My earliest memory of swimming is at a school outing to a nearby river (there were no swimming pools in Maungaturoto in the 1950s). The picture on the right was taken at a family picnic around that time and shows my sister Lynne, Mum, Dad, brother Max (lying on Dad’s lap), and Grandad Dale.
For some strange reason, I was never taught to swim properly. But I loved being in the water and eventually taught myself how to dog paddle and breaststroke. As a teenager, I became a lifesaver at Waipu Cove (the beach we went to each summer) and at Whangarei Boys High School qualified as a junior instructor in the Royal Lifesaving Society.
Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation wasn’t widely used in New Zealand until the 1960s. In the 1950s we used the Holger-Nielsen method. The picture on the right shows Grandad Dale demonstrating the method at age 16 (in 1958). The idea was to get the drowned person’s chest to expand and contract by pulling their arms up and down. The method needed quite a bit of training and wasn’t nearly as effective as mouth-to-mouth.
The demonstration was at the Whau Valley School in Whangarei and I think it was part of an effort to raise funds for lifesaving organisations.
By the way, did you notice Grandad Dale’s very cool “flat top” haircut. It was all the rage at the time. Flat on the top, swished back at the sides, and a DA crease at the back (see Ducks ass).
Some aspects of surf lifesaving were very different in those days. The basics were the same; we put out flags marking safe areas to swim in, we watched out for people in trouble in the water, and we rescued them when they got in trouble. But our “tools” were very rudimentary; no motorised inflatables, no jet boats, not even wetsuits.
The main weapon we had was the old fashioned belt-and-reel (see the picture). One member of the rescue team (the strongest swimmer) put the belt on and swam out to the drowning person. A rope connected the belt to the reel. Another member of the team controlled the reel, letting the rope unwind without getting tangled. When the belt man reached the victim, the other members of the team helped pull on the rope to get them back into shore.
It was really hard work, for all members of the team, mainly because the weight of the wet rope added to the “drag”.
I actually swam during a rescue only once and it was quite funny really.
Me and a younger mate were watching the swimmers at Waipu Cove, but the rest of our team weren’t close by (they were at a nearby meeting). Anyway, we noticed these drongos swimming in a really dangerous area “outside the flags”. There was a really bad rip and, sure enough, next moment they all started getting dragged out to sea. This was really dangerous and we could have half a dozen deaths very shortly!!!
Well, my mate and I had a bit of a problem, because you can’t operate a belt-and-reel with only two people. So we set the alarm going to attract the attention of the rest of the team and headed down to the beach.
Now, even a super strong swimmer wouldn’t have been able to swim against that rip, and I’m hopeless at overarm. But I was strong and fit and could keep above water “forever”, so I decided to go in and hold someone afloat until the team arrived.
When I got in, the rip whooshed me straight out to the struggling swimmers and I picked the weakest looking one and kept her afloat. Meanwhile, the rest of the team arrived, set up the reel, and the belt man joined me in the water. He rescued the swimmer I was holding and then came back for me (the other idiots were all very frightened, but were keeping afloat by themselves).
Back on the beach, I joined the others on the rope and eventually everyone was rescued. The rip was so strong that day that we had six or seven people pulling the rope instead of the usual three of four. It was amazing that no one drowned.
But the funniest thing was that, the only time I went into the water during a rescue, I had to be rescued myself!!!