The Women of Lifesaving

LSV celebrated International Women’s Day last week by acknowledging and recognising the many roles and contributions women have made, and continue to make, in lifesaving.

“Female representation in lifesaving clubs in Victoria is now over 50% and climbing,” says Emma Atkins, LSV’s General Manager of People. “Females are an integral part of the lifesaving movement and we work hard to attract, develop and retain female volunteers and staff, as well as encouraging females to be represented in traditionally male-dominated roles.”

Diversity is critical to the success of the organisation and females are increasingly stepping into the many varied roles offered in lifesaving, including leadership, operational and coaching roles.

“We need to keep encouraging females by building capacity and recognising the next generation of role models through our club-led initiatives, the Female Leadership Network (FLN) and identifying and encouraging male champions of our lifesaving women,” says Emma.

The FLN was created in 2013 and has proved extremely successful with many graduates of workshops and mentoring programs moving on to leadership positions within lifesaving.

A good example is Sophie Riddel, who started with Portsea as a 10-year-old Nipper and progressed to be Portsea’s Club Captain. She is now on the Membership and Leadership Council Executive as FLN Coordinator, perfectly placed to encourage more young female lifesavers.

The network is open to all females 18+ within the movement, including staff and volunteer members from all roles and facets that have a genuine interest in networking, personal growth and professional development.

In the LSV sports arena, coaches such as Ocean Grove SLSC’s Sonia Kinsey are showing female leadership at the grassroots, while officials, such as Tamara Brawn, are proving women in leadership within lifesaving are thriving.

Tamara was recently the carnival referee at The Australian Surf Rower’s League (ASRL) Open, the largest surf boat event in the country held in Elouera, New South Wales, which included the interstate championships for surf boats and the international test match between Australia and New Zealand, which Australia won.

Last year, Tamara was the first female referee in the country at the ASRL Open. She’s also the highest-level female official in surf boats and has been appointed sectional referee for the upcoming Australian championships in Perth, which will be the first time a female has held that role in surf boat events.

“I was in one of the early female bronze groups and rowed the first year women were allowed to row back in 1996,” says Tamara. “I’ve spent most of my lifesaving career in all-female patrols at Point Leo and am looking forward to more women taking on senior official’s positions.”

By all accounts, Tamara has done a superb job and there has been overwhelmingly positive feedback on her role at the ASRL Open, with her fair and considered approach praised.

“Out on the beaches, too, our female members are leading and showing their many contributions on patrol, in training and supporting the next generation of lifesavers,” says Emma. “Many clubs are highlighting females in lifesaving by enabling such initiatives as Pink Patrols, with all female patrollers.”

Point Lonsdale SLSC’s Pink Zinc patrol included females trained in the roles of Club Captain, Vice Club Captain, Advanced Resuscitation Techniques, Spinal Management, Inflatable Rescue Boat Driver and Crew, All Terrain Vehicle Driver, First Aid Officer and general patrolling members, who have all obtained their Surf Bronze Medallions.

“It’s a great step forward for clubs to have so many females trained in all the essential roles required to run a patrol,” says Emma. “It’s hard to believe the first female was awarded a Bronze Medallion in Surf Life Saving in 1980 – we’ve come a long way and our young Nippers coming through now have both male and female role models to look up to.”

She says it’s also important to acknowledge the many men in lifesaving who actively champion female participation through identifying, developing and encouraging talented individuals to step into the varied roles in lifesaving.

“Lifesaving continues to evolve and I am very proud to be part of an organisation that does such important work in the community,” says Emma. “Our volunteers make me incredibly proud to be part of such a diverse and positive organisation.”

The Pioneers

It’s worth acknowledging the pioneer female lifesavers to see just how far the lifesaving movement has come in terms of female representation.

Shirley Anderson (née Gray) remembers feeling “really steaming” that women couldn’t join surf life saving clubs when she was a girl. But, with the help of the West St Kilda LSC Men’s Captain and Vice Captain, her childhood friends, she became one of the first female club captains in the late 1950s.

“None of the other females in the club could swim, they were just involved in organising the social events,” remembers Shirley. “I was really the captain of myself, but the boys would always be on the beach with a beer in their hands and I used to tell them if I was out there drowning, I’d rather I was the one doing the lifesaving than have them save me. They didn’t like that!”

As an only child, with a very encouraging father that told her she could do anything, Shirley says she grew up in a constant state of frustration at the amount of things the world told her she couldn’t do.

“Everything was just silently tolerated and I walked away from my first job after realising the boys in the room were paid ten pounds more a fortnight than me, even though they did the same job,” says Shirley. “I had to go to school, I had to do exams, just like they did and my bus fare and lunch cost me the same as the boy’s did, so why should I have less pay?”

She’s kept in touch with her friends from the West St Kilda  LSC for over fifty years and is keen to get more involved in lifesaving again with her grandchildren.

“I’d love my five-year-old granddaughter to go into Nippers,” says Shirley. “I’m going to try to subtly introduce the idea of Nippers to my daughter-in-law very soon.”

After a life of pushing boundaries and fighting for her rights, something tells us Shirley’s granddaughter will be part of the lifesaving movement in no time!

“There are so many young girls who don’t know the recent history of how things have changed for females in society,” says Shirley. “They don’t realise there are still a lot of us around who fought and fought to make their life better.”

Take advantage of the opportunities female lifesaving pioneers such as Shirley have paved the way for by registering for the FLN here.

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