"What have I signed up for?"

A personal account of becoming a fully-fledged Bronte Lifesaver by Charlie Chirnside
 (editor’s note, no names were changed to protect the innocent!)

The first time most of us met was the proficiency test at the Bronte pool. This is where Garry (Luscombe), Ruk (de Silva) and Kimberly (Johns) made sure we hadn’t eaten too much plum pudding over the long Christmas break and could swim fast enough to be a potential lifesaver. 

It was a nice night and Bronte pool was well occupied, all I can really remember was Garry yelling at some rather large fellas to stop doing bombs off the side of the pool while we were all swimming our hearts out. 

After doing a 2.5k ocean swim over summer I thought I was going to dominate this proficiency swim business. Most of the group breezed it - Andy and Corey finished in about half the required time! I was so cross after the swim – all those lessons I’d had at Icebergs and I only just made it, must have been those ‘fellas’ getting in the way?!

Back inside the club for the course intro we appeared to be all ears but really we were sussing each other out … Ryan Tindall introduced himself (I knew Ryan was a soldier (“the real deal” kind)) and he spoke about the course, but also said he’d trained all our instructors and would be keeping a close eye on us –– I began to wonder what exactly I’d signed on for here. 

Our main man Ruk was more reassuring and told us we’d all be good mates by the end of the course, I had my reservations! It was obvious right from the start that Ruk liked to talk…a lot. Andy (Andrew Ralph) seemed more reserved with a dry sense of humour, but whoever they were it was obvious they both genuinely loved the Bronte Surf Club and they were there to help! They told us this would be our second home for the next 8 weeks.

Our group started with 15 members, including Andy, Lizzy, Chris, Ollie, Heather, Rob, Lizzy, Kat, Chris, Ken, me, Corey….and even two school kids (Marine and Amy) who thought they might just add the Bronze Medallion to their extracurricular activities.  We ended with 14, only “Inking Iain” went AWOL – as mining work commitments got in the way. 

Our weekly plan was to go something like this:

Monday night, lots of theory and land-based skills.  Wednesday mornings a few run-swim-runs’ at Bondi.  Thursday morning board training.  Friday morning optional pilates with old mate Harries Carroll and then theory and practical (water) training on Saturdays – I thought, ‘bloody hell this Bronze course is going to take over our lives!’  

Monday: We got into a pretty good routine most Monday nights. Treating the SLS manual like a bible seemed to help. Practising all our signals – like “pick up swimmers” rodeo style, playing the patient, providing oxygen, bandages and lots of DRSABCD thrown in for good measure! It was more fun than work, and I now know there is a lot more to lifesaving than “mouth to mouth” resuscitation. 

Wednesday: was run-swim-run day. After circling North Bondi for 20 mins trying to park as close to the surf club as possible, we all met and waited for Garry to appear and run us through our paces.  Garry and Kimberly said they would ease us into these sessions but I remember going to work after that first day and literally falling asleep on my desk before lunchtime. 

Every week Garry, Kimberly, Jen (Austin), Tara (O’Reilly) and Will (Hartwig) made these sessions more challenging …but you didn’t have to be Kyle Charmers or Libby Trickett to enjoy them, we all left the beach on Wednesdays with an extra spring in our step. 

Thursday: This day was reserved for board training with Jackson (Raymond), Paul (Watchman) and Betsy (Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Rumble)– only problem was …we never got to go out! It was like a Tsunami came to Bronte every Thursday, the swell was massive, and the lifeguards kept closing the beach…. 

On the 4th week we finally got out the back where Jackson and Paul had us practising a range of different manoeuvres – rolling, turning and paddling to Tamarama.   Secretly I was happy to do this all day if it meant we didn’t have to paddle back in on those huge waves… but our fearless instructors were a lot more practical than that and told us to head back in the direction of the Bogey hole, paddle hard and stay near the rip where the waves were supposedly smaller. Rob told me to tell his wife he loved her (I hope she is reading this) and we took off for shore.  Rob and I got lucky – Heather not so lucky …she lost her board on a big wave and disappeared for a while – but the little English trooper that she is, borrowed Jacksons board and got back on again, attacked the surf and made it back in. 

Back on the beach there was a lot of pre-Corona hugging, high fiving and relief we’d all made it back in one piece – a truly bonding experience for the group, and our instructors insisted that if we could pull that off, we could manage anything! 

Saturday: Saturday was generally with Ruk and Betsy.  We all met at 2pm sharp down at our new home …the Bronte SLSC. This was the day for putting into practice many of the Monday night skills like radios, DRSABCD, spinals, tube and board rescues etc…  It was also compulsory run-swim-run – which for some reason was always about 3x harder at Bronte than it was with Garry on a Wednesday down at Bondi. Bronte is a tough “bar and rip” beach to learn and use these skills but I think it conditions you to save lives almost anywhere.

Mock assessment  

By the time the Mock assessment rolled around we were all feeling pretty good about ourselves, Ruk was great for building confidence - he kept telling us we were the best group ever! However, one of our first mock assessors …let’s just call him “Paul” was very stern and may have mentioned once or twice that he had been in the army, he wanted things a certain way, and it was his way or the highway. We were not used to this! I was in trouble early as he told me that if I talked back to the real assessors like I did with him – I wouldn’t stand a chance in the final assessment….it was time to focus! I think we had all gotten ahead of ourselves, we were travelling well but definitely had some work to do.  If nothing else Paul was a good reality check. 

Corona Virus!

Things were going just swimmingly until that rotten Corona virus came to town  – within 2 weeks we went from blowing rescue breathes into each other’s mouths (actually I was the only one that did that - just once… sorry Heather!) to not even being able to go near each other.  Considering it was such a hands-on course not being able to get close to anyone made it all pretty awkward. COVID-19 really snuck up on us and we all started to wonder whether we would get to finish the course. 

Ruk said that he would have some pretty important announcements to make soon…

Was that it? Was it all over? Maybe they would just pass us?  No way our mock assessor Paul (or Sam (Stone) for that matter) would let that happen! Maybe we’d just have to wait until August. But it’s freezing that time of year and we would’ve forgotten everything by then!

The following Monday – we all sat around in our little circle preparing for another session with Andy and Ruk…when Ruk dropped the bomb that Corona was going to bring everything forward. 

The assessment that we were going to do in 2 weeks’ time was actually going to be tomorrow…tomorrow? Excuse me? Cue reading the manual all night in bed and on the bus to work (Lizzy had been doing this anyway) and asking Andy and Ruk 1000’s of questions.

How long do you leave a tourniquet on for?

What if the patient is lying on their stomach in the assessment?

Do we or don’t we add the to DRSABCD?!

Ruk and Andy assured us we could do it; we’d done the training; we knew all the answers – we’d just have to adapt to this new world of social distancing for lifesavers!  

The Final Assessment 

Dry Assessment
We all got to the club much earlier than usual, and although it was our dry skills assessment we jumped in the water and brushed up on our wet skills ready for the following day (tube rescue, spinals etc). After a good session with Ruk and Paul (the nice one) in the bogey hole, and a quick fish and chips run, we headed up to the club for our dry skills test. 

We split into two groups, Ryan took one group and Sam took ours. 

Sam was very professional, he asked us a lot of questions with no indication whether he was pleased with our responses, and worryingly seemed to be making a lot of notes (good or bad sign – who knew?). But once we got going the Bronzy teamwork kicked in, and just like we had through the whole course – if one of us forgot something the other one slid in to help out - seamless!  

Marnie had an interesting scenario play out with an abandoned baby she’d apparently dug out of the beach – not breaking character even with the rest of the groups rather confused and alarmed faces!

Even though hard arse Ryan and Sam were our assessors, we all passed with flying colours! However, thanks to Corona – we could not rest on our laurels – the wet water skills would be on display for all of Bondi to see the following morning!

Wet Assessment
At first light Chris and Rob stuffed the boards into the back of their cars and we all met ready for the big run swim run. It went well, I remember Kath and I smiling with relief at the finish line.  However that was just the beginning, we were also assessed on spinals, tube rescues, board rescues and a whole series of random events you might come across as a lifesaving, Bronze medallion holder.  It went remarkably well, being able to apply all the knowledge and skills we had learnt over the last couple of months of the course was really good fun in the end.  The highlight of the day was when Ruk made us swim out to where he was waiting for us just past the “surf zone”. Waiting for us he had our brand new “real deal” lifesaver caps – it was like school graduation all over again!


A massive thanks to all our instructors; Ruk, Andy, Betsy, Paul, Jackson, Kimberly, Garry, Jen, Tara, Ryan and Sam. And Will – how could anyone forget young Will…he was everywhere!

Even though we’ve all spent time down at Bronte Beach, doing the Bronze at the club has made it more special than ever before.  

Inspired by all these legends we gave it our all, Rob and Andy had a perfect attendance record…. They clearly wanted to make the most of having a free pass away from the wife and kids!

By the end of the course we were really enjoying the camaraderie and knowing it was going to be over so quickly with little prospect of us all doing our patrols together was seriously disappointing! However, Ruk has been very good at keeping us tight via his numerous WhatsApp group messages and I’m sure we’ll all be swimming together in no time. Not to mention end of course celebrations as soon as life gets back to normal.

There is so much more to doing your Bronte Bronze Medallion than what we had all originally thought. As a wise woman (Kimberly) once told us “There is a very good chance that your original reason for joining … won’t be the only reason you stay" and she was right!