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Rewriting History: The Origins of South Maroubra Surf Club

By Sarah Healey on November 12, 2014 in News

Photo: Bob Wurth

Photo: Bob Wurth

The history of the Surf Life Saving Association is deeply entrenched in Australia’s narrative, and for over 100 years valiant men and women have saved countless lives from the wild grasp of Mother Nature. Many of our surf clubs along the Eastern Beaches were formally established in the early 1900s onwards, when surf bathing became an increasingly popular pastime and the need for lifesavers became necessary.

Until recently, the South Maroubra Surf Club was thought to have been established in 1959. However, back in 1963 the club’s then junior captain Bob Wurth found a reference to a South Maroubra Surf Club of 1907 in a Surf Lifesaving magazine, and knew there was more to the club’s history than met the eye.

“I took the evidence to the club committee and they said I didn’t have a great deal of evidence, with one official making the classic remark, ‘They were probably all just a bunch of drunks!’ But I knew there was more to the story,” Mr Wurth told The Beast.

It wasn’t until earlier this year that Mr Wurth decided to resume his research into his beloved club. Delving into the dusty archives of the Mitchell Library, he came across handwritten minutes by one of the club’s founders, E.S. Marks (after whom E.S. Marks Athletics Field is named), along with newspapers of the era and several other documents that proved to be priceless primary sources to validate his initial findings. He has chronicled his discoveries in an illustrated booklet named Origins of a Surf Club.

These early lifesavers were anything but ‘a bunch of drunks’. In fact, the minutes of 1907 and 1908 reveal that South Maroubra’s founders were among the cream of Sydney society.

“Many were from the medical world. The club president in 1908 was gynaecologist Dr Cedric Bowker. Others included his brother, Dr Robert Steer Bowker, an honorary surgeon at Sydney Hospital for over 30 years, senior surgeon and obstetrician Dr Jack Windeyer, head and neck specialist, Dr Herbert Maitland, who was later knighted, and many others,” Wurth said. Businessmen and sportsmen alike also formed part of the informal Pioneers Swimmers Camp, also known as the ‘Doctor’s Camp’, for obvious reasons.

In 1908 both South Maroubra and Maroubra Surf Clubs were forced to amalgamate, as the newly established Surf Bathers’ Association originally only allowed one surf club at each beach.

Local historian Tom Symonds (Honorary Secretary of the Seals Club and member of the Maroubra SLSC for over 60 years) agrees that there was a group of “southern men” at Maroubra that congregated at the time, but stopped short of calling them an official ‘surf club’.

“There was the northern group and the southern group, which was actually based in the centre of the beach where the present day pavilion is. When the Surf Lifesaving Association came into being, the two of them decided to merge,” Mr Symonds explained.

“South Maroubra started officially in 1959, and was a breakaway from Malabar SLSC, which folded because of the pollution. A group of them came across and started South Maroubra, and were spearheaded by Kevin Quinn and Bill Lucas.”

According to Mr Wurth, which club came first matters very little, as both groups formed into ‘surf clubs’ within months of each other and then amalgamated as one club under the name of Maroubra Surf Club in 1908.

“Maroubra Surf Club has been there with a very long and proud tradition dating back to 1907 and informally a couple of years earlier than that,” Wurth said. “So when someone comes along and says, ‘Wait a minute, we were there too as a formal club in 1907, formed just a couple of months after you,’ I can understand how this would be difficult for some people to take on board, particularly when they haven’t seen the evidence such as the archives.”

Wurth’s findings have undoubtedly shed new light on the origins of the South Maroubra Surf Club. You can find Bob Wurth’s booklet, Origins of a Surf Club, at any Randwick library, or you can contact Bob via his website, www.bobwurth.com.

1 COMMENT. SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

  1. If Bob’s comment with respect to the “Surf Bathers Association” is correct why were two Club’s allowed to stay on Bondi. It certainly would have resulted in a different history at Bondi.

    Posted by: Peter Quartly | November 15, 2014, 7:49 PM |

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