Ocean Grove Surf Life Saving Club is situated on the main beach at Ocean Grove, Victoria. The township of Ocean Grove is on the southern side of the Bellarine Peninsular facing Bass Strait, is flanked by the Barwon River to the west, and is a very popular tourist resort with a permanent population of about 10,000. Due to its close proximity to the major cities of Geelong and Melbourne, and the tourist mecca of the Great Ocean Road, Ocean Grove's population swells on public holidays and summer.
Ocean Grove main beach experiences some of the largest summer crowds of all Victorian beaches and is part of a 10 kilometer stretch of sand from "The Rip" at Point Lonsdale to the Barwon River mouth at Barwon Heads. It is a relatively safe beach due to its gently slopping sand bottom producing an evenly graded surf break. Treacherous waters lay to the east and west of the main beach with the Barwon River mouth having seen numerous boating tragedies in the past. The beach is very popular with families and surfers, although better surf breaks at nearby 13th Beach usually attract the more serious surfers.
The surf club was formed in 1948 and apart from a brief disbandment in the early 50's, (visit the club's history), has maintained patrols on the beach every summer. In season 2018/19 the club had a membership of around 1000 members with approximately third of that number comprising junior or "nipper" members. The club's large junior ranks provide a strong foundation for its patrol and competition activities as well as giving the club a family orientation with an active social calendar.
For more details regarding specific activities of the club, donations and membership, visit the Contact Us page.
In 1998 the Ocean Grove club celebrated its 50th anniversary. Club historian, Brenton McGee, put together a brief overview of the club's historical highlights. The pages below give a glimpse of each decade of the Club.
One Sunday morning in early 1948, Doug Yench was enjoying a few body waves at the Ocean Grove beach when he noticed a young girl wearing water wings who was drifting away down the beach in a brisk side current. Swimming over to her he was able to return her to the beach and her mother before they had even realised what was happening. Witnessing this minor rescue from the beach was a teacher at the local school, Claude Williams, who approached Doug and discussions turned to the need for a Surf Life Saving Club and patrols for the beach. Accordingly in September 1948, a meeting of the Ocean Grove Progress Association addressed the need for a Surf Club and a sub committee was formed. A visit from the Victorian State Centre, represented by 'Sprint' Walker and Jim Wall, was organised at a meeting on the 18th November 1948 and from there the formation of the club proceeded. Claude Williams was elected first President while Doug Yench filled the roles of Club Captain, Secretary, Treasurer and club instructor. November 21st saw the first ever patrol on the Ocean Grove beach.
At that stage membership consisted of seven local boys and seven local girls in their mid to late teens. Stan Smith, Bob Moody, Trevor Lorimer, Jack Rabbas, Peter Davies, Joe Osman, and Bruce Hill began training for patrols while the girls at that time were only permitted to become part of the support team to the club.
Doug had been an active member at Eastern Beach Life Saving Club in Geelong but otherwise there was a definite shortage of strong, experienced swimmers. The club was strengthened when Colin Monro joined and on Jan 9th, 1949, Doug Yench and Colin Monro passed their examination at Torquay and become the first ever Bronze medallion holders for the Ocean Grove SLSC. Support from local business people and some raffles enabled the purchase of the necessary equipment including an Eve Rocker and a new reel which was purchased from Johnsons Tyne Foundry, South Melbourne, 25th Nov, 1948.
On the 27th January 1949 the clubs colours of the time, light blue, dark blue with gold lettering were registered. The club was able to patrol through the summer of 1948-49, and on Feb 6th, 1949, held the first ever carnival at the Ocean Grove Beach. They were also represented at carnivals at Torquay, Pt Lonsdale, Warrnambool and Portland.
At the end of that summer Doug Yench moved away from Ocean Grove and the club struggled to continue the following season with no new recruits and without Doug's driving force. The final blow came with the tragic drowning of Joe Osman while he was swimming across the Barwon River with friends in Feb, 1950. The club folded due to lack of interest and numbers.
In 1953 the Ocean Grove Progress Association organised a meeting of interested people to consider reforming the club. Hearing of this, a group of members, including Bob Millett, Reg Pearce and Fred Thomas, from the Eastern Beach Life Saving Club attended the meeting held at the Fire Brigade hall on March 25th, 1953. At that meeting Eric Lomas was elected President; Peter Davies, Secretary and Ron Jones, Treasurer.
At a later meeting of active members held on the beach, Fred Thomas was elected Club Captain and also delegate to State Centre. Fred was to gain the club's third and the last of the Bronze medallions issued nationally before the introduction of Bronze medallions registered in Victoria.
The club mounted its first patrol on December 19th, 1953 using an old reel brought from Eastern Beach and the march past flag from the previous group. The patrol caps were made by Noel Emselle's mother, Carrie, based on the colours of the old club, two blues but with a gold stripe. It was thought that when wet the stripe looked too similar to Torquay's cap so a gold star was envisaged. However this was a bit hard to cope with so she came up with the characteristic widening gold band that is still in use today. The first rescue occurred on Sunday 3rd of January 1954 when two youngsters got into difficulties on a rubber float.
The first group of bronze medallions were awarded in this first 1953/54 season to Fred Thomas, Ian Batson, Cor Vanderberg and John Payne. These were the old Bronze medallions issued by National Council. The next season on the 29th November, 1954, Colin Bull, Noel Emselle, Graham Robinson, Bob Millett, Peter Lahey, John Evans, Graham Wilson, Bert Dolheguy, Frank Everett, Christopher Keleher, Jack Wynn and John Flowers gained the club's first Victorian Bronze medallions, numbered from V13 to V24 respectively.
About this time a group of new members transferred from Portsea. These included Bruce Bowman, Arthur Stone and Bert Dolheguy. They had seen the beach two years previously and being boat rowers were impressed with the ease of access to the beach compared to Portsea. They were to provide much needed experience for an establishing club and Bruce, being elected Boat Captain, immediately began searching for a boat. An old double ender was located for sale at Manly and with a donation from Miss Gladys Bell was purchased for 100 pounds.
The Almora had its first win at Point Lonsdale after being towed around the beach behind Bob Millett's trayback Vauxhall. The foundations of a strong boat tradition were set during this time, a tradition that lasted until the early 1970's. A second boat was purchased with donated funds from Gladys Bell and this one, a very heavy plank boat from Bilgola, was named in her honour.
There followed many other boats, Almora 2, Chef Gas, and Mary Frances donated by Fred Grimwade and named in honour of his wife. The bow of the original Almora is mounted in the Surf Club while the Gladys Bell was restored and is on display in England.
In January 1955 ill health forced Eric Lomas to resign as president and at the Annual General Meeting in September Claude Williams returned to hold the post until 1963. At the same time Bob Millett was elected secretary; a position he would hold for nine years.
During this time applications were being made to the Victorian government for a grant of land on which to site a clubhouse. One of the members, Alan McKeown, MP who lived across the road from the beach was instrumental in achieving this and on December 6th, 1955 construction began on the first stage of the clubhouse.
In August 1958 a monthly newsletter/ magazine had its debut edition. The first editors of OGLAND News were Clive Bubb, Max Preece and Fred Thomas. The first issue was typed by Helen Bowman. 'OGLAND' continues to the present day as the main means of keeping all Ocean Grove club members informed.
Some of the more notable members during the fifties were the Tribe boys, Graham, Dick and Geoff, who were unbeatable in the club Championships; John Stubbings, beach sprinter, Ocean Grove's first State Champion; Bill Kelly, Lyle Smith, Mack Kelly, Arthur 'Afghan' Stone, Bob Millett and Bruce Bowman, who was the winner of the John Wishart Memorial Medal in 1958.
The sixties got off to a great start with another Wishart medal win, this time to Graham Tribe in 1960. Active membership totalled 88.
This year saw work commencing on the upstairs level of the clubhouse. The Ladies Auxiliary was formed in October with 9 members including Eril Stubbings, Carrie Emselle, Gwen Williamson and Kath Smith. The purpose of the Auxiliary was to assist at Social functions and to raise money ......."to assist the male side of the club".
In April 1963, Claude Williams tendered his resignation. Claude had been president for all but two years of the Club's existence and he was immediately nominated by Bob Millett for the first Life membership of the Ocean Grove Surf Life Saving Club. This was carried at the next Annual general Meeting. The following year, Bob Millett and Noel Emselle were awarded life membership for their long service to the club.
Alf Barnshaw succeeded Claude as president for two years followed in 1965 by Bob Millett who was to remain in the post until 1970.
During the early to mid sixties much effort had gone into the Herald Learn to Swim campaign where club members donated their time to teach young children to swim. This was done in the Barwon river. However this concept took a step further in January, 1969 with the introduction of the "Little Nippers" to the Ocean Grove SLSC. Under the leadership of Bob Millett and Ian McConnell a total of 41 nippers joined the club, of whom 24 gained their appropriate award.
A highlight in the 1971/72 season was Victoria's first interstate nipper competition with Ocean Grove hosting and accommodating two teams from South Australia to compete against other Bellarine clubs and Portland.
Ocean Grove continued its efforts as a boat club with some successes at carnivals and many keen boaties, at one stage having four crews. Notable personalities of the sixties include Barry 'Ribs' Renton, Arthur Williamson, Ken and Perry Leach, Bruce McGeorge, the McPherson boys and Keith 'Hook' Norris. The club was deeply shaken by the death of John Bishop in a level crossing crash in December 1965. John had been a club stalwart and he is remembered each year by the awarding of the John Bishop Memorial Best Clubman Award, the most prized of the all the club's awards.
The decade finished with the 1970 Australian Surf Life Saving Championships at the Ocean Grove beach. As usual the event was meticulously planned by Bob Millett but the perfect weather in the preceding week left everyone unprepared for the severity of the change on the weekend. The appalling conditions required a change of venue for some events and to this day at almost every surf club over Australia, if you mention the name Ocean Grove, somebody will be only too willing to tell you about the day it "snowed" at the Aussies. The carnival would have been a financial disaster were it not for the energy of Bob who pursued a reluctant insurance company until they paid out on their bad weather policy.
Later in the year tragedy struck Ocean Grove for the second time when Barry 'Ribs' Renton was killed in a car crash. Barry was one of those people who lived for the club and whose input into the club was immeasurable. His ashes were scattered over the Ocean Grove 'Bommi' in one of the largest gatherings of surf boats ever seen at the Grove. A perpetual trophy named in his honour is presented yearly to the best competitor, not necessarily the most successful, but someone whose philosophy matched that of Barry.
The number of active members in 1969/70 was 87. Notable members of the late sixties and early seventies include Daryl Barnett, Hugh Strahan, Dick Bedford, Stuart Dickson, Fred Leiper, Dave Renton, Albert 'Dody' Dodman, Norm Dickens, Ray Johnson and Ian 'Doc' McConnell.
The 1971/72 season witnessed the patrol debut at the Grove of the 'Rubber Ducky' or IRB. Ocean Grove had figured prominently, through the seemingly limitless energy of Bob Millett, in the concept, testing, demonstration and promotion of this revolutionary piece of rescue equipment.
A new fundraising idea, a doorknock of the community of Ocean Grove was organised by Ray Johnson and proved and proved so successful that it has remained to this day. The Ladies auxiliary continued to play a vital supporting role under the leadership of Betty Johnson, 'Fred' Barnett and Maureen Leiper. Two more life memberships were awarded, Dick Tribe in 1972 and Daryl Barnett in 1978.
The boaties influence was beginning to wane and competition in the club diversified. A strong group of beach competitors began to develop and they had success at State level in Junior ranks at flags and sprints through Ian Guyett, Danny Moore, James Benson and Russell Middleton. This culminated with the Australian Championship win by Ian Guyett in the Junior Beach Sprint in 1977. Russell Middleton reeled off a string of wins in the Open Flags at the Victorian titles, five consecutive years. The same season saw a new secretary, Mrs 'Fred' Barnett who would continue as secretary until the end of the 1987/88 season, a record 11 years.
Membership for the 1979/80 season totalled 48 active and 15 active reserve. Notable members who joined or came to prominence during the seventies include Russell Middleton, Ralf Harries, Stephen Jellie, Mark Hager; Neil, Vincent and Laurie Tremaine, Chris Paterson, Paddy Kinsey, Bill Strachan, Trevor Sheridan and Stuart Flamer-Caldera.
The eighties began well with the acceptance of female Bronze medallion holders in July 1981. Tanya Jones and Evelyn Schmidt were the first two female bronzies at Ocean Grove and also in the Bellarine District. They were closely followed by Ann Rundle and Lynn Woodburn.
January 1981 saw the inaugural, "Rip to River" fun run from Point Lonsdale lighthouse to the mouth of the Barwon river. One of the club's major fund raising events the "Rip to River" was the brainchild of Ray Johnson and was perhaps Australia's first regularly organised beach fun run. More good news for the club came with a win in the State Patrol Competition in 1982/83, always a tough job for the larger clubs.
Victoria's 150th birthday was celebrated by the staging of the Australia Games, part of which was a Surf Life Saving Test on February 2nd, 1985 between an Australian and a World team. Ocean Grove was selected as the most suitable beach for this televised carnival in front of an estimated 20,000 spectators. Bob Millett again proved his organising ability and the fantastic support of all the members ensured this day was an outstanding success.
That same year a dramatic incident occurred at the mouth of the Barwon river. In squally conditions and huge seas a boat had overturned with two people missing. The traumatic episode involved a club member ditching into the ocean from the rescue helicopter several kilometres offshore to effect a possible rescue and then being swept away, presumed drowned. The club member was eventually washed ashore safely but the two members of the public had already tragically perished. The Barwon River mouth is a continuing problem with regular serious boating mishaps. Most them have a happier ending.
With the interruption of one year Russell Middleton continued his successes in the Open Flags, winning another four consecutive State titles. Possibly no other event has been dominated by one person for so long.
From the mid eighties a new mood began to emerge. From becoming an exclusively male preserve, the Surf Life Saving Club was opening up to females, juniors and more and more nippers. With the nippers came families. Over the years the nippers program had been an important part of club membership development but it was not until the late 1980's that it began to consolidate under the guidance of Ray Johnson. Ray was involved on the executive of the Victorian Junior Activities Board from its inception in 1981 until his retirement in 1989. During the same period 'Fred' Barnett held the position of secretary of the Victorian JAB for a period of ten years from its inception until 1991, a remarkable record.
In 1986/87 Brenton McGee became Ocean Grove JAB co-ordinator and the nippers began to flourish. From nine children in 1980 membership grew to over 350 within 10 years. A deliberate policy of promotion of the nippers within the club paid off with most senior members accepting teaching and instruction as part of their responsibilities. Brenton remained as nipper leader 10 years later. During this time he took over from Fred Barnett as State Secretary for 5 years. Ocean Grove's involvement in the nipper movement has been extremely important. The Ocean Grove nippers remains the largest and most efficient nipper program in the state.
The eighties finished with six additional life members; Ray Johnson, Fred Leiper, Dave Renton, Ralf Harries, Russell Middleton and Frederica 'Fred' Barnett. Active membership totalled 71, with 86 members in the Associate, Supporter and Friend categories. Notable members who joined or came to prominence during the eighties include Cathy Tisdale, Brenton McGee, Alistair McCooke and John Fitzgerald.
The death through illness of Ray Johnson in 1991 was a sad blow for the club. A memorial trophy is now presented to the Ocean Grove Nipper of the Year in recognition of Ray's many years of fine work with the Junior Association.
The Ocean Grove SLSC was experiencing a strong shift from a high percentage of Melbourne members to strong support from the local area. This was in no small part due to the success of the nipper program. This was also to be felt in the competition arena. A group of extremely talented competitors emerged in 1992/93 into Under 16 competition and they were to cause a resurgence in the competition success of the club. Former nippers Mark Graham, Sean McGee, Dan Bennett and Paul Crapp were to dominate junior water events at State Championships for the next four seasons. Inspired by their success and a new extremely strong club spirit, other competitors found success coming their way also.
At Fairhaven in 1995 Ocean Grove won their first ever Taplin relay event. It just happened to be the State Championship and half of the team were under 18 juniors. The trend has continued with the juniors still dominating at carnivals. It is to be noted that while many rival competitors are lured away to other clubs, no competitor has desired to leave Ocean Grove for a rival club. It is a tribute to the team spirit and loyalty between club mates. A similar trend is happening at the other end of the age spectrum.
Masters competitors have enjoyed much success at state championships largely due to retention in the club of the family. On one occasion three members of one family won State medals at three different levels in the one year; Nippers, Seniors and Masters. One outstanding member who continues to dominate at Masters level is Dave Renton. Dave is a bit of a legend at the Grove and holds the club patrolling record; 31 years as an Active and active Reserve patrolling member, averaging close to 40 hours a year. That is a lot of hours of service to the public.
In late 1991 concerns were raised about the deteriorating state of the clubhouse. Since 1955, many additions and remodelling had taken place but finally, due to its dangerous condition, some hard decisions had to be made.
A proposal by the Foreshore committee was adopted, whereby the surf club would be accommodated in joint premises with a kiosk/restaurant. On Feb 25th, 1995 the club officially moved into the new Surf Beach complex. The changeover involved a substantial financial contribution from the club which was raised by two years of intense fund raising and a considerable ongoing commitment for the next ten years.
In one of the highlights of the 1996 Australian Championships, Life Membership of Australia Council was awarded to Bob Millett, fitting recognition of over 40 years service to Ocean Grove SLSC and Surf Life Saving. The latest life member at Ocean Grove is Vincent Tremaine after many outstanding years service, eight as club president. He stood down after the 1994/95 season along with Ralf Harries who had served as secretary, also for eight years.
In 1998 the Ocean Grove Surf life Saving Club is well positioned for growth into the next century. The large flow through of young members from the juniors is continuing both in the competition and patrol areas. During 50 years the Ocean Grove Surf Life Saving Club's major commitment has been and always will be, to public safety on the beach. Every member places the highest priority on patrol duties. Although the Ocean Grove beach is considered relatively safe, fatalities have occurred at nearby reefs and the mouth of the Barwon River. It is our responsibility to justify the confidence that the public has in our vigilance and skills. So far, the Ocean Grove SLSC has come through with flying colours