‘Mate, how ya goin’?’ Larry lapsed into Aussie slang mode as he greeted his old mate Pete.
‘Not bad, mate. Still kicking, you old bastard?’ Pete responded as they shook hands and grinned.
Both had powerful grips and neither had yet lost his strength. They were former footballers. As Pete surveyed Larry, he still felt a touch of envy. Where Larry was tall and stringy, Pete was short and broad. With the girls, Larry was always first pick of the two. Pete’s face didn’t help. It was harsh, and his jaw pronounced.
It was mid spring and the surf club season was starting. Their meeting was at one of those beachfront 1990s Gold Coast Surf Clubs, where the beer garden had fiberglass yellow umbrellas bearing red XXXX logos that sprouted from the centres of concrete tables with attached concrete benches. In places, sand buried the green-painted concrete floor as well as the fake green turf edging at the entrance. Generations of red and yellow uniformed surf lifesavers, nippers and their families had trudged up from the beach and through the beer garden. They would clean their sandy feet on the turf before entering the hallowed bar and transiting to the showers and club rooms. It was a major crime to take sand into those areas. They knew it was pointless to use the outside showers, as there were tons of sand between them and the beer garden. Wind was the unrelenting enemy. Sand infiltrated all the tiny crevices in the solid white fences around the beer garden. The barrier was intended to keep out strangers, not sand.
Inside, a few vinyl upholstered steel frame stools fronted a long bar. At 11.00a.m. it was still empty. Pete and Larry pulled up stools and sat. Behind them were many chest-high, steel pedestal tables where the members could stand and drink. The carpet was brown and threadbare. Trophy cases, honour boards and photos of past club glories adorned the yellowing walls. The lighting was sparse and the deep interior in shadows. The front of the bar faced the beach. That part was bright, and afforded a panoramic view that stretched from the southern coast through to parts of the northern coast.
The club was a bastion of the traditional misogynist beach culture and although strong, was in decline. Membership was changing. Volunteering was no longer fashionable. Increasing numbers of mothers were joining and training for their bronze medallions. They were doing patrols while their partners minded the children. ‘Partners’ was the term used rather than ‘husband’. It denoted the growing trend away from the traditions. Very few of these newer members could identify with the men of Pete and Larry’s generation.
Before they had time to even order their drinks, a young woman approached the bar and stood next to them. She was petite and pretty.
‘Hi, can you help me?’ she asked the men. Both stood and turned to her. They towered over her and, as was their habit, presented impassive faces. With their silence, the woman felt she was receiving their complete attention. ‘Do you know where we sign up for nippers?’
Pete thought, Aren’t you a little old for nippers? And simultaneously, No, don’t say that! He extended his hand.
‘Oh, sorry,’ she said, ‘I hope you don’t think me rude! I’m Lenore.’
Defensively, she took Pete’s hand. She felt intimidated.
‘Pete. You’re excused.’ He felt her handshake firm, and assessed her as determined and likely to be shy, but definitely not weak. He expected her character would reveal itself over time. He was surprised at his assumption. His first impression was positive and he liked her.
‘Here, we’re pretty knockabout and forgiving, Lenore.’
The three smiled. Lenore noted the men’s pleasant looks; those, and Pete’s remembering of her name, made her feel welcome, comfortable and safe.
‘Larry.’ He extended his hand. ‘Do you mind if I call you …’. At this pause, Pete and Lenore were silent. Lenore then laughed, as Larry cleared his throat, extended his hand, and continued, ‘Lenny?’
Pete smiled. Larry had used this line before. Larry’s eyes softened. They contrasted with, and at the same time accentuated, his weather-beaten, gaunt face and his manliness. Lenore glimpsed sadness in his eyes. She was about to comment, but Pete had also recognised the hint of Larry’s depression, and he silenced her.
‘Take no notice, Lenny. He can’t help himself when he meets pretty young birds.’ Pete thought Lenore blushed. He wasn’t yet familiar with indignation.
‘You men are quite old fashioned. Are you always so cavalier?’
‘Cavalier? No. We just know no fear. It comes with the territory. It’s a tradition and heritage we learned on patrol on the beach.’ Pete had never felt old fashioned. He stifled his objection to the implication of old.
Larry nodded in agreement and pointed, ‘the nipper’s sign on is over by the green equipment shed, Lenny’.
‘Thanks.’ Lenore seemed to bounce as she walked from them across the bar. She thought, Lenny, that’s what granddad called me.
Both men’s eyes followed her. When she returned to the beer garden, Lenore joined a group who sat at several of the tables. They were sweating and fidgeting in the heat, yet they brushed sand from their own and their kids’ clothes. All the adults wore Akubras or raffia hats, designer joggers and designer clothes; none wore thongs, and none had been introduced to the club by the older members. They were strangers to the club. In their group, women outnumbered men.
As she spoke to them, Lenore pointed to the club storage shed where the nippers’ ‘sign on’ table was attended by the older mums.
These women wore their age and figures with dignity, even when stripped back to their one-piece suits, as were sometimes required when on patrol. They all had their bronze medallions and all had participated in or witnessed resuscitation. It was they, when as younger mums, who had insisted all club members not only use sunscreen, but also oversize floppy hats, long sleeved polo shirts and baggy boardies as protection against the sun.
Nowadays, this had become the traditional club wear on all occasions. That those outfits also covered up spreading bums, heavier cellulose dimpled thighs, flabby upper arms and sagging breasts, was a standing joke among the men–but one never shared with their wives. The men, out of respect rather than safety consciousness, had adopted the new dress code.
‘Budgie smugglers’ were rarely encountered now, and were also becoming a tradition of the past. They were still worn under the boardies or during rescues, at carnivals and during nipper safety, but no longer were they seen in the club house or its close surrounds.
Lenore’s group had only joined the club as social members and to introduce their children to Surf Lifesaving. They saw it as a community service and an Australian tradition. Without the time put in for getting a Bronze and for patrol duty, few of this younger generation would develop empathy with any of the older generation, especially not with the older men who dominated the club committee.
As they surveyed the beer garden, Pete and Larry recognised their and their mates’ days and ways of competition and rivalry at the club might be numbered. They looked at each other and simply understood, without expression; they shared a feeling. They were starting to feel they didn’t quite fit.
Pete was ten years younger than Larry. Even though Larry claimed he was 48, Pete suspected he lied or had forgotten his real age. The wrinkles on his face and neck indicated he was older. His driver’s licence had been bought years ago. Larry’s lie had started then, and as he grew older, the exact date of his birth had become indistinct. In one of his less sober moments, he had told Pete he had lost his licence for repeated drunk driving and had been banned from driving for life. That was after his troubles with his former wife. He no longer owned a car, nor had a wife.
His reluctance to apply for a passport had been an issue between Larry and his last long-term girlfriend, Sue. She had wanted to travel overseas. Larry preferred to holiday at his home on the Gold Coast. Pete suspected Larry had also lied about his real name. A few times people had called him Ben, and he had on those occasions insisted most people knew him by his nickname, Larry. Pete knew ‘Larry’ was the name on what passed as his current driver’s licence.
‘So Pete, how come you’re here?’ Larry held up two fingers in the direction of the barmaid.
‘Pots?’ she asked.
Larry nodded and she pulled down the handle and expertly drew two with tiny heads. She knew Larry would grizzle if he felt dudded. He pulled a five dollar note from his boardies and pushed it onto the bar.
‘No, I’ll shout,’ said Pete.
‘Nah, I’ll get the first. You can get the rest.’
Both men laughed.
‘Ya haven’t changed one little bit, ‘ave ya mate?’
‘Yeah, I’ve become sober, sensitive and new age.’
Pete laughed, ‘Sober and sensitive are obvious lies and ‘new age’, in my book, just means you’ve had another birthday.’
‘Seriously, Pete, I’ve changed.’
Both men drank. Pete waited for him to explain. Larry didn’t add further, and Pete settled down to wait till the booze made him less inhibited. Larry never spilt his guts cheaply.
‘So why are you down? Ya haven’t been here since the time we got really pissed with those teachers from New South after Sue left.’
‘That was over a year ago. Shit that was funny, especially when the dumb one stuck the carving fork in ya arse and we all finished up in emergency at Southport Hospital,’ Pete laughed.
‘What the fuck are you doing here?’
‘Jack and Kim are here. They’re living with me. I’ve signed Jack up to nippers and Kim to do her Bronze.’ Pete waited for a reaction.
Larry whistled quietly.
The barmaid moved toward them and out of habit she wiped her bar as she approached.
‘Another round, Larry?’
Jack and Kim were Pete’s kids. They had been living in New Zealand with their mother since the separation four years earlier. Six months previously they had chosen to return to live with their dad in Brisbane.
‘How’re ya coping?’ Larry asked.
‘It’s new. Once we settled into a routine, it became easier.’
‘Where are they?’
‘That’s them in the beer garden.’
‘Christ they’ve grown–and doesn’t Kimmy look like Jasmine!’
‘Yeah she really is a looker and she has her mother’s nature …’
Larry cut him off. ‘Is that a good thing Pete?’
‘Well, Jasmine’s nature before she got depressed.’
‘You mean before she went nuts. How old are they now?’
‘Kim’s sixteen and Jack’s nine.’
‘Ave they your pigheadedness?’
‘Nah! Like me, they’re just single bloody minded,’ Pete added laconically.
Again they laughed. Toots joined in.
Pete, with a flick of his fingers, spun a metal beer coaster through the open window at the youngsters. It floated easily in the still heat of the cloudless early spring morning and landed softly on their table. They looked up from their hot chips and cokes and smiled. Pete saw his own father’s silly grin on his son’s face.
‘That’s dangerous; you could have hurt those children,’ a voice reprimanded him.
Larry’s and Pete’s eyebrows rose as they looked out of the window searching for a body to match the voice.
‘We’re not children!’ Kim’s voice was not loud, but it was firm and it stopped all the chatter in the beer garden. ‘Treat us with respect.’ She glared at the woman, not yet seen by Larry and Pete.
Larry moved to look out the window and to support Kim.
Pete restrained him. ‘Let her sort it out, mate. She’s capable.’
Larry knew she would have been taught to assert herself. Both her parents would have made sure of that. He returned to his beer but his eyes and ears were focused on the beer garden. A smile played around his lips as he said quietly, ‘This’ll be bloody interesting.’
Pete just looked at Toots and ordered two more pots.
‘Are you driving?’ Toots asked
‘What bloody business is that of yours?’ Pete lapsed. He thought he had his anger under control. Then he
softened. ‘Kim has a NZ Driver’s Licence. She’ll drive us home.’
‘Has she a Queensland licence?’ One look at Pete’s face told Toots the topic wasn’t open to discussion. She shrugged and turned away, wiping her bar.
‘Toots, who is that sheila?’ Larry asked loud enough for everyone in the beer garden to hear.
‘I’m no sheila!’ The woman raised her voice. She faced Larry through the open window. She was tall, had the build of an athlete and a dominant presence. Her face was fine and pretty, though age was starting to show in the little wrinkles and hint of tiredness around her eyes. Odd grey strands were starting to highlight her auburn hair.
‘No, you’re a Dragon Lady,’ Kim quipped.
The woman spun and confronted Kim. ‘Who asked you?’
Kim lay back in her chair, smiled and said, ‘You did, when you interfered in the fun between my dad and us.’
‘Jesus, she’s so like you,’ said Larry.
‘Your dad’s dangerous! ’The woman focused on Kim.
‘You can betcha flat chest on that,’ said Kim, not skipping a beat, ‘and your interfering attitude is wrong. My dad’s fun and straight.’
‘You stupid girl, I’m looking after your interests.’
‘I don’t need you; I can look out for myself.’
‘You’ve done good, Kim. Your soft voice is very powerful.’ Pete looked at his daughter, saying, ‘I’m very proud of you.’
The woman had no come-back. She frowned momentarily and her eyes squinted for a split second. She shuffled a little and her head turned from side to side until she settled on her group of friends.
‘Looks like you’ve slayed the Dragon, Kim,’ Jack was impressed.
‘Slain, Jack,’ Pete corrected
‘Here, what’s your name?’ Larry asked the woman.
‘Elaine, from now on, down here, we’ll have to come up with a nick name for ya.’
To her friends, Elaine had always been known, behind her back, as The Dragon. Her teenage students had called her that ever since she first set foot in a classroom. Elaine turned and strode away with her head thrown back. She rejoined Lenny and her friends.
Larry turned his attention back to Pete and Toots. ‘Yuppies!’ he sneered.
Pete kept his own counsel. He thought, How in the hell am I going help in the integration and inclusion of these younger people into the club? They were the generation following him and his kids. With most the oldest of their children were just beginning nippers.
‘Your attitude’s admirable, Larry,’ Toots spoke slowly.
‘But, what are you bloody thinking, Pete?’ she asked.
Pete smiled. Their friendliness returned. ‘Oh, not much, Toots. I was just working out a means of how a man could be laid by the dragon.’
Toots, Larry and Kim all roared with laughter.
Jack pursed his lips and shook his bowed head. He commented dryly once the laughter subsided, ‘Lain, Dad.’
From that moment on, Elaine became known as ‘Lain’.
Change is in the Wind
‘You really are a master of communication. You’ve always got stimulating conversation, haven’t you, Pete?’ Toots gave him a warm smile. ‘We could have some fun…,’ she said as their eyes met. She paused, leaned forward, touched Pete’s forearm, and with ‘come on’ eyes added, ‘… sometime.’
Larry was outside chatting with Jack and Jasmine.
‘But I thought you and Larry had hooked up.’
‘We are together at the moment. But Larry’s gotten old. He’s become really set in his ways and is always just bloody grumpy and lives in the past. He keeps reminiscing. His sugar is giving him hell, and he won’t eat and inject. He drinks and injects. Today’s the first time I’ve seen him laugh in ages.’
‘Toots, down here, Larry’s my best mate.’
‘I knew you’d say that. I am a scorned woman?’
‘Nah Toots, you’re just all woman, and if Larry and I weren’t such bloody good mates … well I’d be hooking up with you. Give us another beer?’
‘Two?’ Toots was complimented.
‘You’re gonna be chasing those other two young mums anyway, aren’t ya mate?’
‘Yeah, I sort of sensed they seemed interested or could develop an interest if I let them know it might be possible.’
‘Huh, the little one couldn’t take her bloody eyes off you. When you spoke to her she looked a bit wobbly at the knees, and when she walked off, she looked as though she was ten bloody feet tall. As for the big angry sheila, well, the way she looked at you when you complimented Kim, she was just utterly bloody confused. That interested her totally.’
Pete laughed quietly with Toots.
‘You know, don’t ya?’
‘Yeah, Toots, I know.’
‘Mind you, Pete; they are both a breath of fresh air around here.’
Pete nodded and flashed his eyes. He took a deep breath then stood erect and took a big mouthful of his beer.
The afternoon sea breeze picked up and the sounds of the surf, swimmers, board riders and beachgoers wafted into the
bar and intruded into Pete’s silent world. Larry had gone to work. Pete sat alone, oblivious to the others in the bar. He scanned the coast from the window. He looked to his right and surveyed the sweep of beach from the high-rise, which appeared to rise out of the ocean in the distant south, up past the Norfolk pine and scrub covered headland, aptly named Surf Head. From there he glanced along the five-kilometre beach and then to his immediate left, where the North Surf Head rocky buttress arose. It was grassy and lower than its sister headland. He could see further north to the high rises of Surfers Paradise, which also seemed to rise out of the sea. This bar was his favourite thinking place. To him it was man-made clean, busy, fresh and pristine all at once. The ocean was the cleanser, especially when it was gentle and accommodating. He knew in an hour or two the warmth from the sun would fade and as the sea breeze kicked in, the surf would become choppy and unrideable. He just wanted to go home with his kids. They had been with him six months now, and he had committed to them for the next few years. Their presence had changed him and refined many of his attitudes. He was becoming gentler and more aware of others, especially young women and their differences. Kim was influencing him as much as he, her. He liked what he was becoming. But now he felt lonely among his friends. He had decided not to enter relationships while his kids were in his care. He did not want to divide their loyalties and felt they deserved the full focus of his affection and attention. But today conflict had arisen in him. His interaction with both Lenny and Lain had unsettled him.
Success and Pride
Over the following weeks, the surf season got under way. Kim trained for her Bronze and easily qualified in the timed pool swim. Her surf skills were excellent. She quickly learned to read rips and the surf and mastered swimming in both. She became known as a very strong and capable young woman. The older, experienced men chose to coach her and included her in their beach patrols and their activities. She was always invited to their early morning weekend swims out around the buoys. None of their wives or daughters had ever been invited to that traditional male bonding exercise.
In early December, Kim sat the multi choice exam to qualify for the Bronze. Everyone knew she would struggle, so all her older mates pitched in and helped her … to cheat.
Jason White was the chief instructor and club trainer. He was small, lean and sinewy. ‘Tough as teak’ was how his mates described him. Women politely described him as unattractive. Men just told him he was ugly. He was almost obsessive in fulfilling his responsibilities at the club. Much of its activity had revolved around him for over a decade. At forty, he was a candidate for life membership.
He taunted the young men in his class by telling them none was as forceful or focused as Kim and that they would all struggle to save anybody’s life with their limp wristed efforts. Jason passed Kim, with flying colours, in CPR and in the surf.
Pete, Jack and Larry were just so proud when she received her bronze medallion. She was then rostered on patrol with the chief instructor. That meant he had plans for her.
Jack was in the nippers and had taken to the beach and shallow water activities. His age group’s big test was looming. As was normal, all nippers around the age of ten were tested in the deep water. It was the hurdle they had to overcome if they were to go on to the juniors and their Bronze. Most youngsters who failed at this test dropped out of the club. Many of those who were successful usually became involved in competition at interclub carnivals. Others continued and eventually mastered the surf and often became the backbone of the beach patrols as they grew older. Pete was nervous. While Kim was powerfully built, Jack was slighter. Pete was unsure of his strength or robustness.
Midsummer, and January rolled around and the big day arrived. It was a hot, cloudless morning; the surf was big, as was usual for this time of the year. Far to the north, the cyclone season had begun. The prevailing winds were the South-East Trades and these, when they blew, flattened the surf at North Surf Head. But the swells from the cyclones a thousand miles away surged around North Head and formed huge rollers that curled left along the headland and eventually broke on the outer sand bar and then surged into a massive shore break and onto the sandy beach. The surf crashed loudly and there were few gaps in the breakers. While there was no wind, the sea was glassy. It was hot and everybody sweated. The rollers were two metres when breaking on the outer sandbank. The buoys were positioned about 30 metres beyond the breakers.
The nipper boys were all taken by surprise when the group instructor told them to get their foam boards and paddle out around the buoys.
All looked at each other; one refused point blank. The instructor immediately sent him to join his mum at the club house. The others baulked at refusing. In their young minds they now had only one choice.
‘Dad, do I have to go all the way out?’ Jack looked at Pete.
Pete’s stomach turned, but he knew if he was hard, Jack would respond positively and give his best. Pete knew he always had. ‘If you don’t, I’ll be leaving you here on the beach tonight. You won’t be coming home with Kim and me.’
Jack knew his dad wasn’t serious. He knew his dad exaggerated and determined to do his best. He knew that would be good enough for his dad. He lined up with the other boys and raced into the water when the instructor yelled, ‘Go!’
Pete turned his back and started up the beach to the clubhouse. Lain and Lenny had been standing behind him. Lenny came to him and just gripped his arm. Lain looked at him and said softly, ‘Tough love is hard, eh, you soft old dad!’
Pete was surprised and he went to say so, but Lenny interrupted.
‘We’ve been doing our Bronze and we’ve learned the surf is no place for weaklings,’ she said.
Pete gulped involuntarily. He struggled to maintain his manliness. He looked over his shoulder to check on his youngster’s progress. Jack had cleared the shore break easily. Pete looked at the women. ‘Now we’ll see what he’s made of.’
The women put their arms around him and they walked him up to the bar.
Kim stood guard on the beach. She was on patrol. She looked lonely and a little forlorn without her brother.
As the three adults reached the clubhouse and bar, Larry greeted them silently. He gave his mate a supportive look, and then said, ‘Toots is getting our whiskies.’
‘Make that four,’ said Lenny.
‘Doubles,’ said Lain.
Pete paid and swallowed his neat, with one gulp. Larry followed. Lenny and Lain looked at the men. Pete and Larry looked at the women.
‘Tradition?’ asked Lenny.
‘No, fear,’ responded Larry.
‘Apprehension is more accurate and the whiskey tends to steady a dad’s nerves,’ said Pete.
The women swallowed their whiskies without any immediate reaction. Larry had ordered the Irish Bushmills, which tasted like water at first, before the biting, searing reaction followed a few seconds later. Both women braced themselves and mostly covered their reactions.
Toots handed them tissues for their eyes. The men laughed. ‘That’s always a novice’s reaction to their first real Irish whiskey,’ Toots said.
‘Four more,’ said Lain, and she paid.
Larry drifted out to watch the boys struggle in the surf. Pete just looked straight ahead at the bottles and collectables arranged on the shelves behind the bar. Lenny and Lain pulled up stools at the bar and sat fiddling with their second whiskies. Neither was sure she wanted to down it as she had the first. Another father approached the bar, ordered his whiskey and downed it.
The two women ordered Pete another whiskey and invited Stan to join them. They all tossed back their whiskeys. No introductions were made. Names did not matter. This was a serious tradition. Introductions would only intrude. They would only occur later … if everyone stayed on.
It did not take long. Larry’s whooping could be heard throughout the club. ‘He’s done it! He’s done it, Pete! He’s out the back!’ Pete stood bolt upright. Lenny and Lain leapt from their chairs and danced up and down and around grabbing at Pete as he stood stock still. Pete felt relief and pride, but no jubilation.
Larry entered the bar. ‘How’s Chris going?’ asked Stan.
‘He led the way with Steve. They are already on their way back in. There is only the three of them.’
The two women congratulated Stan, introduced themselves and he rejoined the session.
Kim was the first to greet Jack as he rode the shore break into the beach. She punched the air with her fists, then picked Jack up and hugged him. Pete watched from the club house. This was the kids’ moment, not his. He felt quite sober. When Jack arrived at the clubhouse, he was invited in and shouted a coke with the adults.
‘How’d you like riding the big surf, Jack?’ Larry asked.
Jack smiled in response and asked, ‘Dad, can you buy me a surfboard?’
Pete nodded, ‘Next weekend, mate. Surf the net for options?’ Pete knew his youngster was hooked. He understood Jack had learned about overcoming his fears. In future he would have not only no fear of waves and water, but also just no fear. He would likely be a high achiever.
The Real Beginnings
Lenny sidled up to Pete later in the day. ‘You are as proud of your own parenting today as you are of Jack, aren’t you Pete?’
Pete turned, smiled at her, and gave her his warmest hug.
‘Having nobody to share it with is bloody hard, Lenny.’
‘I guess I’ll have to face the same.’
Pete pushed her away at arm’s length and looked intently at her. ‘Why, what’s happened, mate?’
‘Eddie, my partner, has left for another woman, a younger model. Better educated, he said.’
Pete was stunned. He just hugged her and said, ‘I’m sorry Lenore. Are you going to be okay?’
‘I’ve no choice, Pete. I’ve two kids. Look, no one knows except you–can you not say anything just yet, please?’
‘Coming to the club every weekend can be expensive. Financially, can you cope?’
‘Hell yeah, I’ve been in business for years. Mum and Dad had a nursery and I branched out into exotic plants, fruits and edibles. It’s mine. We’ll be fine and even if I wasn’t, we’d find a way to keep coming down here.’
Pete was impressed, not just with her determination, but also with Lenny’s display of emotion. He wasn’t surprised Lenny had taken him into her confidence. Steadily, they had been becoming mates at the club.
As Pete drove his children home to Brisbane the next day, he was unusually quiet and his mind was full of Lenore and their mutually tough choices. His youngsters thought pride at Jack’s achievement had quietened him, so they left him alone. They had also learned he could be grumpy, or that he was planning a surprise when he was silent. His surprises often turned their thinking upside down.
The surf season went along as usual at the club. About a month later, the usual activities at the club changed.
Pete and his children arrived at the club house one Saturday morning, and then split up as usual. Kim and Jack had patrol, and Pete intended to read the paper and have breakfast in the newly refurbished and opened club restaurant. It was the former club rooms. The committee had decided for the club to become more family friendly. They decided it needed more than just a bar and beer garden, so they had approved spending to turn the clubrooms into a restaurant and turn the gym into the CPR instruction, Bronze training and testing centre. The gym equipment was sold. It had been only used by competitors, and it was decided that fitness was an individual’s responsibility, just like swimming. Only a few opposed the decision, but the argument was over once it was pointed out the club provided no training pool and shouldn’t be expected to provide a gym either. The gym had been added at the height of the club’s involvement in carnivals.
On his way to the restaurant, Pete encountered the chief instructor at the entrance to the equipment shed.
‘Hey Jason,’ Pete said, ‘how is the new bronze squad doing?’
‘Hey Pete. You mean Lain and Lenny?’
‘They and a couple of their mates got their Bronze at the first attempt. They are pretty impressive too. They all had no bloody idea at the start. They’ve come a long way quickly.’
‘You coached them, didn’t you Jason?’
‘Yep and they listened and learned. I first thought only Lain would be strong enough, but the others got fit in the pool, learned the beach, and mastered the surf. They are all bloody competent, especially the little one, Lenny.’
‘They’re on patrols?’
‘Yes, today, and they are always here. They really have taken to the beach and the club. In a year or two they’ll make bloody good Patrol Captains.’
‘Have they been involved in rescues or resuscitations?’
‘Yep. They were pretty shaken, like everyone is the first time.’
‘Yeah the force and urgency shocks everyone. Did you help them cope, mate?’
‘Yep, I had a beer or two with them that night and got them talking about it. It helped them connect with the older blokes. We all had a great time. They’ll be fine.’
Pete was pleased. He knew Jason had great judgment of all new comers and their abilities. He had never been wrong. The women had earned his respect as well as the respect of the older brigade. Pete nodded his head.
‘You’ve got plans for them to be involved in the club, haven’t you Pete? ’ Jason probed.
‘Don’t know. Are they up for that Jason?’
‘Lenny is bloody clever, mate.’
‘How about their kids, are they coping in the nippers?’
‘Lain’s girls are top of their grades and her boy will be a junior next year. Lenny’s boy is doing fine and her little girl is still too young. She’ll start next year. Why are you so interested mate?’
Pete just stood and watched Jason as he disappeared in the direction of the surf boat shed.
A little later during that morning, Kim approached him. He was sitting with Larry in the bar.
‘I want to join the surf boat crew. I need your permission.’
‘No way, it’s too bloody dangerous. Which blokes want you in their crew? I’ll see them.’
‘Blokes letting a girl join their crew! That’d be new,’ quipped Larry.
‘I’ve been training with Lenny and the other girls,’ protested Kin
Larry spun around. ‘What? A woman’s boat crew?’ To Larry, becoming a boat crewman was the toughest achievement in surf lifesaving. It was real man stuff. The club was famous for its boat prowess and had a proud history of success in boat races at The National Championships over the years.
‘You sound like the other men, Larry. Why can’t we do it? Jason’s been teaching us,’ taunted Kim.
Larry turned back to his drink. He knew he would lose an argument with Kim.
Pete remained silent and looked at her. He saw she was developing his powerful build, and he knew she would probably cope. He also knew the women would as well. But to him, surf boat crewing was just an exercise in macho pride. He held his tongue. He knew what he had to do.
‘You have my permission Kim, but no one is to go out in big surf.’
‘That’s what Jason said.’
‘Where is he?’
‘In the boat shed.’
Pete left the bar and walked to the boat shed. Kim was walking alongside him, but he asked her to leave Jason and himself alone. She reluctantly joined the other women on the beach.
‘Jason, what’s going on with the girls’ boat?’
‘Pete, don’t call them girls. You know what they’re like.’ They both smiled and relaxed.
‘Yeah I do, mate. So what’s up?
‘Well, Pete, they’ve all mastered the swims, rescue tubes and boards. Boats and skis are next. It was their suggestion and I just thought it a natural progression. I also thought once they had a little taste of crewing, they would realise how bloody hard it was and would shy away; but not these women–they are bloody determined to show how equal they are.’
‘Yeah mate. But it is too bloody dangerous. Most blokes don’t even do it.’
‘And the ones that do are all bloody brawn and no brains.’ The club chairman had overheard their conversation as he was passing. He had paused, and then joined them.
‘Hello Mr Chapman,’ said Jason.
‘G’day Bruce.’ said Pete. They all shook hands
‘Hello Jason. G’day Pete, it is nice to see you. Are you getting involved in the club again? There are two management committee positions opening up. I’ll nominate you.’
Bruce was in his late sixties and had been with the club since his family had joined when he was a child. He was a businessman on the coast and had been involved in all aspects of the club over the years. He was still very fit and strong and occasionally did the early morning bonding swim. He was a picture of the former ‘bronzed Aussie’ but his hair was now white and his tanned skin now leathery. He was tall and carried himself with a confident and striking demeanour. He had presence.
‘Hell no Bruce, I’m just here with my kids. My daughter is joining the boat crew. I’m not sure a woman’s boat crew is something the club needs,’ said Pete.
‘I’ve swum with your daughter. She is impressive. So it’s true. There’s been a lot of talk on the coast about our women’s boat. What’s your opinion?’
‘It hasn’t changed since that young kid was killed in that big surf at the Nationals.’
‘No, nor has mine. That was always a disaster waiting to happen. He was just too young. Those blokes running those things get a bit carried away with the ability of younger kids. They always have done, but in the past kids were much more athletic and stronger than today. What should we do?’
‘I’ve given it some thought since the women asked me to train them,’ said Jason
‘What do you think? And call me Bruce … you’re not a kid anymore.’
‘Bruce I think we should buy some of those inflatable rescue boats and train everybody in them.’
‘That makes great sense Jason, don’t you think Pete?’ Bruce looked at Pete.
‘Bruce, we don’t use reels or belts any more. They were replaced with boards and rescue tubes. IRB’s would make the boats redundant. We hardly ever bring them out on the beach now anyway. The only time we ever use them is for competitions and training. IRBs would finish them.’
‘There’s only one problem,’ Jason felt the need to warn them.
‘What’s that Jason?’ Bruce turned to face him.
‘There’ll be a ‘shitfight’. The older blokes and the boaties are expecting the club to buy a new boat.’
‘You’re right Jason. I’ll need the Management Committee support. And, you mate, had better not swear like that in the committee room,’ said Bruce.
‘Me? On the committee?’ Jason couldn’t hide his pride.
‘Of course! Paul Saxon, the current Director of Education and Training, has told me he intends to retire. You are the obvious replacement. You had better train your replacement trainer and chief instructor.’
‘Looks like you’re ‘it’ mate. You’ll need numbers, Bruce, won’t you?’ said Pete.
‘Yes and not just on the committee. I’ll marshal my mates there and in the club. Pete I hear you get on very well with the gi…,’ he hesitated smiled and said, ‘women.’ Bruce became reflective. ‘You know this movement started with families meeting on the beach and looking out for each other. I’ve never really agreed with the competitive thing … nor with the domination by the men. My mother was on the committee at this club. There have been few women on it since. It’s time we found our way back to our origins.’
‘What’s the other committee position, Bruce?’
‘Pete, it’s a much tougher one, Director of Finance and Property. Terry also wants to retire. Are any of the new women members capable of filling that role? I’ll organise the numbers. It is time we had some renewal.’
Bruce left Pete and Jason.
‘Say nothing to anyone, Jason. We don’t know who is going to line up on each side.’
‘You and Bruce are thinking about the future of the club.’
‘You know, I was thinking that the club has to change, but I really don’t know what we should do.’
Pete listened then said, ‘Change usually comes about because grass roots lead and force its introduction. Take the restaurant. It was mooted from the floor at a management committee meeting. The committee investigated and proposed the changes. They were accepted at a vote, so the money was spent and now look. It’s so popular even I’m going there.’
‘Yeah, you now eat before you drink.’
The men chuckled and grinned.
‘But seriously, I’m training more teenage girls, young women and young mothers for their Bronze than before. There was a time when it was only young blokes. That has got to change the club, as the lifesavers have always moved on to the club administration.’ said Jason.
‘So we had better not ostracise them and we’d better make damn sure they learn to look after the equipment, the club and all the members.’
‘That’s about it, Pete. But if there is a stoush over the boat, we might lose a few members.’
‘I think we might lose the goodwill of a few members, for a while, Jason. I doubt the club will divide. The Management Committee will try to make sure that doesn’t happen.’ Pete steeled himself. ‘I’ll have to chat with Lenny.’
Pete trudged off down the sand hill and across the soft sand. He enjoyed the feel of the warm sand on his feet and between his bare toes. It brought back many memories. As he reached the lifesavers’ shelter on the beach between the flags, Lenny approached him.
He smiled, ‘Just the person I want to see.’
‘You’ll have to wait a few moments; the patrol captain has left me in charge. He’s up at the toilet.’
They stood together and, as was his old habit, Pete scanned the beach and especially the flagged area. The surf wasn’t powerful, but he noted the rip just to the north, the young inexperienced surfies riding the beach breaks, just outside the flags and a couple of smaller kids playing at the water’s edge. It always amazed him the lack of respect shown for the ocean. People took so much for granted.
‘Should I move the flags a little further south, Pete?’ Lenny asked.
‘Give it another 15 minutes and keep an eye on the rip. It doesn’t usually come much further south than where it is now. But you never really know what rips are going to do. Leave it to Grieg when he returns. Talk it over with him before you decide.’
‘I thought I was talking it over with you.’
‘You are, but I’m not on patrol. After you’ve finished your patrol, I’ll buy you lunch. Bruce, the Chairman, wants me to find a woman for a position on the committee.’
‘Director of Finance and Property.’
‘With a little guidance, I could do that. I’ve been on P and C’s, swim club committees and I‘m on the boards of my parents’ and my own companies. I’d love it.’
Pete looked at her, smiling, ‘Great, Lenny; you’ll probably be co-Director until Terry retires.’
‘That would give us all time to assess each other. So that’s settled then.’
Pete nodded and thought, that was easy and,bugger I’d have enjoyed lunch.
‘I’d still like that meal.’
Pete, to his surprise, felt relief. ‘Ok. One. In the restaurant.’
Action after Thought
Over the next few weeks Lenny got to know the other committee members and worked with the current Director on the annual report. She familiarised herself with the workings of the club committee. Bruce and the other committee members were pleased with the nominations. Jason and Lenny required little training. It appeared they would fit in nicely. The retiring members acknowledged the enthusiasm and competence of their expected successors.
Invitations went out for the AGM. Everyone was informed of all the usual business and procedures, including nominations for the committee. Seldom did these positions change. Everybody knew of the coming retirements but only two new nominations were put up. Continuity and experience were highly valued in the club. There was one final item on the agenda after the Reports and the Election of Officers and that was up for discussion and a members’ vote. It read:
Proposal: The club to update rescue equipment. After discussion, a vote will be taken to approve the purchase of three IRBs to replace the existing Surf Boat.
‘G’day Larry. Pot?’
‘Silly question, Pete.’
‘Silly question Toots,’ said Pete.
All three shared the humour with smiles and chuckles.
‘Mate, where do you stand on the surf boat?’ Larry was serious and that was unusual.
‘We differ, mate.’ Pete did not hesitate, and he was forthright.
Larry said nothing.
‘What about our traditions, Pete?’ Toots spoke quietly.
‘Traditions won’t save lives. Modern equipment will.’
The three did not speak again. Pete and Larry finished their beer.
‘Not today mate, I’ve stuff to do. See you at the AGM tomorrow night.’ Larry shifted his stool, stood and left.
‘Shit Toots, what’s upsetting him?’
‘He’s an old boatie and the boaties’ faction is in his ear. I tried to reason with him but he’s gone real pigheaded, more than usual.’
‘What about you?’ asked Pete.
‘Larry and I aren’t just mates. I’ll support him.’
‘I know, Toots. You really are a decent woman. Looks like our friendships are going to be a bit strained for a while.’
‘Christ Pete, it’s like this right through the club. I know one thing. If the boaties don’t get the new boat, they’re all saying they’ll be off down to Surf Head club. Larry’ll join them.’
‘And you too, Toots?’
‘No, I need this job Pete. I won’t be at the AGM. Things are going to change around here.’
Pete pursed his lips and nodded his head. He felt sad. But he also knew few of the members now drank in the bar. It was mostly single men who patronised the bar, and only they interacted with Toots. They would be disgruntled and would want a boat. The vast majority of the active older members now socialised in the restaurant with their families. Pete had no idea how they would feel about the boat issue. And then there were the members who seldom visited the club. Nobody, including Bruce, knew how many of them would come and vote or send their proxies. As far as they could calculate, Bruce and Pete thought a vote would be close, if not defeated. They were hoping, if the issue was presented clearly, a few might be swayed to the new equipment and the vote might be positive. They knew the meeting could be explosive.
Monday evening and the AGM arrived.
‘Hi Pete,’ Lenny gave him a hug as they met outside the club restaurant. It was to be the site for the meeting
Pete returned her hug. ‘You look stunning out of you beach gear, Lenny.’
‘Thank you Pete, and mate, I didn’t think you owned pants other than jeans. And boots mate! You look even taller. Look, I enjoyed lunch with you so much the other day. Can we do that again?’
‘Of course we can. I love Monday nights on the Coast, they are so quiet and peaceful and no kids. We could have a late dinner at the Casino, if you like.’
‘We are dressed for it. Tonight might not be so quiet or peaceful though. I’ve been talking with Bruce and Jason about “the boat” and other things.’
‘Bruce has the numbers to carry both your and Jason’s nominations, and it’s now unlikely there will be other nominations, so you’ll be a key part of the future. Have you planned for all eventualities tonight in relation to the boat?’
‘Yep, I’ve thought through all scenarios and have proposals for each, like you suggested.’
‘You’ve kept your own counsel.’
‘Yes and no. I discussed one proposal with Bruce and we collaborated. I’m ready.’
‘Good, I’ll escort you. Give me your arm, ma’am.’
‘Is this a statement Pete?’ Lenore looked up at him as she offered her arm. She thought him handsome.
‘I think it might be and … it will influence the vote.’ Pete contained his excitement. He had a small smile about his lips and chuckled almost silently.
Lenny knew him and his humour well and she squeezed his arm in appreciation, agreement and acceptance. They entered at the front of the room. The crowd fell quiet. They were a striking couple. Pete saw Larry with the boaties. They acknowledged one another across the room. Pete knew Larry would approve of Lenny and him as a couple. The thought calmed Pete. He realised that being one half of a couple was indeed to be a part of his future, and all his internal conflict resolved in that split second.
The restaurant had been closed for the evening. The tables were stacked at the rear and the chairs set out in rows. Most were filled, from the rear forward. The room was hot, almost clammy. Small groups were standing around the walls. The boaties formed the biggest group. It was the biggest attendance Pete had ever seen at an AGM. He guided Lenny to a chair near the front and positioned it for her as she sat. He sat beside her and reached for her hand.
Bruce called the meeting to order. His address was fairly short and covered all aspects of the club’s activities over the year. He welcomed all the newer members and thanked everyone for their contributions. He remembered the club sponsors and welcomed their representatives. He gave a special acknowledgement to visiting representatives from the sister club of Surf Head and members of the state Surf Life Saving Association. They were all his guests. He presented the full Chairman’s report.
All the usual club meeting procedures were followed with motions moved, seconded and carried. All the sub-committee reports were presented and accepted. At the conclusion of the Finance and Property report, Terry, the Director, announced his retirement and recommended Lenny as his replacement in glowing terms. With the conclusion of his report, the Director of Education and Training also announced his intention to step down, and gave his recommendation for Jason as his replacement.
The Election of Officers saw the nomination of all current committeemen and there were only two nominations as replacements. All nominated were elected unopposed. Bruce remarked they were all to have a change of status as they would now be known as Committee or Committeepersons. A murmur of approval rippled through the meeting. Lenny and Jason were invited to sit at the committee table to participate in the discussion of the equipment renewal.
Bruce again addressed the meeting, ‘This brings us to the discussion of future equipment purchases. I have had discussions with most of the active members on this topic. Sadly it is a divisive issue and I know some of us are quite passionate about our positions. I would hope we all remember we are all members of this club and have all made significant contributions over the years. We, the more experienced committee members and our new members, have canvassed near and wide for a solution which will bring about a consensus and not result in disruption to the club. As we see things: at issue is the purchase of new equipment. Some of us want a new Surf Boat and some of us want more modern technology. Some of us would like both, but as The Director of Property and Finance has reported, that is impossible. We all realise the importance of our traditions and acknowledge and respect the positions of those who favour the boat. We also recognise the importance of our main role on the beach. We realise the importance of, and respect the positions of those who favour the Inflatable Rescue Boats. Before we present our proposals, I would like to invite any member to present their views from the floor.’
He handed the mic to the Club Secretary, Phil. He turned to the audience. Several had their hands raised.
Tom was the captain of the Surf Boat Crew. ‘Thank you Phil. Bruce, you’ve really put things in a nutshell. The choice is ours. We in the boat crew realise we are few in number, and common sense dictates we’re unlikely to prevail tonight. We know the expense of a new boat cannot be justified. I think we all recognise that. We all understand the club must move on. But hell, Bruce, we’ve worked bloody hard and we feel we are just being dumped.’
‘You blokes should be used to that,’ a wag interjected in a good natured way. Everybody laughed, including the boaties. The tension broke.
Smiling, Tom continued, ‘We can take hard knocks, but the boats are a big part of our activities at the club. We are all up to date with our patrol participation. In the past we have contributed to the prestige of this club on the beach and at competitions. We’d like to be able to go on doing both. We have a proud record of safety in our boats with our selections and training. Thanks Bruce.’
The club secretary pointed and said, ‘Lain’.
All the men smiled.
‘I don’t know why you men smile whenever you hear my name. It is starting to bother me. Can’t you pronounce your E’s? My name is Elaine.’
‘Ask Pete,’ Larry interjected, ‘’e knows.’ All the men laughed or broke into broad smiles.
Pete was impassive. Lenny looked at him quizzically. He smiled at her.
‘Anyway, we women were just starting to master the boat. We love it and we want to add to the men’s tradition. In fact we want to lead the way in women’s boat races.’
Stan quipped, ‘Hands down, you won the boat race we had in the bar!’ An afternoon session involving Irish whiskey, a drunken Lain and a very drunken Stan, who had accepted defeat by falling asleep under the table, had become part of the club lore. Laughter echoed around the room again.
One of the patrol captains stood and extolled the effectiveness of the IRBs at other clubs.
A nipper’s parent suggested IRBs would give greater confidence to the youngsters and alleviate some of the less experienced parents’ fears.
‘Anyone else from the floor?’ asked the secretary. There was silence. ‘Then I’ll pass over to the Committee. Bruce.’
‘Thanks Phil. Before I propose a motion, Lenny and I have had consultations with our sister club down the beach. It was Lenny’s idea so I’ll pass over to her.’
‘Thanks, Bruce. Tom, I’m only new but I see the photos on the walls, the trophies in the cases and I’ve read the old annual reports. You, your mates and many others over the years have contributed a great deal to this club. Some of
us women have recently come to understand the guts it takes to drive one of those boats.’
‘Row, steer and surf, not drive,’ Tom corrected her.
‘And also the great thrills and satisfaction that you derive from crewing. I also see many life members are former boaties and most of you are coming up to ten year club service. So I think your view of the unfairness of not having a new boat is quite justified. Clearly you might be tempted to join another club. That would be a great loss to us all. And I know long and close friendships would also suffer. Eh Larry?’ Lenny looked at Larry and then back to Tom.
Larry nodded. The room was silenced; a pin could be heard to drop. No one moved.
‘So Bruce and I approached our friends down the beach and asked if they could help us out.’
‘Go on,’ said Tom.
‘They bought a new boat a year ago, but for one reason or another they can no longer find enough crew.’
‘Their boat is a beaut,’ one of the boaties said.
‘Well, they are prepared to arrange a joint crew with our club,’ said Lenny.
‘Really?’ Tom was awestruck. The solution was obvious. The room broke into approving chatter. There was much shuffling, turning, nodding and smiling.
‘What about competitions, uniforms, insurance, training, transport and all the details, Lenny?’ Larry asked.
‘I’m working with the Surf Head Chairman and Committee as well as the Surf Association on those arrangements for you blokes,’ said Bruce.
‘What about us women?’ Lain stood.
Bruce deferred to Lenny. ‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ she said.
‘Traitor!’ Lain shot back with a smile. ‘I thought you said you would look out for all the members and their interests!’
Lenny smiled. She had learned a lesson. ‘I’m sorry Lain, I just thought …’
‘Like the men.’ They both chuckled as she added with irony, ‘And you lectured me about Orwell’s Animal Farm.’
Bruce stood and addressed the meeting. ‘Well, if everybody is happy, I’ll put the motion that:
The club approves the purchase of IRBs and the club approves the establishment a joint arrangement with Surf Head Club in relation to Surf Boat activities for both men and women.
Those in favour?’
There was a loud ‘Yea!’ from the members.
There was silence.
‘Then the motion is carried unanimously. I declare the AGM now closed and the bar open. It is the club’s shout.’
Mostly Left Unsaid
Lenny left the committee table and approached Pete. There was general excitement and relief among the members. There was a great commotion as though everyone wanted to talk at once. The restaurant emptied slowly. The noise moved to the bar.
‘Mate, I’m proud of you. That was spectacular. You’ve united and excited this club.’
‘Thanks Pete. But I think you and Bruce were somehow guiding me.’
‘No, not guiding. We were just watching and encouraging. The way you dealt with this is how we’ve been doing things for generations. It’s our way. Everybody saw your clarity. What you suggested benefitted everyone and you carried everyone to where they knew they should have gone in the first place. You’ll be a very influential and respected committee member from now on.’
‘I’d like to mix a bit.’
‘Go for it. I’m going to have a beer with Larry.’
Lenny smiled gently at Pete. He felt a shiver run up his spine. ‘Bruce invited us to dinner with the other committee members and their partners. I accepted for you. Do you mind?’
‘Of course not Lenny, but his dinners always go very late.’ Pete was thrilled and his face beamed.
Lenny reached and kissed Pete’s cheek. She gripped his arm and put her arm around his back and whispered in his ear, ‘That’s okay; we can stay at mum and dad’s holiday unit at Broadbeach after.’
Pete didn’t trust himself to talk. He just gave her a hug and smiled. He went to meet Larry.
‘Mate, where’s Lenny?’
‘She’s mixing, Larry.’
‘You going with her to Bruce’s place later?’
Toots pushed two pots across the bar. Pete went to pay; he had not heard Bruce. ‘Open bar Pete. The club’s paying.’
‘I thought you weren’t coming tonight?’
‘I wasn’t, but both Bruce and Lenny asked me. They said the bar would need someone after the meeting. And look, it’s packed.’
‘Where’s Lain?’ Pete asked.
‘With the boaties, mate. They’re like long lost buddies. Look.’ Larry pointed to the far corner, the boaties corner.
Lain spotted Pete and moved through the crowd to his side. She hugged him.
‘Well Pete, will Kim be allowed to join our crew?’
‘Lain, on three conditions: no big surf; you are her chaperone; and Jason is in charge of the crew’s training.’
‘You’re a good dad, Pete. I hope you are as good a partner to Lenny.’
‘We all do,’ said Toots, ‘we’ve watched you two circling one another all bloody summer, then when she kissed you tonight, we all knew for sure.’
‘Toots, give me a whiskey.’ Pete wanted to show his excitement. That was the best he could manage.
‘There’s only one more thing, Pete.’
‘What’s that, Lain?’ ‘The past tense of lay is laid.’
‘Tell Jack, mate.’