting on community events, it’s all volunteers.”
Craig says the next challenge for the club is to raise the $1 million required for essential clubhouse redevelopment to cater for the growing beach attendances and ensure safety for beach users.
The club’s next major event will be its ‘Marathon Iron Man Relay’ on the Tarwin River on December 28. The six-hour event, to raise awareness of river safety, will include board paddling, swimming and ski paddling and Craig says the club’s hoping to make it into the Guinness Book of Records for the longest continuous iron man relay.