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Byron Shire
March 22, 2023

Flagging trouble

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I know that it is considered blasphemy (or even heresy) to say anything even slightly critical of our Byron Bay surf lifesavers, but at the risk of being hung, drawn, and quartered, I am going to, because I believe that they need to lift their game a bit.

At 11am on Sunday morning April 1, when I passed by, there were eight, yes eight, lifesavers in attendance on Main Beach. Five were sat down low on deck chairs under their LJ Hooker pavilion, and the other three were up on the grass in front of the surf club having a yarn. (The previous Sunday all eight were under the pavilion.)

There were two rescue boards, an inflatable dinghy, and a tractor and the flags were approximately 50 metres apart. And this is on a beach which, if you put Main and Belongil beaches together, stretches for at least a couple of kilometres and can get very crowded.

After the tragic drowning of two men that day, only about 100 metres from the flagged area, we got the same old, same old from Surf Life Saving that if they had been swimming within the flagged area this may not have happened. But the truth is that if everyone swimming off the beach last Sunday (and it was not at all crowded) had been swimming within the flags, there would not have been room to even stand up, much less swim. I personally fear for my life when I swim between the flags. You have more chance of serious injury from flying, out-of-control bodies there than anywhere else. Vigilance is necessary at all times and it is certainly not at all relaxing.

This practice of corralling people into a minute section of a huge beach may be very convenient for the lifesavers, but it totally ignores basic human psychology, which naturally resists being herded like sheep and crowded together. It may be considered necessary if there were only one lifesaver available, but when there are eight of them, surely it makes much more sense to spread them out along the whole length of the beach on small towers, scanning the surf, as used to happen in the dim and distant past, or even patrolling on foot. In that way they would actually be able to see when a person was in trouble, hopefully before they drowned, rather than just sitting, shooting the breeze, and waiting until a vigilant member of the public rushes up to tell them.

While I do not in any way doubt their proficiency once in action, I do think it is time they got up off the laurels (and deck chairs!) that they have been resting on for so long, and did the job properly.

Colin Thornton, Coorabell


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