Login | Sign Up

Submit an Article

Arts Food News Other People Sport Videos

The Bondi Lifesaver: Ex Music Venue

By John Ruffels on September 9, 2012 in Other

Photo: Waverley Library Local Studies

Say the magical words ‘The Bondi Lifesaver’ to any person over fifty in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs and their eyes will light up and a smile will cross their face.

As we get older more memories are stored. These are frequently triggered as ‘Rainy Traffic Light Moments’: where an imagined glimpse of an old flame, accidental whiffs of a forgotten smell and snatches of a long-past song bring it all back. The Bondi Lifesaver is one of those pleasant triggers.

Seemingly air-brushed from history, The Bondi Lifesaver was an amazing live music venue at 56 Ebley Street, Bondi Junction from 1971 to late 1980. Today, the site is merely part of the long concrete wall entrance to the Eastgate parking station.

Anyone who was anyone in the Australian music scene did a gig at ‘The Lifesaver’, and many major overseas acts took to the stage there too. From Johnny O’Keefe in a leopard skin suit to Rene Geyer, Billy Thorpe, Bo Diddley and Wendy Saddington.

Several freshly formed rock bands got their start at The Bondi Lifesaver in the 1970s including Mi-Sex, Dragon, and The Angels, and many others such like Rose Tattoo, John Paul Young, Kevin Borich, Split Enz, Richard Clapton and even the mighty AC/DC got a decent leg-up at the venue.

The time-tested booking arrangement at The Lifesaver was to have a great bill of top bands on the Sunday night of a long weekend. This ensured all of the patrons were there for a good time.

And if a band pulled out at the last minute, The Lifesaver staff could always help bring Dragon’s gear in from their house next door as fill-ins. In 1975, they even became the mid-week resident band.

The Bondi Lifesaver building itself was one or maybe two former terrace houses, renovated at first into two rooms as a wine bar, then, in around 1973, the middle wall was knocked down and the rear portion was transformed into an elevated eating and viewing area. A long elegant bar stretched the entire length of the eastern side of the room.

A large fish-tank filled with every imaginable type of tropical fish decorated the middle area at the rear of the dance floor and the open verandah and nicely landscaped courtyard lent itself as the ideal place to escape the steamy dance floor on hot summer nights.

Many crusty Lifesavers punters will willingly regale you with stories of how they got in for nothing by scaling the outer wall to see an amazing line-up of up-and-coming bands before they were big-time. Or how they met the most beautiful girl and danced with her all night. Or how they drank scotch with Jimmy Barnes.

An added allure for many locals was that they could simply walk home afterwards if they’d spent all their loot. Some girls even hitched to Central Station to get a train home to the western suburbs.

Out there among the Baby Boomers there will be Lifesaver posters, long forgotten photographs of Australian music legends performing at the Lifesaver and the favourite yarns of dedicated groupies and rock fans. Memories like the night Angus Young from AC/DC strung an incredible length of guitar cord across the dance floor whilst the band shook the Tropical fish tank. Angus has said The Lifesaver was one of their favourite gigs.

Myself and a couple of other keen ex-patrons, Craig Griffiths and Kimberly O’Sullivan, want to do something with those treasured memories, whether they be photos, film clips, spoken reminiscences, or posters: to see if enough material emerges to create a viable exhibition, book or even a documentary.

Anyone wishing to help keep The Bondi Lifesaver’s memory alive, who has photos, good stories and memorabilia associated with it, is welcome to contact us at: swap5845@gmail.com or PO Box 85, Toronto NSW 2283.

14 COMMENTS. SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

  1. Many very treasured memories of the Lifesaver, although they’re all pretty blurred. Renee Geyer and Marcia Hines with the various incarnations of their great bands; Rose Tattoo – fantastic slide and attitude; Split Enz – just weird weird weird; Skyhooks – Shirl and those shiny pants; AC DC – close enough for Angus to drip sweat in your cider; Doug Wiliams, Leo De Castro, Chisel, carafes of house white, chicken in a basket and then the Manzil Room afterward for the desperadoes. A golden age of innocent debauchery.

    Posted by: rob | September 12, 2012, 12:24 AM |

    Reply to this comment >
  2. I remember seeing Split Enz first gig at the BL. It was a Sunday night and they were all dressed up in colorful clothes and full make up. After they played their first song the audience just stood there and it took about 10 seconds and then the cheers started. A great moment in the life of the Bondi Lifesaver!

    Posted by: Tina | September 12, 2012, 3:42 AM |

    Reply to this comment >
  3. I was in a band called ”Red Cloud” and we had scored a gig as Bo diddleys backing band on his 1974
    and 1975 tour in Oz. It was the highlight of my musical career at that time, and the memories still remain with me after all these years! I remember playing at the BL, and at that time there was a film crew recording the event! As one does when the magic has died us old rockers turn to passing on the traditions of our musical legacy onto our students.
    As it happens, one of my students commented that he had seen a video of Bo diddley playing at the
    BL doing a solo routine with the bass player (Me) a sort of ”call and answer thing”
    Unfortunately the student left the school before I had a chance to sus him out on which site or where he had seen it! Try as I have, I have never been able to find this illusive video! If any one can help, i will be forever in their debt! From Bo’s recommendation we also scored the Chuck berry tour the next year, how lucky can some folks be! Memories ”Like the cornice of my mind”
    Fortunately i had the opportunity to see Bo on his last tour in Oz, and catch up, but the legend is gone!

    Posted by: Tony | March 31, 2013, 9:03 PM |

    Reply to this comment >
    • Hi Tony, I’d love a more detailed story from you to include in the book! Please email me at craig@skullbug.com if you’re interested. It’d be great if we can track that video down. Here’s a book update for those who are interested:

      ** MAY 2013 BOOK UPDATE: Many punters, musos and industry people have already contributed to the book including Anthony O’Grady, Donnie Sutherland, Michael Chugg, Broderick Smith, Marcia Hines, Dave Warner, Ronnie ‘Rockwell T James’ Peel, Warren ‘Pig’ Morgan (Billy Thorpe etc), John Paul Young, Peter Koppes (Limazine, the Church), Neale Johns (Blackfeather), Warwick Fraser (Blackfeather), Buzz Bidstrup (the Angels), Chane Chane (La Femme), Ken Murdoch (Taste, Texas), Ken Gormly (Cruel Sea), Greg Morris (Johnny Dole & the Scabs), Gillian Eastoe, Michael Parks (Jimmy & the Boys) and many more…

      Posted by: Craig Griffiths | June 11, 2013, 3:30 PM |

      Reply to this comment >
  4. I always wanted to do a coffee table book with pictures of all the old bands playing there and their own comments, if still alive. Fondest moments were spent there, if only I could remember them all. Thanks for the memories !

    Posted by: Valerie long | April 2, 2013, 6:13 PM |

    Reply to this comment >
  5. Many glorious nights spent there in the late 70s. Chief among them was watching a fledgling Cold Chisel support the Bob Spencer-era Skyhooks in mid-1978. I was there with my eternal crush, Cherie, whose ex Mick – best mates with Jimmy Barnes – was also there. Cold Chisel devoted songs to her, during a powerful set that recalled early Led Zeppelin.

    By the end of the night Mick was blotto and passed out. Jimmy and I had a quick introduction and handshake, before we each took one end of an unconscious Mick and bundled him into the back of a taxi.
    Aside from that, there was Renee Geyer – hi, rob – and many bands I just don’t remember seeing.

    Of the rest, some amazing Angels shows. In early ’79, they took the stage with Doc wearing a towel around his head – I didn’t have my glasses on and thought he was bald. That night was so full-on that, by intermission, sweat from the crowd had risen to the ceiling and was falling down like rain.

    Wonderful times!

    Posted by: Alex | April 19, 2013, 8:47 PM |

    Reply to this comment >
  6. The Swap our favourite music venue in Sydney. We first ventured from the ‘Gong to the Lifesaver as mere school boys- slightly under aged but somehow got in (probably thanks to Skyhooks Bob Spencer). So many shows- taking photos of Nick Cave and the Boys Next Door at soundcheck as they supported our beloved Skyhooks. The firemen arriving during the Hooks 2nd encore as a flashpot ignited the roof. Those incredible Split Enz shows especially Dec 15th 1979- 3 encores & just prior to True Colours. See INXS at their 3rd(?) show-with 17 people- bottom of the bill, Dalimore above them and Skyhooks headlining. Bird from Mental as Anything serving behind the bar, Angry Anderson when he was interesting & not an Abbott groupie as a DJ. Greg Macainsh posing for photos by that famous front wall- Pete Wells towering above us on the dance floor applauding the good bands and laughing at the terrible. Good times, fantastic memories- just the best gigs-ever!

    Posted by: Peter & Mark | June 22, 2013, 3:49 PM |

    Reply to this comment >
  7. Dave Warner………..JJ Cale, Peter Garrett sitting sound desk learning the craft……….The wifeswapper, A mate trying to get involved after a pushathon by overrated Rose Tattoo………raw and musically then inept..

    Posted by: ShawnB | August 18, 2013, 11:16 PM |

    Reply to this comment >
  8. NOTHING ABOUT THE GREAT “BON SCOTT” I,M TOLD HE WAS A BONDI LIFESAVERS REGULAR
    WHEN ACDC HAD A HOUSE NEAR BY!!

    Posted by: grant | September 29, 2013, 3:52 PM |

    Reply to this comment >
  9. For a Westie only recently arrived in Bondi the Lifesaver was a life-changer. Great venue, great gigs and a sense of being somewhere way cooler than Liverpool on a Saturday night. The outside garden was a God-send on a hot night where you could at least get your breath back, if not a cheap beer chucked over the fence from the car park by a mate! And when it was all done I could walk home down Bondi Road and pretend this was my Asbury Park. Thanks for the memories.

    Posted by: Wessley McGrath | December 5, 2013, 6:55 PM |

    Reply to this comment >
  10. My mates and I dispite the fact we were regulars at the BL in the middle 70′s. I remember one Saturday night at the Lifesaver with mates, Rory O’Donoghue was the house band at the time, having our usual good time. During the night, we were told that a couple of members of Bad Company (Simon Kirke and Boz Burrell) were doing a guest gig with them. However the place (and the dance floor) was packed and you couldn’t see much from where we were.

    Anyway at the end of the night we were at the bar chatting when the pommy bloke came up and started talking to us. We got friendly and he ‘bummed’ a fag from one of the smokers in the group. He introduced himself as ‘Simon’ and asked what we thought about the band. We all said things like they are really good and we mentioned stuff like Rory used to do a gig with Graham Bond (Aunty Jack). The band finished their final set with ‘Farewell Aunty Jack’, which everyone loved and would sing along. Anyway, Simon then asked us about Bad Company and we all said that they were a great band and we had bought their records. We chatted for a while when one of my mates suddenly recognised him (don’t forget it was late and we all had been haveing a good night) and said something along the lines of “Say, aren’t you Simon Kirke, Free and Bad Company drummer”? He replied yes and we all shook his hand and said great to meet you (or something like that).

    After chatting for a while, the bouncers came around and ‘encouraged everyone to finish their drinks and wander off home’ at which point Simon thanked us for the ciggie and headed off.

    I have some other good memories of the Lifesaver from that time, including a mate and I “picking up” a couple of english backpackers, but maybe that’s a memory best kept to myself. :-)

    Posted by: Artie | March 11, 2014, 4:20 PM |

    Reply to this comment >
  11. Go to http://www.colinbaldwin.com/videos/the-bondi-lifesaver-new-extended-cut
    for footage of the last gig at the ‘swap’.

    Posted by: Arthur Carruthers | June 20, 2014, 4:12 PM |

    Reply to this comment >
  12. I spent my 21st partying with friends at the lifesavers, on a Saturday night my friends and I would climb over the fence of the lifesavers to get it lol seen many good bands there ACDC, Rose Tattoo and many more the best of times they should never have closed it but if a book is coming out I would love to find how where to get it please

    Posted by: Michelle M | August 9, 2014, 9:42 PM |

    Reply to this comment >

Comment

Best Of The Archives

The Beast.