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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: or PO Box 85, Toronto NSW 2283.


  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 |

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    • I remember that. The Lifesaver with the owner’s sons wife behind the bar. Big bands galore. MarziManzil Room after ’till early morning. Those were the days. I’m sorry if this post is stuffed up.

      Posted by: Velvet Try | November 27, 2015, 10:17 PM |

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  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 |

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  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 |

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    • Hi Tony, I’d love a more detailed story from you to include in the book! Please email me at 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 |

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  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 |

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  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 |

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  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 |

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  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 |

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

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  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 |

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  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 |

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  11. Go to
    for footage of the last gig at the ‘swap’.

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

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  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 |

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  13. I was the paper boy in the area from 1973-1976 and I have very fond memories of having to go in and supply the paper to the bands that were doing sound checks,I can still clearly see ACDC and Chisel running out there own leads they would always offer me a beer, I was 7. I only wish I was old enough to get in of a night. Down the road about 100 meters, I use to live next door to Sherbet before HUSH moved in. Bernard King lived across the road with his male chauffeur ( a little blonde number) .

    Posted by: Caedmon B | October 3, 2014, 12:15 PM |

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  14. […] and Phil Rudd. Cliff played his first two shows for AC/DC in July 1977 at the legendary club “Bondi Lifesaver” in […]

    Posted by: Music Diary – 14th December | Melomane Blog | December 14, 2014, 10:23 PM |

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  15. My father, John Boorman, set up, ran & managed The Bondi Lifesaver for the owner Lionel Parks right through to the late 70’s, about a year or 2 before the place closed down.

    Unfortunately, this was a number of years before I was born but I have had the pleasure of being told countless numbers of amazing stories about the bands, musos, scallywags, gangsters, celebrities, sports stars & just the local punters who used to frequent the “Swap”.

    The place was built on the live music especially Aussie pub rock. Sadly, I don’t think my dad kept any memorabilia from the Bondi Lifesaver days but the memories and stories are everlasting.

    I’m considering on putting a type of homage website together where people can share their stories, experiences, photos, videos and memorabilia from the good old days at The Bondi Lifesaver. Keep an eye out for


    Posted by: Josh Boorman | June 26, 2015, 12:29 AM |

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    • Josh, I remember your dad, John. “The Two Johns”! I was mates with your dad and was thinking of him today after hearing the news that Daryl Braithwaite is being inducted into the Aria Hall of Fame. Hence the Google search led me here. Would love to hear news of him, if you ever get this message. Cheers

      Posted by: Ros Forrest | November 23, 2017, 3:18 PM |

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    • Hi John, it’s a bugger you didn’t flick me an email and I could’ve picked your brains and got your dad into my book, becuase nobody mentioned him, which is a shame. Anyway, it was an epic 8 year process but it’s just been printed and is available now if you’re interested

      Posted by: Craig Griffiths | January 5, 2020, 2:43 PM |

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    • oops… I meant Josh not John!

      Posted by: Craig Griffiths | January 5, 2020, 2:44 PM |

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  16. Where is your father now? I would love to catch with him. We, my husband and I had so much fun with John.

    Posted by: Velvet Try | November 27, 2015, 10:22 PM |

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  17. My first memories of the Lifesavers was from a time when I was on leave from National Service. I rocked up with 3 other nashos as we had heard it was the newest place around. On the gate at the time was a face I knew from the Cross, Bobby Barret (R.I.P) he reckoned i looked better with short hair and let me and my mates in for an insane night.After National service I ended up working in the lifesavers , picking up glasses and serving blackberry nip behind the bar. John Boorman was great bloke as was another manager Robert (forgot surname) a Bondi boy who was also a nasho, ran into him and his girlfriend in Bali later on. He had his own bar in Cronulla for a while.

    Posted by: Paul Evans | December 14, 2015, 5:21 PM |

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  18. For some fine memorabilia of some cool Australian Rock Bands visit

    Posted by: Smart Artists Memorablia | April 21, 2016, 6:41 AM |

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  19. So many great memories of the “swap”, surely the most iconic Australian music venue of the seventies. I was lucky enough to work there for 18 months as a bar useful/barman in 1975/1976. Perfect part-time job for a uni student into music and having a good time. John and his wife (Jenny?) were terrific managers who ususlly put on a feed and drinks for the staff after the 3am close. Regular favourites included Little River Band, Richard Clapton, Dragon, Split Enz, The Saints, Cold Chisel, Radio Birdman. Biggest night without doubt in the period I worked was ACDC in mid 1976. John told the staff to stand behind the bar and watch the show as it was literally impossible to move through the thickness of the crowd. Absolutely dynamic performance including the now famous Angus’s schoolboy skip and hop along the bar with the extra long lead. I can’t remember what song it was but the memory of Angus that night will live in my mind forever. Thanks John for remembering a historically important venue in Australia’s music history.

    Posted by: Pedro | July 22, 2016, 9:39 PM |

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  20. Its so interesting to listen to everyone and their stories about lifesavers.
    My dad is john parkes hence my grandfather lionel parkes and yet i do not know much if anything about the establishment. So these insights are very cool to hear about

    Posted by: Sam | October 28, 2016, 10:32 PM |

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    • I knew your Grand Father Lionel well, I did all the plumbing, draining and gas fitting on the Bondi Life Saver when it was being converted into a wine bar and night spot.

      Lionel also had an inseparable mate little Ernie. Rumor at the time was that the ex milkman Lionel Parkes owned half of Bondi Junction.

      They were the good old days.

      Posted by: David | January 2, 2022, 8:39 AM |

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  21. My memories of the Bondi Lifesaver was of me being a young guy from Bondi Junction and one of teh Thomo’s Bay Bommie kneeboard riders who used to also be one of those well under age lads standing tall and walking in before ID cards etc existed. I remember seeing the first American black woman I had even seen (not on TV) perform at the BLS. Marcia Hines – she had the most fantastic voice going. She summoned me to come up on stage during a song, but I was so scared of being caught underage, I slid into the crowd. The BLS – one of the wonders of the world!!

    Posted by: Frank Mendham | November 11, 2016, 9:27 PM |

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  22. I too remember all those great bands but the best night was Angus running along the bar knocking over my cider and later slicing my foot as I had thongs on rushed to rpa hospital then a week later they banned thongs awesome venue

    Posted by: Pekka vainio | January 6, 2018, 4:48 PM |

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  23. Saw Dr Robbie Muller today at the jungo and we had a talk about the Lifesaver, he has the original sign in hs garage,, Told me Monty Webber took some pics of it..

    Posted by: Graham O'Connell | February 19, 2019, 12:39 AM |

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  24. Great article, brings back hazy memories of some epic sessions in that joint. Those were the days!

    Posted by: Jimmy | September 20, 2019, 4:19 PM |

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  25. I can’t find any website with information on the bondi lifesaver apart from this one. If anyone is interested in putting up a website drop me a line as I would like to be a part of it:

    Posted by: Masters of Digital | February 12, 2020, 9:35 PM |

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  26. I was in a band called Freefall that managed to snag a few gigs there supporting , Russell Morris and Mondo Rock . I also remember a support for the Hitmen where Johhny Kannis heckled us and I thought he and our guitarist were going to have it out in the dressing room after our set. The Lifesaver was the gig to get for an aspiring band apart from the Stage Door in those days. I remember many a night when not performing getting there early and imbibing too much , flaking out in the garden and remarkably recovering for the main act after midnight.

    Posted by: Chad | November 28, 2020, 5:45 PM |

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  27. Al Roberts ( Who later became The Joe Cocker Show around Australia) and ran The Lifesaver for a while is still kicking in Newcastle. I have sat and listened and laughed with him so many times with all the stories from his times there.
    Growing up in Newcastle we had “The Palais” which sounds like Newcastle’s version of The Lifesaver.
    If you need some great true stories from The Lifesaver , get hold of Al but be prepared for some serious laughs.

    Posted by: Andrew | September 3, 2021, 9:40 AM |

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