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Manly Life Saving Club has a rich history dating from 1903 (see below). Call us to find out more about our Museum tours (by appointment only). Tour and school groups welcome.

Our volunteer Heritage Committee will be grateful to receive club or surfing memorabilia. Please contact the club on 9977 2742.

A brief recap of how Manly Life Saving Club was born
Before 1902 it was illegal to swim in the surf in daylight hours and many of the young Manly locals regarded this as wowserism. And so it was that William Gocher, Editor of The North Sydney and Manly News (later to evolve into today’s Manly Daily newspaper) decided to take a stand which would ultimately also boost circulation of his newspaper. William was not a confident swimmer so, as the legendary Arthur Lowe, foundation member of Manly Life Saving Club writes in his 1958 book Surfing, Surf Shooting and Surf Life Saving Pioneering, he was approached by to hide nearby in case he got into difficulties.

William Gocher completed his daylight swim and was literally dragged off by the local constabulary. Nevertheless his stunt crystallised the issue in the minds of the wider public and the politicians reacted, changed the law and daylight swimming was permitted.

So all day bathing became popular and with it growing crowds who had never been in the surf before. Unfortunately, people drowned and rescues became commonplace with the local experienced surfers being the ones called upon to do the rescuing. The birth of Manly Surf and Life Saving Club was imminent.

In 1903 the Manly locals including some Council Aldermen decided to get organised and Arthur Lowe was there with his mates at the beginning.

Arthur Lowe wrote that in 1903 he attended a small gathering of the older surfers and aldermen, at their request, at the South Steyne area. Alderman Quirk asked him if he had rescued a man at Freshwater before going to the Boer War. Arthur replied that he had done so and they asked for particulars of the rescue. They also queried the present rescuing going on and Arthur stated that he and his mates were “flat out pulling surfers out of danger”. He also complained that the ship’s buoy and heavy rope on the beach was more of a hindrance than a help and that a thin and light alpine rope or a thin white cotton rope would be worth a trial. Arthur was encouraged by two aldermen to “get your required lifesavers together at once to form a start.”

He continues “All present agreed to form a committee, pro tem, and be early on the beach the following Sunday. Three, including Tom Gunning, Commander Roberts and Frank Donovan promised to bring suitable rope and a square box. The Sunday morning found Arthur on hand as requested. “The Sly Brothers, who were fishermen with headquaters at Shelley Beach and Fairy Bower, had agreed to join in the club starting, Charlie Sly … was to be sweep and George Lutey and Eddie Sly with a cousin named Nor Green were to man the oars of their cut down from 35ft to 27ft clinker-built whaleboat. Tod Sly was to be the first beltman and as the aldermen and others placed the square box on the beach, Tod took up his position on the left side of the box. Arthur and the other strong swimmers who had agreed to form a lifesaving club, took up a position on the other side of the box, at the request of the older men.

The aldermen and several of the older men spoke to inaugurate the start, the name being agreed upon being “The Manly Surf and Life Saving Club” And in a very short time we were making full use of same. Though we young fellows paid in as much as we could at the start, the older men bore the brunt of the finance required, as we had insisted on paying Tod Sly who had a wife and child to support “

 Before 1904 ushered in a suitable reel, to play the line on and off was being devised and on the lines of an old cotton reel – a gigantic imitation of same mounted on a framework stand and fitted with a spindle bearings and brake was placed on the beach and suitable christened with great pride. The Manly Life Saving Club logo replicates the reel.

Arthur writes that “Quickly following the reel were the beach flags and lookout towers… they formed patrols because “great numbers were now coming to the beaches and we were having mass rescues with both boat and line. And so we went on until 1908 when we staged a surf carnival with open surf races, etc. The humorous side was not neglected. My lifelong friend, Fred Notting Senior, built a prehistoric surf reel and rope. The reel had a framework built of branches and part of a cable reel. The line was stringybark” NOTE – there is a photo of this reel in our main hall.

 By 1911 the club had come to the conclusion that a “big pruning” was inevitable. As Arthur explains “there were too many who were merely surfers and not enough real lifesavers. SO a meeting was held and, after much argument and protest, it was decided that a division be made and the original foundation members and other real lifesavers kept going as the Originals with the new name Manly Life Saving Club while the other body was allotted other but smaller premises under the name of Manly Surf Club later obtaining their own separate building opposite the Manly Life Saving Club clubhouse.” 

Ref “Why are we here? A brief recap of how Manly Life Saving Club was born” Ben Wotton 2002



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