Life’s a Beach… Trent Maxwell
Trent ‘Maxi’ Maxwell came to prominence as a knockabout lifeguard on Channel Ten’s Logie-winning reality TV series Bondi Rescue. We caught up with him for a quick chat as 2017 came to a close…
I was down at the beach and met you on your very first day working at Bondi, I think you were only 16 years old? Yeah, I was 16, somewhere around that. That was ten years ago, I’m 26 now.
And how’s it been, the last ten years? Yeah, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster, it’s been awesome. I’ve basically been lifeguarding for the last eleven seasons. I started up as a trainee – a work experience trainee – and then as a seasonal, then as a full time lifeguard. The last two years I’ve been working for Fire and Rescue NSW.
Where are you living these days? I’m living in Bellevue Hill.
Where did you grow up? I grew up in Brighton-Le-Sands but mum and dad used to drive my sister and I to South Maroubra Surf Club pretty much every afternoon and every weekend to do surf lifesaving at South Maroubra. That’s where I did my nippers and that’s where my grassroots pretty much came from. I spent a lot of time at Maroubra Beach when I was a kid and I went to school at Marcellin College, so my schooling and sport and hanging out has always been in the Eastern Suburbs, down towards Maroubra.
What did your parents do for work in Brighton? Mum was a hairdresser, then when she had me she brushed that. Dad’s a bricklayer, I’m pretty sure bricky Bob’s laying a thousand as we speak.
What do you love about the Eastern Suburbs? I love the diversity that you get around here. Everyone’s got different backgrounds, different cultures, different everything. And when you’re on the beach – working on the beach – you see everyone coming together as locals, it’s just great to see. It’s such a beautiful part of the world. I’ve been to Europe, I’ve been to America, but nothing beats Australia and the Eastern Suburbs.
And what annoys you about the Eastern Suburbs? Are there any little gripes you have? Working at Bondi over the years, I’ve been frustrated by some of the tourists and visitors to the area not respecting the beach with their rubbish and littering. That’s a big thing for me, the amount of rubbish is out of control. Hats off to the parkies and the cleaners; they’re there every afternoon after a hot summer’s day and they make the beach look immaculate.
Do you have any favourite local haunts where you like to have a drink or a feed? I like to get down to Skinny Dip on Hall Street. Ruben down there always looks after me with his bacon and egg wraps and his piccolos. He’s a legend, he’s very accommodating and always up for a good laugh and a chat.
How did you wind up at Bondi wearing your lifeguard uniform when I first met you ten years ago? There are ambo’s and police in my family and I always wanted to be a fireman. When I was eight or nine years old, I had an interest in surf lifesaving from doing nippers. I used to compete in all the carnivals and I started to fall in love with it. I was in year 10 and I was either going to be a tradie or do work experience as a lifeguard. From memory, I hit Brad Rope from Maroubra up and asked if I could do work experience at Randwick lifeguards. He informed me that you needed to be 18 years old to be a lifeguard on the beach as a council worker and I was like, “Yeah, no worries.” So I did a bit of scouting around for the two weeks work experience at school and Hoppo (Bruce Hopkins) got back to me and said, “Yeah mate, you can come in for a week.” I did my work experience – cleaning windows and just doing all the tower duties and stuff like that – and then I asked Hoppo if I could do every Monday for the rest of the year while I was at school. I don’t know how I was allowed to – I’d never really heard of it happening before – but the school said, “Yeah, every Monday for the rest of the year in Year 10 you can work down the beach.” I just wanted to make sure I did everything right, so I worked hard and trained hard, and then in November Hoppo offered me a traineeship starting the following February. I did that for three years until I was about 19, then I was offered a seasonal spot and did full time for the remainder of the years. Then, in 2016, I started as a firefighter at the college out at Alexandria.
How difficult was it to get into the fireys? I’ve always known it was going to be hard, even as a young kid talking to my uncle who was in the job. As soon as I turned 18 I applied. I tried every year from the age of 18 to 23, and I finally got accepted when I was 24, so I tried six times and I got in on my seventh go. Persistence is key, if anyone is listening! If you really want something that bad you will study for it and work hard for it; I just wasn’t taking no for an answer. It worked out well because, now that I look back on it, when I got in at 24 was a good age. I had a bit of life experience behind me and it’s a full-on job, a big community job, so everything has kind of aligned for me to get in. I kept trying and I finally got in and I am still pinching myself.
There must be a lot of skills that you can use across both jobs? There are definitely a lot of skills that I’ve taken from working on the beach for the last eleven years to the fireys, especially the medical stuff and dealing with the public – managing altercations and stuff like that. And also from the fireys to the beach, because I am still on the beaches as a casual. The community stuff that we do, the team work – lifeguarding is very big on team work and in the fireys we are spending 24 hours with a crew.
Have you had to pull a cat out of a tree yet? Mate, funnily enough, there’s been no cat out of a tree yet. Working in Redfern, it’s just far enough away from the Eastern Beaches that I don’t see too many people I know either, but it’s still pretty close. Redfern’s quite busy, we’ve got a lot of housing commission and in the last two years being there I’ve noticed a little bit of a change in the area. Zetland is really starting to go up a lot more, there’s a lot of Meriton Apartments, Green Square’s half way through getting built, so even Redfern is changing. They’re eventually going to get rid of the Housing Commission towers that have been there since the ‘70s.
Bondi Rescue is about to air its 13th season, which is incredible; how has the show, and the fame that has come with it, changed you? I wouldn’t say it has changed me, but it’s definitely given me more of an open mind and an opportunity to help people – not just in the water, but chatting to people that are having a bad day and trying to do stuff for charity. There have been a lot of opportunities over the years to meet some great people – plenty of inspiration – and I just thrive on that to be honest. Like I said, I don’t come from a luxury background – dad’s still laying bricks – and I just try and keep a level head and treat everyone the same, whether you are a homeless person or the richest bloke I know, you just treat everyone equally and help whoever is in need.
There have been a lot of drownings in New South Wales this summer; do you think the show has gone a way to reducing these? Yeah, for sure. I think that over the years, for a little while there, we were pretty lucky, we didn’t have too many resuscitations on the beaches. But in the last couple of years there’s been a few creep through. We’re lucky that we got most of them back, but we still get a lot of tourists that get into trouble. There’s still work to be done in that respect, but there’s definitely plenty of tourists that have watched the show overseas or around Australia that come to the beach and have more of an idea. You do hear them say, “We’ve got to swim up between the flags.”
If you were the minister in charge of water safety, if there was such a position, what would you do to make things better? Basically, I would just get it out there and say that swimming is a skill, not a fear. A lot of people seem to think that swimming is something that you can just do without any experience, but it is actually an acquired skill and if you don’t have that skill you could potentially drown. So you have to get it into their heads to learn how to swim. It doesn’t matter if you’re from the bush or you’re from a country where there’s no water, we’ve got the Bondi Icebergs and down at Bronte we’ve got the Bogey Hole. We’ve got plenty of safe places where you can go and enjoy the water, so don’t jump into the open ocean if you can’t handle it.
Is there enough foreign language signage at the beaches? There’s a bit here and there. I know the council hands out brochures in different languages to people visiting the beach, which is a smart initiative. Maybe they could do some sort of announcement on the buses that come from the Bondi Junction interchange. You go to any other country and they make announcements on public transport, so it wouldn’t hurt to say, “Guys, we’re coming up to Bondi Beach (or any of the other local beaches) so if you are going to go swimming, swim between the red and yellow flags.”
Can you tell us about some of the more hectic rescues you’ve done, especially that one you did at Bondi the other week? Over the years I’ve been thrown in the deep end a few times. The other week I was working with Boo, who just started on the beach, and Jackson Doolan and Chappo. We were putting the jetski away at ten past six when we got a call to go down to the south end where someone was in trouble. As we got there, I noticed half way down that someone was floating face down, half way out the back just off the Icebergs. I immediately started getting undressed, then I was straight out there without hesitation. One of the other local guys that ran down from the hill, Blake, helped me grab the guy and we got him on the board. We noticed that he was, you know, he wasn’t good. I started doing one hand compressions as I was dragging the board back in, then Boo come out and Blake helped me carry him out and resuscitated him for six minutes. We got the pads on, then we did another two minutes of CPR and he started to come to. We had to roll him a few times, he was full of water, but we got him back and from what I’ve heard he was actually talking the next day.
So this guy was actually dead? Yeah mate, yeah, he was.
No pulse, no breathing, no signs of life at all? As I got to him he was full of water, foaming at the mouth, eyes open, no colour. You could just tell, and I knew I had to act quickly. I had to get him in as quick as I could, and luckily everything kind of worked in my favour. The bank was pretty long, so I managed to drag him along the bank, get him up the beach, drain him, roll him, and once I was on that chest I wasn’t getting off it until the defibrilator pads were on, hence why I did six minutes of straight CPR. I think that after the first minute he didn’t have much of a chest left – I gave it a good pump – but it doesn’t matter how hard you do them, he’s living, he’s breathing, hats off to everyone that helped out.
How does it feel to bring someone back from the dead? When you get home that night and you sit in your room or whatever, what goes through your head? You’re always thinking about what things you could have done better, or if this went wrong or if this went right. I suppose you just have a bit of reflection on yourself and it makes you feel a little bit weird. At the end of the day, it’s our job. You don’t want any accolades or any medals or anything for it, it’s our job, and we put ourselves in these situations to help people. I’m very fortunate that I’ve learnt the skills and had these experiences over the last ten years to be able to do it, but you still think about things that could’ve gone better. You’re constantly learning. It doesn’t matter if it’s saving someone’s life or walking down the street, you’re constantly learning new things in life and you’ve just got to take it all on board.
But you feel pretty bloody good, right? Yeah, you do, you feel pretty good.
When you save someone’s life like that, do you generally meet them afterwards or do you never see them again? We have in the past. About five years ago I resuscitated a guy and five days later he came down and said thankyou. That was pretty amazing. But the word that I heard from this guy that I saved the other week was that he doesn’t want to make contact, or to see any of the guys who helped him because, you know, he was dead and I think it scares a few people knowing that someone had his life in their hands. If we didn’t have the necessary skills, or if things didn’t work in our favour to get him back to shore quickly enough, it could have been a very different outcome.
Who’s the biggest legend you’ve ever worked with? H-Man for sure, Harry Nightingale the legend. There’s still a shrine in Tamarama tower. Honestly, he’s one of the nicest, best, humblest, crazy storied people I know. He’s such a legend.
The new season of Bondi Rescue airs in March; can you give us a little sneak preview of what to expect in that series? They only started filming last week, around December 20, and a week prior to that we had two resuscitations, so it’s been a busy start to the year, but all I’ve seen so far is Harries in a Santa suit. I’ve been away the last couple of days, but I’m sure it’s going to be an action-packed series, it always is. There are only ten episodes this season, so it will be even more action-packed than usual, and we’ll continue to push the water safety awareness message out to people around the world.
Are you interested in politics? Are you passionate about any particular issues? I’m not that passionate about politics, but if I was to get into it I’d definitely throw a bit more money towards mental health and suicide prevention. That’s still a massive issue in society and, as a lifeguard, over the years I’ve dealt with tragic incidents with people going off the cliffs. And being a fireman, you hear the odd story about unfortunate events happening around the city and out west. It’s still an ongoing issue, so I’d try and raise a bit more money for mental health and suicide prevention.
Are suicide rates in Australia worse than other Western countries? Yeah, they actually are.
Why do you think that is? Why in Australia, where life is so good for the vast majority, are people feeling like that? You can have a great childhood, or have great things happen to you throughout your life, and then when those things die off, you’ve got nowhere to go. You feel like, you know, it’s a dead end street and you can’t go anywhere. I think drug use is a big thing as well. Too much drug use, especially around Australia, you hear about a lot of people getting involved in that. Alcohol and gambling too. People can just feel like they are in a dead end street, but they’ve got to realise that the road’s a road – it might be a dead end road but you’ve got footpaths that can still lead you back out, back onto the main road and on to something better.
Do you work with any specific charities? I just did Movember. Myself and the guys at Redfern Fire Station raised over $1,000, which goes towards mental health and men’s health, so it’s good to be a part of that. Every couple of years I do something different, and now that I’m a fireman I’m trying to raise some funds for the Children’s Burns Unit out at Westmead as well. I like to throw a bit of passion into different areas and do what I can. The next big thing for me is a charity fireys bike ride from Wagga Wagga to Westmead Children’s Hospital on March 19. I think it is 450 kilometres in total. Basically, when we get to Westmead we hand the Children’s Burns Unit a big fat cheque of all the money we’ve raised over the last couple of months. We’ll visit schools along the way to teach fire safety to the kids. Check out www.400in4.org if you get a minute. I’m also an ambassador for Royal Life Saving UK, where I help spread awareness for their kids Rookie Lifeguard program. I just did an amazing trip to the UK and hope to get back there soon. Back in 2013, Jessie Pollock and I rode jetskis from Sydney to Cairns for Headspace – The Ride East Coast. We raised awareness for mental health and suicide prevention by speaking to people about suicide and mental health along the way.
What advice would you give to aspiring kids who want to get a start on the beach or with the fireys? A few people have hit me up about this over the years – how to become a lifeguard and, even more recently, how to become a fireman. Basically, it comes down to persistence. If there’s 100 applicants getting accepted out of 8,000 for the fireys, you need to make sure you’re in that 100 by living and breathing it – studying hard, going to fire stations, talking to people, gaining as much knowledge as you possibly can. For the lifeguards, spend time down at the beach. Come down and introduce yourself and show that you’re keen. A ‘no’ doesn’t hurt. If you get a ‘no’, then it’s just a ‘no’ – at least you won’t die wondering. Every step you take leads you down a path to somewhere, the decisions we make regarding which path to take make us who we are today. Just make it happy and positive and just go for it, because anything is possible and life’s too short to worry about failure.
Are there any new projects that you’re working on at the moment? Yes, there are a couple. I’m just about to launch my own business called Live, Learn, Survive. Basically, it’s an interactive workshop to teach kids and young adults about fire safety and water safety. We try and make it a two-hour fun, interactive experience. We’re approaching schools – we’ve got a few schools locked in for early next year – but schools, universities, backpackers, and anywhere where we can spread a bit of water and fire safety are the target market. I’m bringing out three kids’ fictional water safety books – two later this year and one early next year. There will be a series of Lifeguard Maxi children’s books, with a lot of life experiences that I’ve had and references to how I was brought up and how I perceive things.
You’ve got some interesting tattoos, including ‘Life’s a beach’ on your back, and a Southern Cross on your chest; what does that tattoo mean to you? Does it upset you that this great Aussie symbol has been hijacked by dickheads? I just take it in my stride to be honest. I know I’m a good person, and I know that I do a lot of good, so I’m proud of it. I got it done in Bali when I was 15 and I don’t regret it. I’m proud to be Australian, I know that over the years unfortunate things have happened, but I just block out all the negativity because I’m proud to be Australian and I’m proud to help other Australians too. Day in, day out, if I’m not working on the beach I’m at the fire station, and if I’m not at the fire station I’m doing something for charity. So, you know, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Who would you say are your role models? Role models? I look up to a lot people. I’ve met a lot of cool people over the years and I’ve looked up to a lot of them. I suppose I try and take a little bit of the good qualities out of everyone that I meet. That could be something very small, or it could be something much bigger. Everyone’s got their faults, and if you aspire to be just like one person, or a few people, you might pick up their faults as well, so I like to adopt the good qualities of the different people that I meet, to mould myself into a bigger and better person.
I’ve heard that you’re in love; who is this lucky girl and can you tell us a little bit about her please? I’ve been with Tahlia for five and a bit years now. She’s a country Victorian girl, moved to Sydney five years ago and we met a couple of months after that.
Where did you meet? We met at the Sheaf Hotel, down at Double Bay, and now we live together, we travel together, and we’re looking forward to making many more memories together in the future.
So can we expect wedding bells and some mini Maxis soon? 2020, a 2020 wedding. 2020… it just rolls off the tongue! I think I’m in the end zone, I’m getting close. There’s been a bit of pressure lately; her sister got married a couple months ago and a few people are going, “You guys are next,” so we’ll see how we go, but like I said, everything’s fantastic.
Do you plan on taking the leap and leaving Australia to work overseas? Or are you happy here? I’m happy to live and work in Australia. It took me six years to get into the Fire Brigade, so I won’t be giving that up any time soon. I love being a fireman, I love being a lifeguard, and I love living in Sydney. Honestly, I’ve been to Europe, I’ve been to America, I’ve been to Asia – nothing beats Australia. I know that’s a bit biased, but it’s just such a great country. Hopefully I get to do more travelling around Australia soon.
In an ideal world, what does the future hold for Trent ‘Maxi’ Maxwell? I’d like to stay on the beach for a couple more years as a casual. It’s good that the fireys is rank-based, so hopefully I can work my way through the ranks as a fireman. I want to have a healthy, happy family, and just stay inspired and keep on doing good in the world. I hope that the water safety books and these Live, Learn, Survive fire and water safety workshops really take off, so I can keep teaching all of the experiences I’ve had and all the cool things I’ve been taught over the years.
Life’s a beach? Life’s a beach… yeah, life’s a beach.