ASK anyone at the Inverloch Surf Life Saving Club who their most versatile member was, one of the first names that comes to mind is treasurer and former Anglesea SLSC member Rob O’Neill.
As a life member, Rob has been on Inverloch’s committee as treasurer for many years and is also currently an assessor, trainer, patrolling member, inflatable rescue boat (IRB) and all-terrain vehicle driver, age manager, barman, cleaner and is always there to lend a helping hand around the club.
Spanning almost 50 years, Rob’s participation in lifesaving started as a nipper at Anglesea in 1973.
“My folks had a beach house at Anglesea when I was growing up. We spent all our summers and weekends there,” Rob said.
“My dad played golf, my big sister rode horses and mum wanted to stay home for some peace and quiet, so dad took me down to Nippers to make some new friends.”
What started as a tactic to keep young Rob entertained quickly became his passion, with him trying as many surf sports as he could from surf boats to boards and ski paddling.
“When IRBs were introduced in the 1980s, I knew I’d found my niche,” he said.
“I obtained my IRB crew certificate then my driver’s certificate once I turned 17. By the time I was 22 years old, I was the 55th examiner in Victoria for all things ‘rubber duckies’.
“We even had a crack at racing when Zodiacs, which are the Clydesdales of IRBs, were the only boats you could get. The motor was what now seems like a relic from the 1960s. They weighed a tonne, but we thought they were awesome!”
In 2008, Rob started another chapter in his lifesaving career, making the move to Inverloch and introducing his children to the lifesaving movement.
“Basically, I didn’t give my kids a choice. I told them, if you want to go to the beach, then you need to become lifesavers,” he said.
“There’s an old saying, ‘one in all in’ and lifesaving is that kind of thing. It crosses over into normal life in so many ways. My daughter is a university student and works as a lifeguard at our local pool and my son takes the lead on water safety for his senior school aquatic activities because he is a lifesaver too.
“Years ago, my son even convinced my wife to bake cupcakes to sell after nippers so we could raise money to buy more nipper boards. Although, I suspect he may have just wanted the cupcakes!”
Rob’s favourite thing about lifesaving is how many aspects of it cross over into everyday life, such as the skills he has learned that can be called on at any time in places you would least expect.
“As treasurer, I get to see just how much it takes to run a club for a summer. If it weren’t for the volunteers taking the bulk of the financial strain and workload off the club, I doubt there would be even half the number of clubs we have in Victoria today.”