Living proof that you can’t keep a good cause down, the Townsville Picnic Bay Surf Life Saving Club has survived wars and cyclones to keep serving the community.
The Townsville Picnic Bay Surf Life Saving Club (had humble beginnings when, in 1927, a packed meeting in the old dance hall on top of the Picnic Bay shop decided the Club should be formed.
“About 60 young men (including members of the North Townsville Life Saving Club) were represented at the meeting, with everyone eager to get the new club going,” says Life Member and Club Historian Deanne Dowker. “The first clubhouse was a 3.5 x 3.5 metre building with a large bell above the roof. Its main purpose was to store equipment but the odd ‘larrikin’ was known to ring the bell at all hours of the night, and it could be heard all over the bay.”
A year after the club was affiliated a young girl drowned in Alma Bay, which sparked off the formation of the Arcadian SLSC. The two clubs held regular carnivals that were a popular attraction, with the Cairns Surf Club the first to visit Magnetic Island. “Lifesaving had gained tremendous support in most northern areas and then came the boom period in the mid 1930s,” Deanne says. “A better clubhouse was erected in 1937 as the movement progressed but this was badly damaged in the cyclone of 1940. Eddie Stannett undertook the task of rebuilding the clubhouse – a beautiful art-deco style construction.”
When World War II came scores of lifesavers answered the call. Activities were suspended for the duration of the War and most of the trophies were placed in safe-keeping in Townsville. Some members paid the ultimate sacrifice in the war.
“The late Burkie Hammett (Life Member) managed the affairs of the club during the war years and afterwards spared no time or energy resurrecting it,” Deanne says. “The Committee set about establishing a dormitory building, repairing and painting the clubhouse, reviving social events and recommencing bronze medallion examinations and carnival participations.”
In late 1946 Burkie Hammett set his sights on acquiring an ex-WRAN building located on The Strand. To fund the purchase, he ran the first big raffle with a car as a prize. Members contributed their time in dismantling the building, transporting it to Picnic Bay and reconstructing it. By September 1947, the double-story dormitory building was in place.
In an effort to beautify the Picnic Bay area and to provide shade for visitors, Burkie Hammett organised the planting of trees along the Esplanade at Picnic Bay and the large fig trees on the foreshore today survive from those originally planted by Burkie and his helpers.
“The 1950s and 1960s were boom years for Picnic Bay and by early 1952 the clubhouse and dormitory building had been repainted in preparation for the State Titles hosted by Picnic Bay at Kissing Point on the weekend of 16-17 February, 1952,” Deanne says.
It wasn’t until 1955 that electricity was connected to Picnic Bay and Nelly Bay from the mainland, and in 1957 it was connected to the club facilities. By this time, the high cost of repairs and maintenance in up-keeping the clubhouse and dormitory was a cause for concern and the Committee favoured the construction of new facilities. It was agreed to continue using the existing buildings for the ensuing few years until funds could be raised for the new building, which was completed in the 1966/67 season.
“The first clubhouse was a 3.5 x 3.5 metre building with a large bell above the roof. Its main purpose was to store equipment but the odd ‘larrikin’ was known to ring the bell at all hours of the night, and it could be heard all over the bay.”
The Official Opening was held December 3, 1966, with the mayor in attendance and presentations taking place in front of the clubhouse on a large platform that had been created by blasting and levelling a huge rock on the beach.
“The old art-deco styled clubhouse was used to store gear and equipment, however, when Cyclone Althea hit on Christmas Eve in 1971 it was destroyed,” Deanne says. “The new clubhouse was also extensively damaged but insurance fully covered this.”
Over the years, from the 1970s to the present time, additions, upgrades, repairs and maintenance have ensured the clubhouse remains as a testament to the hard work and compassion of club members. “Picnic Bay extended its presence in 1999, heading back to include the mainland. Back to Townsville – back to its origins,” Deanne says.
“Picnic Bay members patrol at both Townsville and Picnic Bay and it was decided to reflect this in the club’s future. In 2010 members voted to incorporate Townsville into the name, making it the Townsville Picnic Bay Surf Life Saving Club.”
With two major celebrations coming up in the forthcoming season – the club’s 90th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the island clubhouse – it’s an exciting time for members. Anyone interested in attending the celebrations can contact the club on 4724 4211 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
For information about joining the Townsville Picnic Bay Surf Life Saving Club visit www.tpbslsc.com.au