A brief history of the Brighton Surf Life Saving Club

Compiled by Peter Cockerham

The exact date that a Lifesaving Club was first formed and started operating at Brighton Beach is unclear. Formal records have only been kept by the Brighton Surf Life Saving Club since 1952, but some photographic and anecdotal history of the Club’s origins have been recorded.

It is recorded that there were amateur swimming clubs in Adelaide from the turn of the century. In those days the Adelaide swimming clubs were affiliated with the Swimming Association and their members were encouraged to have an active presence on the local beaches, including Brighton, during the summer months.

It is well documented that one swimming club, the Henley and Grange swimming club, encouraged its young, male members to meet at the beach. In 1925 the Henley Beach Life Saving Club was formed.

Although no formal records exist, it is believed a lifesaving club was formed at Brighton Beach shortly after 1925 together with clubs at Seacliff, Glenelg, Grange, Semaphore and Largs.

At about this time, a young woman named Primrose Whyte nee. Kitty Macully swam regularly at Brighton Beach. It is reported that one day she saved a young person from drowning south of the Brighton Jetty, at about the location of the present Brighton Surf Life Saving Club.

Kitty,  a qualified swimming instructor and lifesaver,  saw the importance of teaching young people how to swim. In March 1926, she was instructing a group of young people in deep water just to the north of the jetty.

Tragically, she was attacked by a shark and despite efforts to rescue her and treat her injuries, she died on the beach near the spot where a drinking fountain in her memory stands today.

Old Council records show that in the early 1930’s, two Clubs were active on Brighton Beach, the Brighton Swimming Club and the St.  Vincent’s Life Saving Club. It is recorded that in 1932, they were both in need of funding from Council for upgraded facilities and, it appears, Council suggested the two Clubs combine. Council records show that the Brighton Swimming and Life Saving Club was opened in November 1934 and photographic evidence of Club members on Brighton Beach confirms this.

By 1936, Brighton Life Saving Club was well established under the control of the Royal Life Saving Society. The Adelaide Advertiser reports that in that year the first qualified women’s lifesaving team was formed at Brighton.

During the Second World War, it is reported that the Club was made up of almost all women and a few young boys who were left to ‘look after the Club while the men were away fighting the War’.

In October 1952, all lifesaving clubs in South Australia, including Brighton, were affiliated with the newly formed Surf Life Saving Association of SA. It was this time the Brighton Surf Life Saving Club Inc. was born.

Eric Semler was the first Club Captain and Les Scott the President.   Other foundation members included Bill Kempster, Gordon Kimpton, Ian Stock, Colin Smith, Murray Bax, and Peter Cook.  One of the major constitutional changes of being affiliated with Surf Life Saving Australia, was that women no longer had voting or competition rights and were effectively denied involvement.

At that time the Clubhouse consisted of a wooden shed built on stilts on the foreshore by the local council. Membership of the Club grew to about 30 including Keith Appleton, a young junior who came down from Seacliff, and remained an active member of the Club until his passing in August 2010.

In 1959 the wooden Clubhouse was all but destroyed in a wild storm. Club President Norm Putland, who was also a City of Brighton Councillor, arranged for a new brick Clubhouse to be built on the Esplanade on the site of the present Club.

In the late 1960’s, a Nipper group started at Brighton and many of these early Nipper members of the Club are still active members of the Brighton SLSC today. In 1981, women were allowed to join Surf Life Saving Clubs throughout Australia. Brighton has a strong and active female membership including our first female Club Captain, Melinda McAinsh who was at the helm from 2002 to 2007.

Over the last 40 years progressive extensions and renovations were added to the old brick Clubhouse, but the building had become too small to meet the members’ needs. The old structure was starting to fall down and had become unsafe.

In October 2006, after many years of planning, work began on demolishing the old Clubhouse. A new, new two-story structure being built in its place.

The new building was completed in September 2007 and officially opened by the Premier, the Hon. Mike Rann MP, on the 3rd November 2007.  The new Clubhouse allows members to patrol Brighton Beach with the best and most up to date lifesaving equipment and amenities.

Brighton has a long and proud history of keeping Brighton Beach safe and in all areas of competition, especially in the area of the traditional Rescue & Resuscitation events where they have won gold medals at Australian National Championships.  It is proud of its history with inaugural ‘Club Legends’, Ian Stock, Keith Appleton, Barry Hancock, John Donaldson, Bronte Edwards and Paul Vale inducted in 2009.

Brighton today is one of the largest and most successful Clubs in the State and prides itself on being a friendly, relaxed and family based Club.