Hunter surf lifesaving memorabilia sought for centenary


John Mayo is hunting for treasure. Memorabilia, that is.

For some who chase memorabilia, it’s the thrill of the hunt. For others, it’s the desire to ensure history is not forgotten. In a sense, it’s a way of keeping stories alive. Like, for example, the story of surf lifesaving in the Hunter.

On Saturday, Hunter Surf Life Saving will celebrate its centenary.

“The centenary will be observed at the annual flag raising ceremony at Nobbys Beach on Saturday,” said John, who is member services officer at Cooks Hill Surf Life Saving Club.

John, a local historian, is seeking memorabilia to mark the occasion.

“Because it is 100 years since the Hunter branch was formed, we’re hoping to find some previously undiscovered items relating to surf clubs and members over that time,” he said.

“Many of our clubs have archived material, but this is the perfect time to find more. Someone may have some stuff that’s been in their family for the last 100 years that no one except that family knows about.”

He’s searching for memorabilia like photos, certificates, medals, programs and books – basically anything that relates to surf club members in the Hunter.

“I wonder what’s out there. There could be anything. There could be a club cap from the 1930s in someone’s house,” he said.

If you have any memorabilia, contact John at

The Early Days
Hunter surf lifesaving has a history that’s almost as deep as the ocean itself.

In the past 100 years, thousands of nippers have been trained and thousands of volunteer men and women have patrolled the region’s beaches.

God knows how many lives they’ve saved. They’re kind of like guardian angels.

In the early 1900s, five surf lifesaving clubs were formed in the Newcastle district – Newcastle, Cooks Hill, Merewether, Stockton and Redhead.

“They formed the Hunter branch in 1918,” John said, adding that the number of clubs in the Hunter branch later expanded to 13.

Many surf club members served in the First World War.

Among them was Cooks Hill Surf Life Saving Club member Garnet Dart. His surf lifesaving bronze medallion from 1911 and his dog tag from the war represent the type of memorabilia being sought.

“Because of his surf lifesaving experience, Garner Dart was very interested in community service. He desired a non-combatant role in the war. He wanted to attempt to preserve life, like he did as a surf lifesaver.”

Garner was trained as a lifesaver and in first aid. So, in the war, he became a member of the Field Ambulance, doing jobs like moving wounded men on stretchers, as well as treating them.

An Eloquent Writer
Military historian David Dial published one of Garner Dart’s letters in the Newcastle Herald last year.

It was a letter he wrote to his dad from France.

Part of the letter went like this: “I am penning this letter in one of the small triangular shaped wooden huts that dot the country within the war zone. They resemble much in appearance large-sized dog kennels. The first night in them was somewhat cool, but now that a nice fire radiates its warmth, comfort is again with us.

“I hear the familiar noise of a primus stove in use by one of the four chaps to prepare the supper. It awakens memories of the past. It is a very useful asset to the hut, and I can just picture myself when I did make use of a similar stove in the old home, well over a year ago. I cannot hear the noise of war without, but if I were to go out I could see the lightning-like flashes of the artillery guns in action. The weather during the fortnight has been generally mild and cloudy, but I cannot say that the spring conditions are with us. Yesterday we had several falls of snow, covering the ground about an inch thick. A frost set in during the night, so the snow still lies on the ground.”

Garner’s writing was so beautiful, we wondered whether he was a writer.

“Before he went to war, he was a clerk on the railway. He had the neatest handwriting,” John said.

He had a tiny little pocketbook, which he used as a war diary.

“It’s this tiny little writing. You can’t read it in the book, you’d need a magnifying glass. He was very eloquent with words,” John said.

Many men from Hunter surf clubs volunteered for the war.

“Well over 200 men enlisted ,” John said.

Some lost their lives and those who came back were traumatised.

“Many of them became alcohol-dependent. Psychologically, they were wounded. The guys on the coast gravitated to surf clubs. They wanted the mateship, community service, camaraderie and discipline.

“Garner survived the war. He was a textbook case of this, except he didn’t drink.”

He became chief instructor at Cooks Hill surf club and later joined the Hunter branch.

As well as celebrating their centenary on Saturday, Hunter Surf Life Saving will commemorate the 100-year anniversary the end of World War 1.