Far South Coast Surf Life Saving receives Community Fellowship Award for Black Summer efforts

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The Far South Coast Branch of Surf Life Saving NSW is being awarded the prestigious Community Fellowship Award by the University of Wollongong for members’ outstanding efforts during the Black Summer bushfire crisis. The UOW launched the Community Fellowship Award in 2015 and since its inauguration it has only been bestowed to three other organisations. A UOW spokesperson said the award was the highest honour the university could bestow in recognition of a community organisation. “The Community Fellowship Award recognises the contribution of communities and organisations for their outstanding leadership in one or more of the University’s communities, and the provision of services that transform lives and communities,” said the spokesperson. The FSC Branch stretches from Batemans Bay all the way to the Victorian border and includes seven different clubs, which became vital for distributing food and providing shelter during the bushfires. “It’s very humbling, none of us are really in it for the awards, but I’m very proud of all the people around us,” FSC branch president Tony Rettke said “Rather than we need or deserve an award, we certainly love that our friends are being acknowledged of course.” Director of Lifesaving for the FSC branch Cheryl McCarthy said the “beauty of this award” was that it recognised the whole team. “No matter what contribution people made, everything they did really came together to have a significant impact on people, so recognising the team as one is always a big deal,” she said. READ ALSO: Mr Rettke said during the fires thousands of people flocked to the surf clubs to get closer to the coast and access parking, toilet and shower facilities, bedding, shelter, and help from the SLSC volunteers. The FSC branch members also performed searches up and down the river and lake systems on jet skis and boats to check if people or animals had fled into in the water systems. Throughout the month of December 2019 and leading up the the NYE fire that swept over the region, crews up and down the coast performed welfare checks on people at the beaches and brought food to RFS members. “The fires were something that showed the community and really cemented our faces not just as between the flags,” said Ms McCarthy. “Our role has always been seen as between the red and yellow flags, but I think the emergency situations over the last couple of years have really shown our diverse skillsets.” There were also a number of surf club members from all over the country who were on the Far South Coast for the George Bass Marathon surf boat race from Batemans Bay to Eden. Many of those members assisted the local club in distributing food, performing first aid, and helping the gathered crowds. READ ALSO: “About 150 of them happened to be camping out the back of the Bermagui surf club and so when all hell broke lose… they just jumped into action, it was first of all what do you need us to do, and they just looked around and didn’t need direction, they saw what work looked like and made a contribution.” By the time people had been appropriately evacuated some surf clubs, such as Bermagui, were reverted to being used as zones for emergency services personnel. Other clubs, such as Batemans Bay, became a community centre for the following two weeks where people could access power and collect grocery items. It also became somewhat of a meeting place and activities and games were set up to create that sense of community connection. “People who just needed to see some familiar faces and have that human contact found it really helpful to have that opportunity to go in and just talk to someone else about their experiences,” said Ms McCarthy. “Surf clubs tend to be community gathering spaces and not just in bad times, but in good times as well,” she said. Both Ms McCarthy and Mr Rettke said being SLSC members felt like being part of a big family where someone was always willing to go out of their way to help out. FSC branch members estimated they would have assisted over 10,000 people at the clubs during the Black Summer bushfires.

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The Far South Coast Branch of Surf Life Saving NSW is being awarded the prestigious Community Fellowship Award by the University of Wollongong for members’ outstanding efforts during the Black Summer bushfire crisis.

People gathered around and within Bermagui Surf Life Saving Club during the Black Summer Bushfires. Photo: Andrew Worssam

People gathered around and within Bermagui Surf Life Saving Club during the Black Summer Bushfires. Photo: Andrew Worssam

The UOW launched the Community Fellowship Award in 2015 and since its inauguration it has only been bestowed to three other organisations.

A UOW spokesperson said the award was the highest honour the university could bestow in recognition of a community organisation.

“The Community Fellowship Award recognises the contribution of communities and organisations for their outstanding leadership in one or more of the University’s communities, and the provision of services that transform lives and communities,” said the spokesperson.

The FSC Branch stretches from Batemans Bay all the way to the Victorian border and includes seven different clubs, which became vital for distributing food and providing shelter during the bushfires.

People gathered at Batemans Bay SLSC. Picture supplied

People gathered at Batemans Bay SLSC. Picture supplied

“It’s very humbling, none of us are really in it for the awards, but I’m very proud of all the people around us,” FSC branch president Tony Rettke said

“Rather than we need or deserve an award, we certainly love that our friends are being acknowledged of course.”

Director of Lifesaving for the FSC branch Cheryl McCarthy said the “beauty of this award” was that it recognised the whole team.

“No matter what contribution people made, everything they did really came together to have a significant impact on people, so recognising the team as one is always a big deal,” she said.

Mr Rettke said during the fires thousands of people flocked to the surf clubs to get closer to the coast and access parking, toilet and shower facilities, bedding, shelter, and help from the SLSC volunteers.

SLS teams on a beach reconnaissance north of Batemans Bay. Picture supplied

SLS teams on a beach reconnaissance north of Batemans Bay. Picture supplied

The FSC branch members also performed searches up and down the river and lake systems on jet skis and boats to check if people or animals had fled into in the water systems.

Throughout the month of December 2019 and leading up the the NYE fire that swept over the region, crews up and down the coast performed welfare checks on people at the beaches and brought food to RFS members.

“The fires were something that showed the community and really cemented our faces not just as between the flags,” said Ms McCarthy.

“Our role has always been seen as between the red and yellow flags, but I think the emergency situations over the last couple of years have really shown our diverse skillsets.”

Evacuees at Bermagui Surf Club during the Black Summer bushfires. Picture supplied

Evacuees at Bermagui Surf Club during the Black Summer bushfires. Picture supplied

There were also a number of surf club members from all over the country who were on the Far South Coast for the George Bass Marathon surf boat race from Batemans Bay to Eden. Many of those members assisted the local club in distributing food, performing first aid, and helping the gathered crowds.

“About 150 of them happened to be camping out the back of the Bermagui surf club and so when all hell broke lose… they just jumped into action, it was first of all what do you need us to do, and they just looked around and didn’t need direction, they saw what work looked like and made a contribution.”

By the time people had been appropriately evacuated some surf clubs, such as Bermagui, were reverted to being used as zones for emergency services personnel.

Batemans Bay SLSC, which became a community recovery centre. Picture supplied

Batemans Bay SLSC, which became a community recovery centre. Picture supplied

Other clubs, such as Batemans Bay, became a community centre for the following two weeks where people could access power and collect grocery items.

It also became somewhat of a meeting place and activities and games were set up to create that sense of community connection.

“People who just needed to see some familiar faces and have that human contact found it really helpful to have that opportunity to go in and just talk to someone else about their experiences,” said Ms McCarthy.

“Surf clubs tend to be community gathering spaces and not just in bad times, but in good times as well,” she said.

Both Ms McCarthy and Mr Rettke said being SLSC members felt like being part of a big family where someone was always willing to go out of their way to help out.

FSC branch members estimated they would have assisted over 10,000 people at the clubs during the Black Summer bushfires.

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