Surfprobe Australia supports the surf lifesaving movement and the great voluntary work performed by lifesavers.
Surfprobe is a community advocacy organisation of current and former surf lifesavers seeking greater safety measures in surf lifesaving competition and beach patrols. We seek far greater awareness of dangerous surf conditions in competition, especially where young competitiors are involved. This follows the deaths of three young surf lifesavers in the national surf championships while under Surf Life Saving Australia supervision since 1996.
We believe the SLSA needs to pay far greater attention to the hazards of surf competition, and to the need to cancel or postpone events in unsuitable conditions. Details of our national committee and their experience can be found below. If you agree with our aims please sign the petition below for a Royal Commission into these three deaths.
[The Matthew Barclay coronial inquest is reported separately below the yellow banner.]
SLSA buoyancy testing plods on 17 years later
Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) says it has commenced initial still-water testing to develop “the world’s first specification/standard for low buoyancy water safety gear known as lifejackets.”
The SLSA previously claimed to have started investigating lifesaving devices, including flotation vests, in 1997, the year after surfboat rower Robert Gatenby, aged 15, was killed in the 1996 Australian surf championships when two surfboats collided.
The SLSA now says that the testing is being done in conjunction with James Cook University, VicLabs and SAI Global:
“The testing in Sydney, over Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 April 2014, looked at the minimum buoyancy levels required in lifejackets to bring a person to the surface, and the maximum buoyancy levels in lifejackets that allow individuals to move efficiently through the water without significantly impacting their physical exertion.
“The research will investigate the performance of lifejackets that are currently non-compliant with the Australian Standard (Level 50), following recommendations arising from independent testing undertaken by SLSA in October 2013.
“The pool testing will inform the minimum and maximum buoyancy level to give manufacturers a framework to develop specific lifejacket designs for surf sport activities. These products will then be further tested in the surf environment.
“Surf Life Saving Australia is committed to the ongoing enhancement of safety and protection of members and the community. This is step one in the independent testing of these types of low buoyancy products.
“We will need to rigorously test potential equipment in surf conditions before we can ensure that it is fit for purpose”, said Surf Life Saving Australia National Coastal Safety Manager Anthony Bradstreet. (Pictured).
Surfprobe Australia welcomes the belated moves but says the SLSA in the past has taken a most regrettable lethargic approach to competitor safety, given three deaths at the Australian championships on the Gold Coast since 1996. Surfprobe doubts if the lifesaving devices will be ready for the next Australian titles, and their introduction still seem a long way off.
SLSA appears nmot to recognise that a lifesaver knocked out by surf craft will sink to the bottom while many buoyancy vests currently on the market have the ability to make the unconscious person rise to the surface.
It's that simple. #
PHIL BIRD STOPPED FROM WEARING FLOTATION VEST IN AUSSSIES
Photos: Mr Phil Bird, a flotation vest suitable for lifesavers, and competitors in pink Lycra vests,which are
useless in churning or opaque surf when a swimmer sinks, but now made mandatory by Surf Life Saving Australia.
Master’s competitor in the Australian surf titles at Scarborough in Western Australia, Phillip Bird, was stopped by officials from Surf Life Saving Australia from wearing a flotation vest in his surfboard event in the national titles.
Phil Bird's son Saxon (pictured left) was killed when hit by a surf ski and drowned in the Australian surf titles at Kurrawa in 2010. Phil is a NSW convenor of Surfprobe Australia.
Mr Bird said that before he entered the water in a surfboard event at Scarborough on Monday he approached two surf lifesaving beach officials and asked if he could wear the floatation vest under his compulsory pink Lycra vest when he raced. He said the officials both said that floatation devices were not permitted. He pointed out that he had been able to wear one at the NSW State Titles in March without any issues being raised.
Mr Bird said Lycra vests were of very limited value as a safety device as they could not been seen under churning waves or opaque water. He said flotation vests on the other hand had the ability to ensure that a competitor, even if knocked out, would not sink, like his son had, but could float until rescued in addition to providing high visibility.
'Similar deaths in competition could occur again tomorrow'
He said the deaths of three young surf craft competitors at the Australian surf championships at Kurrawa in 1996, 2010 and 2012 could occur again in competition tomorrow. This was due to the lack of clear, measurable, and mandated criteria in risk assessment, a continuing lack of understanding of the limitations of existing rescue measures and the absence of floatation devices.
Mr Bird, a member of the Queenscliff club in Sydney, said Surf Life Saving Australia has been “investigating” suitable flotation vests since 1997 but to date had refused to endorse any of the many brands. He noted that if similar requirements for wearing floatation devices that apply to kayaks and canoes had been applied to surf life saving craft there was a very strong likelihood that four young men would be alive today.
The four were Robert Gatenby, Saxon Bird, Matthew Barclay and Jerry Dennis. The first three drowned under Surf Life Saviung Australia supervision at the Aussies. The latter drowned during his surf club's still-water training on a canal at Mermaid Waters on the Gold Coast.
Update: SLSA confirms that officials were wrong to ban flotation vest
The National Sports Manager for Surf Life Saving Australia, Mr Nathan Hight, has confirmed, in the Sunshine Coast Sunday newspaper on 6 April, that the officials were wrong in preventing Phillip Bird from wearing a flotation vest and said he could have worn the device if an official had approved it.
According to the newspaper, Mr Hight said all clubs were issued with high-visibility vests and told that alternative vests had to be checked to see if they complied with safety standards and did not conflict with sponsorship. But Mr Hight said the the organisation would not endorse a flotation device until the SLSA's research was complete:
"What we've had to learn is to go through with the research process and determine what the best and safest option is" he said, accolrding to the Sunshine Coast Sunday.
Aussies event now safest in history says SLSA
- Sunshine Coast Daily
The 2014 Australian Surf Life Saving Championships, which began on March 31, could be considered the safest in history, largely due to the legacy left by Maroochydore’s Matt Barclay, according to the Sunshine Coast Daily, quoting Surf Life Saving Australia sources.
The newspaper, in its edition 0f March 31, on the opening day of the Aussies at Scarborough in Western Australia, quoted Surf Life Saving Australia's sports manager, Nathan Hight, about new measures 'aimed to optimise the well-being of competitors'.
Mr Hight was quoted as saying that perhaps the most beneficial change to come from the unimaginable tragedy (of Matthew's death) was the growing culture of safety:
"The biggest positive, moving forward, is the whole landscape of safety in terms of competition, which has had a complete re-build. Surf Life Saving Australia has a different perception to risk and safety management and it's a changing cultured towards safety, which is the biggest enhancement you could ever make."
Mr Hight is to appear as a witness to the Coronial Inquest into the death of Matthew Barclay when it resumes soon.
"Surfboats dangerous? Nah, it's just what we do every day..."
Do you want your son or daughter to row in surfboats and you don't believe there's any hurry for the introduction of helmets and flotation vests? Maybe you should copy this Youtube address into your browser and take another look:
Surfboat photos above: The shot above was taken at a Sydney carnival more than forty years ago. Note the lack of helmets and life vests for both crews. But nothing has changed in all this time, especially the dangers. Top, more recent photo - the danger is still there, the helmets are not.
The Matthew Barclay Inquest:
Usefulness of jet rescue craft in crowded surf competition debated:
The search for Matthew Barclay at Kurrawa in 2012.
Operator tells Inquest he couldn’t abandon
jet ski to help Matthew adrift in the surf
The highly experienced driver of a jet ski who saw competitor Matthew Barclay sink in the surf at the Australian Surf Championships at Kurrawa in 2012 couldn’t abandon his craft to assist for fear his jet ski would crash into other young competitors in Matthew’s board race. The jet ski did not carry a second crewman who could have dived overboard to assist anyone in trouble.
The issue of the jet ski as a suitable rescue craft was debated at the Inquest in the Brisbane Magistrate’s Court on the 9 December 2013.
Steve Courtney, barrister for the Barclay family, asked Malcolm Flew, the power craft co-ordinator for the Championships, and also a member of both the event’s safety and management committees: “Were you required to perform rescues?”
“We assisted two or three people per race. We had to get them and then help them back in.” Flew said there was a ‘reasonable sized surf on the bank’ in the Under 17 years board rescue race. “One or two came back in and were consumed by a couple of waves and lost their boards. A couple required assistance.”
“Did you express any concern about whether the event should continue?” “No.”
Competitors struggling, point to boy in water who needed assistance
Malcolm Flew (below) described what happened in Matthew Barclay’s race:
“I was on the jet ski following the last few competitors (in the under 15 boys board event), in the middle of the competition area inside the bank. The last four of five were struggling to get away from the bank. Others were still struggling. I observed a head in the water ahead of two board paddlers. This sparked our attention very quickly.”
He said he continued to monitor the three competitors. One of two board paddlers pointed to a boy in the water who needed assistance.
“I saw a head pop up between the two board paddlers. I don’t know if anything happened before that… As the water approached there was a loose board.
“Was he struck by the board?” “I can’t say yes. There’s probably no other assumption he was hit on the head by the board. The person went under water then shot back up. It was in the impact zone.
Surf like a washing machine
"It was like a washing machine…. He went back down and that was the last sighting. I made every effort to keep an eye on the spot. We were obstructed by the board paddlers.”
Flew said he tried to hold that position in the surf with his jet ski but ‘visibility was next to nothing’. There was just white water and sand was churned up.” An IRB (inflatable rubber boat) came out and planted a buoy in the spot with a flashing beacon.
He said the jet skis helped some 16 young surf lifesaver competitors during the day. Some were rescued and taken to the beach.
Steve Courtney: “So jet skis were well suited to help conscious persons?” “Yes.”
“Matthew Barclay appeared unconscious?” “Yes.”
Flew said he tried to communicate with the boy but there was no response. His head was above water. At this stage he was about ten metres on the beach side of the last competitors and just inside the bank. Paddlers were just ahead about two or three metres away and roughly in the centre.
Couldn't get jet ski any closer to Matthew
“You tried to get closer but you couldn’t because competitors were still in the water?” “Yes”.
“A jet ski driver jumping off his craft would be very dangerous in a race?” “Yes.”
“Jets skis really are useless when waves are of a certain height. Did you ever state this?” “No.”
The search for Matthew Barclay
Barrister for Surf Life Saving Australia, Mark Gynther, suggested that jet ski operations above water provided a commanding view and a better prospect of finding someone on or near the surface, and therefore were not useless. Malcolm Flew agreed.
Jet skis very useful if patient is conscious
“The jet ski is very useful if someone is not unconscious?” “Yes”.
Flew agreed with Gynther that the jet ski operator though would not leave his craft to perform a rescue when the heavy craft might harm someone, such as colliding with competitors in the surf.
43 treated by ambulance officers that day
Malcolm Flew told the inquest that jet skis and rubber rescue boats were rescuing two or three competitors from each race that day and about 43 people were treated by ambulance officers.
Flew told Peter Johns, counsel assisting the Coroner, Terry Ryan, that he had no concerns about the safety of the Under 15 year olds before the race even though the surf was getting choppier and slightly larger. As a result Flew said he assigned further resources to the Under 15 area. Later in evidence Malcolm Flew said conditions were becoming ‘relentless’ and he agreed that some waves up to 2.5 metres (just over 8 feet) that day were ‘quite big’.
The swells coming through in the morning was not consistent. “They were all over the place”, Flew said. Under 15 year events were suspended from about 10.30 am for a time and were then continued. He thought conditions then had eased a little.
Questioned by Steve Courtney for the Barclay family, Flew said he wore a flotation vest and a helmet to protect himself if he fell off his jet ski. He had never found them to cause any difficulties. The helmet and vest could allow him to dive down two metres in the surf for a rescue if needed.
“Were you required to perform rescues?”
Jet skis went to assistance of two or three competitors each race
“We assisted two or three people per race. We had to get them and then help them back in.” Flew said there was a ‘reasonable sized surf on the bank’ in the Under 17 years board rescue race. “One or two came back in and were consumed by a couple of waves and lost their boards. A couple required assistance.
“Did you express any concern about whether the event should continue?”
Malcolm Flew described what happened in Matthew Barclay’s race:
“I was on the jet ski following the last few competitors, in the middle of the competition area inside the bank. The last four of five were struggling to get away from the bank. Others were still struggling. I observed a head in the water ahead of two board paddlers. This sparked our attention very quickly.”
He said he continued to monitor the three competitors. One of two board paddlers pointed to a boy in the water who needed assistance.
“I saw a head pop up between the two board paddlers. I don’t know if anything happened before that… As the water approached there was a loose board.” He said the boy faced the shore and was not moving or attempting to swim.
Couldn't say if struck by board
“Was he struck by the board?” “I can’t say yes. There’s probably no other assumption that he was hit on the head by the board. The person went under water then shot back up. It was in the impact zone. I was like a washing machine…. He went back down and that was the last sighting. I made every effort to keep an eye on the spot). We were obstructed by the board paddlers.”
Flew said he tried to hold that position in the surf with his jet ski but ‘visibility was next to nothing. There was just white water and sand was churned up’. An IRB (inflatable rubber boat) came out and planted a buoy in the surf with a flashing beacon.
He said the jet skis helped some 16 young surf lifesaver competitors during the day. Some were rescued and taken to the beach.
Coroner sought Kurrawa report from Workplace Heath & Safety body
State Coroner Terry Ryan also ordered that a report compiled by Queensland Workplace Health and Safety into the Matthew Barclay death should be tabled when the inquest next sat in 2014.
Barrister for the Barclay family, Stephen Courtney told the court that the Government offices had taking information and had maded written comments on aspects of witness statements that might be useful to the inquest.
Young lifesavers at a memorial service for Matthew Barclay in 2012.
Peer pressure on child surf competitors an issue at Coronial Inquest
Surf Life Saving Australia’s Richard Bignold agreed at the Coronial Inquest that peer pressure might have played a role in the decision-making process of child competitors in the Australian surf titles at Kurrawa.
Deputy championship referee at the Australian surf titles at Kurrawa in 2012, Bignold (pictured) said there had beenconcerns during the morning before Matthew Barclay’s death about the surf conditions at the beach. He said, “We had people doing assessments. They thought the conditions were okay.”
Mr Bignold was asked by barrister for the Barclay family, Steve Courtney, if peer pressure might play a part in the decision-making process of 14-year-old considering whether to compete. He replied: “It’s possible” But added: “Usually they’d have a coach or manager advising them. They’re always around there giving their instructions.”
Guy Sara, barrister appearing for the chair of Surfprobe, later cross-examined Jenny Kenny, about the effects of peer pressure on under 15 year old surf competitors. Mr Sara read a section of her statement to police to the court which said in part:
“I do not have the ability to say to a competitor that I know you are not good enough to compete. The rules of the event indicate that you just need to be a proficient lifesaver and hold the Bronze Medallion or SRC (Surf Rescue Certificate), both of which have got a swim component and a board component and all those things in it, and you have to know quite a lot of safety stuff as part of getting that award.”
The court was later told that the Surf Rescue Certificate included candidates performing a 200 metre swim in five minutes or less.
Mr Sara asked Ms Kenny in relation to Matthew Barclay’s board race if she was assessing the ability of competitors to race. She replied: “Yes, as best I can remember.”
“Did you say to anyone, you aren’t up for the race?”
“No, because I didn’t know them.”
She said the boys in the Under 15 board race were not under any pressure and could pull out.
Mr Sara asked about the chances of peer pressure on a group of young boys who had seen young girls finish an earlier similar race. Ms Kenny said she couldn’t answer that question.
“Everyone” was responsible for surf safety at national titles,
according to Bignold, deputy referee at the 2012 Aussies
Deputy Championship Referee Richard Bignold leaves the court building in Brisbane.
Surf lifesaving official Richard Bignold told the Matthew Barclay Inquest that everyone was ultimately responsible for surf safety when Matthew Barclay was killed at Kurrawa at the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships on 28 March 2012.
Bignold, the deputy championship referee, was being questioned by barrister for the Barclay family, Steve Courtney at the Barclay Inquest on 10 December 2013.
Courtney: “Who was ultimately responsible for safety of the Under 15 year olds on 28 March?”
Bignold: “I’d say everyone.”
Courtney: “No one person?”
Bignold: “We’re all responsible.”
Courtney: “The buck doesn’t stop with anyone?”
Bignold: “That’s difficult to answer.”
Courtney: “Is there an answer?”
Bignold: “I think responsibility rests with everyone.”
Courtney: “Jenny Kenny?” (Under 15 Area Referee.)
Bignold: “She’s got a responsibility.”
Changes foreshadowed for future conduct of Under 15 surf titles
Steve Courtney then asked if 2013 would be the last year that Under 15 events would be run at the Championships. Bignold responded that the Under 15 events would be ‘run as a separate area.’
Courtney: “To compete in board events, they (U 15 competitors) only need their Surf Rescue Certificate?”
Richard Bignold: “So far as I’m aware, the SRC. You only need to complete a 200 metre swim.”
Courtney: “Persons in Under 15 events can compete as young as 13?”
Bignold indicated that he didn’t know. Courtney asked Bignold if he factored in that Under 15 competitors might not meet the same standards as say Under 19s. The deputy referee said he was trying to understand the question. He said the officials took safety seriously.
Courtney: “Do you factor in the Under 15 does not meet the same standards as an open competitor?” Bignold: “Sure, never.”
Courtney asked Bignold if he was contacted by the Under 15 Area Referee Jenny Kenny saying 40 competitors for the Under 15 surf team swimming event was too many to supervise in the water because of the conditions and that she would like to run the Under 15 board event instead.
Richard Bignold: “Yes.”
Ten percent thought competition conditions unsafe on day
A rubber duckie searches for Matthew Barclay in 2012. Brisbane Times.
Of the 94 witnesses interviewed in relation to the death of Matthew Barclay at Kurrawa Beach in 2012, ten told a police investigator that they thought the surf conditions on the day of the tragedy were not safe for competition.
Det. Senior Constable Cameron Hardham said the others interviewed had no concerns. Hardham said Gold Coast lifeguard Dean Powell raised his concerns prior to the event in which Matthew was killed. The investigator however said elite competitors didn’t raise concerns about the competition continuing.
He agreed with barrister for the Barclay family, Mr Steve Courtney, that of the 94 interviewed, many were heavily involved in Surf Lifesaving.
Referring to the competitors in the Under 15 events, Courtney said: “They’re kids aren’t they?” “Yes”.
The court later heard that children of 13 and 14 years were included in the Under 15 years events.
SLSA official assumes flotation vest might have saved Matthew
A flotation vest might have saved Matthew Barclay if he had been wearing one, a Surf Life Saving Australia official admitted to the Matthew Barclay Inquest. Richard Bignold was the Championship deputy referee at the national titles at the time of the boy's death.
Barrister Simon Cooper, appearing for Bob Wurth, chair of Surfprobe Australia, asked Bignold if in his opinion could Matthew Barclay's death have been avoided. Bignold said he couldn't answer that as he didn't see what was happening at the time.
"If he had a flotation device that kept him on the surface, could that have prevented his death?" Cooper asked.
"I'm not familiar with flotation devices. All the competitors had coloured Lycra vests..."
Bignold acceped that once under water, Matthew's coloured vest couldn't be seen.
Cooper: "If he had a flotation device that brought him to the surface, it would have assisted?"
Bignold: "One would assume so."
Police investigator says lifesavers’ Lycra vests are fine - above water
Lycra vests for competitors are fine above water, according to the investigating officer in the inquest into the death of Matthew Barclay, Detective Senior Constable Cameron Hardham.
In his report to the Barclay Inquest, Const. Hardham addressed the implementation of further safety measures in response to the death of Saxon Bird in 2010. He wrote of the vests becoming mandatory in 2011 when previously they were optional: “The lycra vests ensure greater visibility of athletes in the water.”
Barrister Guy Sara, representing Surfprobe Australia’s chairman, asked Hardham more about the value of such vests in the surf at the Barclay inquest. He said they were of definite value ‘above the water line’. What about underwater?, Guy Sara asked. Certainly not under white water, he replied, because they couldn’t be seen.
Asked about younger competitors and whether the role they played in deciding if events should go ahead, Hardham replied that ‘essentially the children were part of the decision making in whatever it (a race) should go ahead.” “So they’d have no difficulty in approaching their manager if they had concerns?” Top which Const. Hardham replied, “It’s hard to say.”
Kurrawa surf was too much for young competitors - lifeguards
STORY KATE KYRIACOU, AAP, in THE COURIER-MAIL, DECEMBER 9, 2013.
PHOTO:LUKE MARSDEN, COURIER MAIL.
WORRIED lifeguards stationed at the edge of last year's surf life saving national titles warned officials the heavy two metre surf was too much for young competitors, an inquest has heard.
Gold Coast lifeguard Dean Powell described the racing as "carnage'' when he left his post 100m from the competition area to speak with officials.
Giving evidence on the first day of an inquest into the death of 14-year-old competitor Matthew Barclay, Mr Powell said he approached officials after discussing the conditions with fellow lifeguard Stuart Keay.
''We'd been watching the competition for the under 15 girls for 45 to 60 minutes,'' he said.
''Some were losing their boards on the way out, some were losing them coming in.
''They seemed to struggle.''
Mr Powell described the surf as big and dumping with a heavy back break and consistent rips.
Girl seen holding head in the surf
He said he went to speak with officials following a conversation with Mr Keays, who recounted seeing a young female competitor wash in holding her head.
''At the time (the conversation was) just to convey our concerns for the safety of the girls,'' Mr Powell said.
''I went up to them and said another lifeguard and myself have been observing the competition and we are concerned with the safety of the girls.
''Stewie told me he saw one girl come up holding her head and I said this to the officials.
''They said they were monitoring the situation.
''The impression I got was that I was holding up the carnival. I said if you need me, you know where I am.
''It was very cordial. We shook hands and I left.''
The inquest heard officials held frequent safety meetings on March 28 - the day Matthew died - and even halted competition for around two hours in the morning.
But competition resumed because officials thought the surf had dropped in the afternoon.
SLSA officials' assessments at odds with professional lifeguards on duty
Their assessment was at odds with the two lifeguards, who told the inquest they believed it had become more dangerous.
Officials were in a meeting at 3.30pm - discussing moving the carnival to another beach for the following day - when a radio call came through alerting them to a missing competitor in the under-15 arena.
Matthew was the third teenager to lose his life during the event at the same beach since 1996.
Meanwhile, a jetski operator says conditions were so rough on the day Matthew Barclay died that he couldn't risk leaving his craft to help.
Volunteer water safety jetski operator Brian Lewis (pictured below leaving court) has told the inquest he watched Matthew being tossed in large surf as a loose board headed towards him on a collision course.
Mr Lewis said he was monitoring the Under-15 board race when he saw a head pop above the water between two board paddlers, about 80m from shore.
The person was facing the beach, did not appear responsive and there was a loose board on a collision course with the person as the whitewater approached.
"I can't say 100 per cent yes (he was) struck by the board but with the events leading up to it ... I don't think there's any other assumption that can be made," Mr Lewis told counsel assisting the coroner Peter Johns.
He said the person went under the water and shot back up above the water.
Surf conditions like 'washing machine action'
"It was like a washing machine action, the person went straight down and back up ... then basically went back down and that was the last I saw of them."
Mr Lewis said he and another jetski driver couldn't reach the person because they were obstructed by the two board paddlers. Conditions were too rough for him to leave his ski and all he could do was hold his position as the other jetski operator raised the alarm.
"The surf was relentless and ... it didn't have regular constant swells coming through. It was all over the place," he said.
The inquest also heard the swell that day was two metres and under-15 events were suspended for about an hour earlier in the day due to the rough conditions.
About hour hour before Matthew's 3.27pm race, organisers discussed moving the under-15 events to another beach because of the conditions but the race went ahead as planned.
Earlier, it was reported Matthew Barclay had a mild asthma condition that did not contribute to his death.
State Coroner Terry Ryan said an autopsy report found Matthew had a mild asthma condition which had nothing to do with his death.
Rescue procedures on day of death 'outstanding'
and 'worked a treat', according to SLSA referee
From the Gold Coast Bulletin:
RESCUE procedures in place on the day 14-year-old Matthew Barclay (pictured above) died were "outstanding" and "worked a treat", even though they failed to save his life, according to a senior surf lifesaving referee.
The Maroochydore teenager drowned when he came off his board while competing in an under-15 board race event at the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships at Kurrawa on March 28, 2012.Matthew was the third competitor to die during the national sporting event, including 19-year-old Saxon Bird, who died in 2010, also at Kurrawa.
Barrister for the Barclay family, Stephen Courtney, questioned carnival deputy referee Richard Bignold over comments he made in his police interview following Matthew's death in which he described procedures followed on that day as outstanding."You say things were outstanding and everything worked a treat," he said.
"You say . . . in comparison to Saxon Bird this was a whole lot more controlled, but it didn't work, did it? You didn't find Matthew Barclay until 17 hours later."
Mr Bignold said his comments were referring to the execution of the process."What we had in place worked, but the result . . . yes,'' he said.
Mr Bignold said it was difficult to say whether there was any prospect of Matthew being found alive once he came off his board and went under the water.He said he had not seen risk assessments of the conditions, issued via iPad, which classed the waves as dangerous. The hearing was previously told that the assessment was generated by "human error".
Police interviewed 94 witnesses who were at Kurrawa for Matthew's death. Detective Senior Constable Cameron Hardham said 10 of those witnesses, including an experienced Gold Coast C ity Council lifeguard and Matthew's coach, expressed concerns about the conditions.
Under-15s area coordinator Jenny Kenny said she did not find out until after the carnival had finished that the lifeguard Dean Powell had raised concerns with event organisers."
All indicators were that it was a good event to run at that time," she said. Gold Coast Hospital forensic pathologist Dr Dianne Little said there was no bruising or evidence Matthew had been knocked unconscious or suffered an asthma attack or other medical condition.
- Matthew Killoran, Gold Coast Bulletin, 11 December 2013.
No evidence of Matthew being knocked unconscious - pathologist
ABC News. Updated Tue 10 Dec 2013, 8:12pm AEDT
The doctor who conducted an autopsy on a teenager (Matthew Barclay pictured) killed at last year's Australian Surf Life Saving Championships says she found no evidence he was knocked unconscious before drowning.
Pathologist Dr Dianne Little (pictured - News Ltd photo) told Brisbane coroner Terry Ryan she could find nothing to explain why 14-year-old Matthew Barclay drowned on the Gold Coast on March 28, 2012.
Dr Little told the Coroners Court she found no evidence of injuries that could have caused his death, no evidence of natural disease and nothing in his toxicology or biochemistry results that would indicate why he died.
Matthew's mother Donna Barclay left the court during the evidence about her son's body, which was discovered 17 hours after he disappeared.
Race announcer Greg Holland told the Brisbane Coroner's Court he heard a radio conversation between area referee Jenny Kenny and deputy referee Richard Bignold in which Ms Kenny asked for events to be cancelled or postponed because of surf conditions.
However, under questioning Ms Kenny rejected those claims and said the only change made to the program was the decision to swap the swimming race with a board race due to the distance between the markers and the shore and the numbers of competitors in each race.
Mr Bignold told the court he could not remember a request for any changes to the program because of the conditions.
Much of the evidence given in the Brisbane court related to the timing of Surf Life Saving Australia's rescue response to Matthew's disappearance.
Barrister for Barclay family suggests 29 minutes for search to set up
Ms Kenny told the court it was about four minutes into the race when officials noticed Matthew's abandoned board wash up and then a further two to four minutes before she called "rescue rescue rescue" over the radio.
Stephen Courtney, counsel for the Barclay family, said that it took 29 minutes for the search to set up and another eight minutes before all shallow water rescue teams were in the water.
Ms Kenny replied that that proposed timeframe was later than she believed. The inquest has been adjourned while workplace health and safety compiles a report. - By Elise Worthington, ABC News.
First posted Tue 10 Dec 2013, 5:47pm AEDT
Where was the rescue boat during the Matthew Barclay emergency?
An inquest into the death of a 14-year-old surf lifesaver has heard evidence that a critical piece of safety equipment may have been sitting on the beach when he drowned in Queensland last year.
Matthew Barclay died at the National Surf Life Saving Championships on the Gold Coast in 2012.
Counsel for the Barclay family, Mr Courtney, presented evidence that an inflatable rescue boat (IRB) designated for the under 15 boys' arena where Matthew was about to compete was stranded on the beach because a new driver could not been found in time.
The event's power craft coordinator, Malcolm Flew, was asked: "Do you have any knowledge of a rescue boat not being on the water because of a crew change?"
He answered: "No."
Mr Courtney asked: "Do you have any knowledge of a rescue boat having trouble?"
"No," Mr Flew said.
According to a statement, Brian Wakefield had declined to drive the IRB because he was suffering fatigue.
The inquest heard evidence that the IRBs, or rubber duckies, were able to recover unconscious competitors from the surf while jet skis had a limited capacity to do so.
Another jet ski driver Graham Long told the inquest the IRBs would have been in the area, but he had no specific recollection of seeing one.
Matthew was the third lifesaver to die at the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships since 1996 and the second since 2010.
The inquest heard conditions were so challenging in the under 15 boys' arena that officials had assigned an extra jet ski to the task.
SLSA risk manager describes Kurrawa surf as 'dangerous'
Surf Life Saving Australia's coastal risk manager Adam Weir had filed a report 45 minutes before Matthew's event, which described the surf as "dangerous".
Mr Weir gave evidence that he had suggested competition be suspended or moved, but officials elected instead to continue to monitor the situation.
Mr Weir said a report he had generated on his iPad, which described the under 15 boys as also being "at risk" was "user error".
Dramatic eyewitness accounts of the last moments Matthew was seen alive were heard at the inquest, which is being attended by the 14-year-old's parents Donna and Steve Barclay.
Mrs Barclay dabbed her eyes as a jet ski operator described how her son had hit a shallow sand bank with such force that he shot back out of the water, facing back towards the beach.
Jet ski driver Brian Lewis described desperate surf conditions, which were like a "washing machine".
"There was lots of white water and churning sand... it was relentless," Mr Lewis told the inquest.
Teen competitors struggled in surf conditions
Both Mr Lewis and Mr Long both said they could not jump off their jet skis to rescue Matthew because that would leave a 400-kilogram hazard - the jet ski - in the water with many competitors around it.
Mr Long described how Matthew had resurfaced and even though he was three metres from the stricken boy, the surf conditions prevented him getting near him.
When the boy slipped into the churn, "I knew we would be looking for a body," Mr Long said.
A senior lifeguard from the Gold Coast City Council told the inquest he observed competitors in the under 15 arena "struggle" in the heavy back break and dumpers.
Dean Powell had been so concerned that he drove up the beach to speak to three officials in the under 15 arena.
"They thought the boys could handle the conditions," Mr Powell told the inquest.
The senior lifeguard with 17 years' experience told the inquest he got the impression he "was holding up the carnival" by raising this with the officials.
Mr Powell said he made notes of these conversations as "a form of protection", so he was "covered".
Before Matthew drowned, Mr Powell described a two-metre surf that was "sucking up and breaking" from top to bottom on a bank.
Counsel for the Barclay family asked Mr Powell: "So you had two-metre waves sucking up and breaking on an 800mm bank?"
Mr Powell took a breath and dropped his voice: "Yes," he responded.
The inquest continues.
First posted Tue 10 Dec 2013, 11:43am AEDT
The preliminary coronial inquest hearing, 13 November 2013:
SLSA opposed Surfprobe chairman's appearance at Barclay Inquest
The chairman of Surfprobe Australia, Bob Wurth, was granted leave to appear before the Coronial Inquest into the death of young lifesaver Matthew Barclay at the Australian Surf Championships at Kurrawa in 2012.
Queensland Coroner, Mr Terry Ryan, made the ruling at a pre-Inquest hearing in Brisbane on 13 November 2013.
Surfprobe's participation at the Inquest was opposed by counsel for Surf Life Saving Australia, Mr Mark Gynther.
Barrister Mr Steve Barclay, Matthew's father, did not oppose Surfprobe's appearance at the Inquest, subject to a qualification about an area of potential questioning.
Surfprobe was established after the death of lifesaver Saxon Bird at Kurrawa at the national titles in 2010.
At the pre-hearing Wurth outlined Surfprobe's role as an advocacy group and pointed out that Surf Life Saving Australia, which had denied Surfprobe's interest at the Inquest, had referred on its SLSA website to Surfprobe as a community advocacy group.
It had been proposed to the Coroner's Court that surf lifesaver and a surf carnival organiser Mr Phillip Bird, who is a member of Surfprobe's national committree, should appear as a witness to events that took place prior to the death of Matthew, aged 14. Phil Bird and two others proposed by Wurth were not accepted as a witnesses, being considered too remote from the death of Matthew. However, State Coroner Terry Ryan did add added a new issue to be considered by the court, which had been raised by Wurth. The new issue concerns the following::
"The steps taken by SLSA to implement recommendation 2, 'Continuing review of safety devices', of State Coroner Michael Barnes' findings delivered on 2 August 2011 in relation to the death of Saxon Bird.”
Phillip Bird was present at the inquest beginning 9 December. He has been a surf club member for 14 years. He is registered as an active long service patrol member. He has competed in masters competitions since the 2008/2009 season and has been an active short board surfer for over 40 years.
Phil has been surf carnival organiser for Queenscliff for the past three years and an active patrol member for 12 years. He has been trialling personal floatation devices since February 2013 and surf helmets since September. He is the father of Saxon Bird.
Paul White, Surfprobe's NSW convenor, and a former Sydney surf club captain and national competitor, was also present in Brisbane for the Matthew Barclay Coronial Inquest.
Surfprobe was not granted leave to appear at the Inquest as an organisation in its own right because it was not an incorporated body. But leave was granted to Bob Wurth as an individual. He was an active lifesaver in Sydney for more than a decade, holding club positions that included junior captain, patrol captain, honorary beach inspector and club secretary. He also represented the SLSA in Hong Kong in the 1960s.
Wurth, author on the Asia-Pacific area including military histories, is a former foreign correspondent and ABC Manager for Asia and then Queensland. He stated to the pre-Inquest conference that he had conducted public advocacy correspondence on behalf of Surfprobe with many organisations and individuals, including the Premier of Queenland, Mr Newman.
Surfprobe was formed after the death of young Saxon Bird in 2010 to promote greater safety for surf lifesavers in compeition and on patrol. It is a public advocacy group with a particular interest in seeing the introduction of equipment and practices that might prevent future tragedies at the national titles and elsewhere in the surf.
Below is e arlier Surfprobe news published online prior to the Matthew Barclay Inquest:
Surf helmets delayed. Reason put down to 'testing'
How serious is the SLSA about surf safety?
Surf Life Saving Australia bows under pressure to vocal
boaties - defers date for promised helmet introduction.
Mandatory helmet plan misses 2014 Aussie titles
Images: Approved Gath Gedi surf helmet,Graham Ford and the SLSA's now amended August 2013 Safety announcement.
Surf Life Saving Australia has once again baulked at the timely introduction surf safety equipment, including helmets, for lifesavers in the surf.
The absurdity over the tardy introduction of safety equipment is that surf helmets have been in use by a minority of board riders and surfboat crew for decades. They are fully tested.
The Gath Gedi surf helmet (pictured above) has already been approved formally by Surf Life Saving Australia for use and advertised on the SLSA's website. It has been endorsed by some of the world's top rough water sportsmen and women.
The manufacturer says Sea Rescue, Jet Rescue, Military, Navy, State Emergency, Coast Guard, Water Police, Water Firemen and other similar professional personnel have chosen Gath Gedi, RV, Surf Convertible and Original Gath helmets.
So why more testing?
Surf Life Saving Australia's backflip is the result of pressure from outspoken surfboat crew who feel that the helmets are unnecessary and might cramp their style.
At issue here is the "macho factor" in surf lifesaving which the SLSA stubbornly refuses to admit or confront.
It should be noted that three young competitors were killed in Australian Surf Championships while under SLSA supervision at Kurrawa beach in Queensland in 1996, 2010 and 2012. Saxon Bird in 2010 was hit on the head by a surfboard. Robert Gatenby in 1996 was involved in a collision between two surfboats.
Surfprobe Australia has been told that the simple safety measure of surf helmets, which could save lives (see comments in newsapaper item below), caused boat crews in some clubs in recent months to "go ballistic".
SLSA national president Graham Ford (pictured above) in August 2013 announced in the press and online that the introduction of mandatory surf helmets by crew in surfboats in training and in competition would become mandatory from 1 January 2014.
However, a recent announcement in November 2013 overruled the SLSA's earlier decision in August and the introduction of mandatory helmets in surfboats now will be delayed nine months until 1 October 2014.
This probably means that the wearing of helmets for surfboat boat competitors will not be mandatory for the 2014 Aussies (Australia surf life saving championships) to be held at Scarborough beach, Perth, from March 31 to April 6, 2014.
If you think helmets in boats are not a great idea, take at look at these youtube clips:
Waiving the rules - boat sweeps can grant boat crew 'dispensation'
Further, the SLSA online in November mandated that each boat sweep, that is, the lifesaver in charge of the four rowers and the craft, now will be permitted to issue what is termed “a dispensation” to crew members of the mandatory wearing of a certified surf helmet in a surfboat training context and, it would appear, in some circumstance in actual surf competition.
Mr Ford, in his 'On Patrol' essay on the SLSA website mentioned in November 'testing' when announcing the nine month delay. He said in part:
"In consultation with the Australian Surf Rowers' League (ASRL) and States/Terriutories, SLSA considered a number of factors in extending the operational testing period of the new safety measures, including extensive training and edeucation program to ensure that the helmets are correctly fitted. It will also allow a greater number of suppliers to be involved in the testing."
Surfprobe Australia understands that the Australian Surf Rowers League (ASRL) mostly comprising SLSA surfboat crew featured prominently in the opposition towards surf helmets for boat crew.
No risk in helmet introduction, says SLSA's Greg Nance
SLSA CEO Greg Nance in the Courier Mail (7 Nov. 2013) rejected suggestions that postponing the introduction of helmets could put competitors at risk.
"We don't want to use devices which might bring secondary risks in to our environment," he said. "We're confident (this way) we will get a better overall outcome.
"Between now and then (October) we are still highly encouraging people to wear helmets voluntarily."
IRB (rubber boats) crew must wear lifejackets by October 2014, but the release of the new measures contained nothing about lifesaving flotation vests.
The reality of surfboat danger! Watch this video on Youtube...
Some competitors wear helmets, most don't. Click on the link below:
Lifesaver legend saved by helmet-cam in 2009
- BY BRENDEN HILLS
- THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
- FEBRUARY 01, 2009.
NO one who saw what happened to Don McManus in a surfboat race on Sydney's northern beaches can believe he survived. The 65-year-old was thrown into the water in a nasty wipeout and then blindsided by a 7m surfboat which struck him flush in the head during an Ocean Thunder Race at Dee Why Beach.
Extraordinary footage of the horrific crash was captured by Fox Sports (pictured above) thanks to a helmet camera worn by Mr McManus - which also saved his life.
The champion sweep and his female crew had been running second in the women's open race on December 13 when they lost control and veered into a rival boat from North Cronulla, sending all the competitors into the water.
Facing the shore and shouting for his team to keep swimming to win the race, Mr McManus was oblivious that another boat, from Mona Vale, was hurtling towards him.
"It came from behind and I didn't even see it coming. Suddenly there was this bang and a massive impact on my face. I thought: `What was that?' But I'd lost control of my arms and legs and I was in the water.
"I came back to the surface and yelled `help'. My last thought was, `Well, if someone hasn't heard it I'll take a big gulp and drown', because I was dropping pretty quick.''
Surf helmet absorbs the crash impact
Several lifeguards heard Mr McManus' cry for help and raced to his aid. His helmet had helped absorb the impact. "I was in the right place at the right time, wasn't I - surrounded by lifeguards.''
Channel Nine commentator Andrew Voss called the event and said the cameras on Mr McManus and North Cronulla's Steve Swayne captured all the drama.
"I remember thinking, `Oh, my God', because you're watching as Don's head was crushed between two boats that weigh up to 120kg,'' Voss said.
Others who saw the race were amazed that the 50-year lifesaver survived the impact, but weren't surprised when he insisted he compete in the next race.
"He's a legend of the lifesaving world, but he's a tough old bastard. He was trying to tell people he was fine,'' said McMasters Beach team member Michael Norman. Mr McManus later conceded he wasn't fit to race.
"I felt like I was all right. I had a bump on the head, apparently, but I couldn't see what everyone else could and that was that the side of my face was in pretty bad shape, so they told me no. My teeth weren't lining up, but everything else seemed to be OK,'' he said.
His wife of 42 years, Carroll, said: "The most danger was from me. When they had him on the stretcher and he was telling everyone he wanted to go in the next race I could have killed him!''
Pressure on SLSA from macho boat clique:
And what was the online comment on the Australian Surf Rowers League website?
Don McManus sweeps the Bilgola boat.
Commentary shows the depth of some boat crew opposition to helmets
'Good or Bad Publicity - It's Life in Sport.'
Just letting you all know the Today show (Ch9) is running a story tomorrow (Wednesday 4th ) on the crash from Rd 2 Ocean Thunder. Bit of publicity for the sport “good or bad” no different to other sports that features carnagae …..
"Ch9 - Preview intro ……..
"NO one who saw what happened to Don McManus in a surfboat race on Sydney's northern beaches can believe he survived.
"The 65-year-old was thrown into the water in a nasty wipeout and then blindsided by a 7m surfboat which struck him flush in the head during an Ocean Thunder Race at Dee Why Beach.
"Extraordinary footage of the horrific crash was captured by Fox Sports thanks to a helmet camera worn by Mr McManus - which also saved his life."
"is Don ok now??!!!"
"I don't know if he is O'K, but the bastard still managed to get 4 out of a possible 6 gold medals at our branch titles last Sunday!!!!!"
"What sort of sweep would even think about wearing a helmet!"
And guess what happened when SLSA flagged use of helmets in August?
Veteran sweep questions helmet use for surf boats
- JOHN TAYLOR
- MANLY DAILY
- OCTOBER 25, 2013
ON McManus has been around surfboats for a big part of his life and he just can't fathom seeing rowers and sweeps wearing helmets.
In fact, the Bilgola sweep has voiced his disapproval with Surf Life Saving Australia's edict that helmets will become compulsory as from January next year.
"Boat rowing has been going for so many years and there's hardly been an accident. If it's compulsory for the boat boys then it should also apply for ski and board paddlers,'' he said.
"We've had helmets at our club for about eight years. I've put one on now and again.
"The biggest drawback is that there is a hearing problem for a start. You don't hear as well going from crew to sweep and sweep to crew. They don't hear as well up in the bow and might miss commands.''
Battered boatie says time for surfboat common sense:
'…flotation & visibility key if you are to be rescued'
Surf Life Saving Australia has been dragged into the reality that surfboat crews are constantly at risk and have agreed that from 1 January 2014 rowers and sweeps must wear lifejackets. (See subsequent SLSA amendments to this policy in lead story above.)
But as many surf lifesavers have pointed out, nothing has been done for ski and board competitors like Saxon Bird and Matthew Barclay, killed after being hit on the head by runaway surf craft in the Aussies.
Now Sydney surfboat rowing champion, Gary Gavegan, (pictured below right), a veteran who has performed with crews which have won numerous championships, writes below for Surfprobe Australia on the need for safety equipment that will keep craft competitors afloat.
This is Gary’s own story below:
I‘ve rowed surf boats for many years and been involved in many incidents – collisions, roll overs, flipped back over in big seas, thrown about in and from the boat and it has always amazed me how few times these incidents have resulted in injury to myself or others. But occasionally you do get nailed.
In the Aussie masters 1996 – the year of Robert Gatenby’s death – we were competing on the Wednesday prior to The Australian open. The Kurrawa surf was deemed too dangerous (due to cyclone affected conditions) so the event was moved to Kirra which was still massive in its own right.
I was bowman. We took to sea for a warm up. The power of the surf was such that when my blade got caught going up a large wave I was ejected over the bow like a rag doll - my back colliding with the splash board on the way over. I landed in the water in considerable pain to the back.
Back on the beach I was in agony… more accomplished medical assessment would have been handy for my predicament at the time. We rowed the day out to achieve second overall. My condition deteriorated each row, but I could still pull an oar.
On the Friday we lined up at Kurrawa - in reserves - for the first heat of the day. The sea was boiling. Only one of twelve boats that took to sea in that heat made it to the cans and back to the beach. There was a fifteen minute time limit, during which time my back received another good work out against the splash board. Officialdom decided to try Kirra again. Short story - we never got to sea again that day as Kirra and other beaches along the coast were deemed too dangerous. The start was put back to Kurrawa the next day.
Familiar surf scene over the decades. An injured
boatie is carried off the beach in the 1950s.
Next day (Saturday) the surf was still thunderous but I felt relief as at least some waves were approaching shore in discernible sets, whereas the Friday morning row was like rowing in a massive washing machine with waves hitting you from the front and both sides with equal power. We progressed through to the quarter finals on the Sunday.
We got a late run on and slewed sideways toward the other boat. We had developed incredible speed coming down and across the face of the wave. The other sweep never saw us coming and our bow was aimed directly into his back. We collided and rolled, and consequently as per regulations, were disqualified. Their sweep apparently came out of it OK, in my estimation a very lucky man. It was not long after, that Robert disappeared and the remaining events cancelled. X-rays showed two fractured transverse bones just below the right rib cage which explained why rub downs were not helpful.
Another time in big seas (NSW State at Black beach I Think) it was my head (not my back) that was driven into the splash board, later requiring stitches at hospital at the end of a long queue of other competitors from the same event. I believe I was momentarily KO’d as my next recollection was being slapped around by the second bowman whom I was slumped over. Just as well, as the next wave creamed us. Having come head first off bicycles in the past, the bicycle experience informs me I would not have been KO’d as above if I had had appropriate head protection.
“…competitors will conform to directives from authority”
I’ve tended to been ‘the mans’ man’ about these things and have never concerned myself much about what ifs, just relished the hurly burly of it all. Although I freely admit I would much have preferred not to have endured the more serious injuries along the way if avoidable. At the end of the day competitors will conform to directives from authority. The directives just need to be the right ones.
For example in the late sixties rowers were required to wear flotation vests which we did disgruntledly. They were terrible devices. They didn’t worry us so much with regard to rowing efficiency, but were hazardous in that oars could get caught in them in roll overs, and they prevented you from being able to submerge under broken waves or avoid debris like loose oars or uncontrolled craft. As a result they were abandoned not long after introduction.
I think it was a Four Corners report I saw a little while back that some proposed safety floatation vest and helmet gear were demonstrated. I know there was some controversy about ill-fitting gear, but the impression I got of properly fitted gear is that it seemed to offer freedom and flexibility for competitors to do their stuff efficiently; importantly to be able to submerge to get under broken waves or avoid debris, yet provide flotation in the event of unconsciousness or impairment through injury to facilitate subsequent rescue, bright colouring should also assist here.
I think flotation & visibility is key if you are to be rescued in an unconscious or severely injured state.
Another benefit that occurs to me with the vests demonstrated on Four Corners is the impact resistance they may provide to vital upper body parts and organs against crushing injuries. I believe this is one thing that should also be tested for in selecting such items. For example my rib cage and spine may have been given sufficient protection by such a vest capable of distributing impact force and saved busting my transverse ribs in ‘96. I believe there are many other impact examples which such vests could give useful protection against.
– Gary Gavegan. #
Surfprobe question: Why don't the authorities listen to experienced people like Gary?
TOPIC: Good or Bad Publicity - It's Life in____________________________________________
Wealth of surf lifesaving experience on Surfprobe committee
Surfprobe's national committee, apart from Bob Wurth and Phillip Bird, both mentioned above, also includes three highgly experienced suf lifesavers.
Dr Ruth Highman, (pictured below), from Western Australia, who was ranked as number one female ocean paddler in the world downwind ocean paddling series in 2012 and is a past Australian open surf ski surf national champion, with an Australian title in women’s double ski. She has won a number of state surf titles, and has long experience as an active surf lifesaver.
Ruth competed in the treacherous surf conditions which claimed the life of Sydney lifesaver Saxon Bird in 2010 and was present on the beach when lifesavers tried to revive him. She is a GP anaesthetist and is acutely aware of the importance of risk assessment and management/mitigation. She has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology with a particular interest in sports psychology and has post graduate qualifications in Rural medicine and diplomas in both children’s and women’s health. She is an SLSA Level 1 Accredited Coach.
Paul White, New South Wales convenor, who has had extensive experience as an active surf lifesaver in Sydney on patrol for more than 25 years. He performed numerous surf rescues over that time and has held the positions of surf club captain for two years and patrol captain for five years. He has competed in the national surf lifesaving championships in rescue and resuscitation and in surfboat competition for two years. He represented his Sydney club in metropolitan, state and national competition. Paul currently is a keen body surfer and kayak paddler.
Joe Knight-Smith (right in photo), a Vietnam veteran, is Surfprobe's Western Australia and regional Australia convenor. Joe has had a lifetime of experience in surf life saving. He has held many positions in clubs in Sydney and Geraldton. He holds a current level 2 accreditation as a SLSA coach, and has worked with under-12 competitors through to open divisions. In the past five years athletes under his coaching have won eight national medals. Joe has been present at the three national titles since 1996 where young competitors were killed. #
" ... the short answer is, not immediately"
SLSA says it would delay flotation vests
even if recommended by Queensland Coroner in
Matthew Barclay case - Greg Nance CEO
Greg Nance (left) Matthew Barclay (right).
Surf Life Saving Australia would not introduce immediately any recommendation from a Queensland Coroner inquiring into the death of young lifesaver Matthew Barclay concerning personal protection equipment such as helmets and (flotation) vests if the organisation thought there was a secondary risk to surf lifesavers.
This statement was made in an SLSA online video in August by SLSA chief executive officer, Greg Nance, and added to by president Graham Ford, follows the introduction of the SLSA's limited new safety regulations.
In the video Mr Nance was asked this question by an SLSA operative:
"So if the Coroner hands down a finding in relation to the death of Matthew Barclay that you implement personal protection equipment, such as helmets and (flotation) vests, in a wider range of senarios, will you do that?"
More delays in store on lifesaving devices?
Mr Nance replied:
"We would take into account what the Coroner was saying but the short answer is, not immediately, particularly if we are introducing secondary risk to our members in that particular application; that is, across the board."
Queensland’s Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Jarrod Bleijie announced the appointment of the state's new State Coroner, Terry Ryan (pictured above) in July. The appointment followed the statutory end of Michael Barnes’ term as Coroner. Terry Ryan had held senior positions in the Department of Justice and Attorney General under numerous governments since the mid-90s.
In 2011 the then Queensland Coroner, Michael Barnes, (pictured below) as a recommendation from the Saxon Bird inquest, said in his finding:
“As it is impossible to eliminate the risk of a competitor in a surf ski or board event being struck by a craft, it is essential that injured competitors be rescued as quickly as possible. This would be enhanced by devices that make the competitors easier to see and cause them to float on the surface even if unconscious.
“I recommend SLSA collaborate with the designers of such devices with a view to making the wearing of them compulsory once the organisation is satisfied they are suitable. Consideration should also be given to the use of helmets by competitors in surf craft events.”
Surfprobe sasy the SLSA has been sluggish in its co-operation with manufacturers. It has introduced helmets only for surf boat competitors, with qualificatiuon. It has introduced no safety equipment for board and ski competitors, apart from coloured lycra vests, which are of little use in opaque surf conditions by Coroner Michael Barnes in 2011.
The SLSA's paltry new surf safety regulations were introduced amid SLSA fanfare on 22 August, 2013. (Story below.)
Surfprobe view: The SLSA safety cop out!
New surf safety measures announced in August:
Too little, too late
Surfprobe Australia believes that the new safety measures announced by Surf Life Saving Australia on 22 August are grossly irresponsible and pave the way for continuing surf lifesaver deaths in competition.
The lives of at least two of the three young lifesavers killed at the national surf championships, Saxon Bird in 2010 and Mathew Barclay in 2012, would not have been saved by these new measures just announced.
The new measures were announced by SLSA president Graham Ford and SLSA CEO Greg Nance.
(See story above for the latest SLSA backflip on safety announcement concerning surf helmets and their introduction.)
The measures, or lack of them, are breathtaking in their inadequacy and stupidity. Surf Life Saving Australia has said nothing about flotation vests, devices which it has been investigating since 1997 after the death the previous year of young rower Robert Gatenby. These flotation vests have been developed to the stage that they are now endorsed by experienced surf lifesavers.
The flotation vests can be used in competition and if the wearer is hit on the head by a board or ski, the lifesaver will not sink to the bottom, as has occurred with lifesaver tragedies in the past. It is as simple as that.
The introduction of lycra vests for all competitors is a useless measure if a lifesaver is hit on the head by board or ski, like Saxon and Matthew.
Outrageous time lags for small safety changes
Even the minor safety changes introduced are delayed by long time lags before introduction.
Surfboat competitors must wear helmets from the start of 2014, which is about 50 years too late. IRB crew must wear lifejackets by October 2014, but the release of the new measures contained nothing about the lifesaving flotation vests.
Surf Life Saving Australia is ruled by the macho image and refuses to tackle this systemic problem. Peer pressure is preventing the SLSA from introducing flotation vests because some lifesavers just don’t want to wear them. As a result, lives remain very much at risk.
SLSA CEO Greg Nance has said the new measures followed consultation with members. This so-called consultation was a dodgy online survey in which anonymous surf club members were asked if
they thought surf lifesaving competition was dangerous. What did he think they were going to say? (See item below on the survey.)
The SLSA chiefs, in a message to club members, said: Safety is paramount for SLSA. it always has been and always will be."
If that is the case, why has the SLSA been so slack in implementing some of these regulations, like surf helmets for boaties, many years ago. It has been a very common occurence for surf boat crew members to be hit on the head in the surf by oars or boats and over the years many injuries, some serious, have been sustained. He says the SLSA began investigating flotation vests in 1997 and the investigation goes on and doesn't even rate a mention in the new so-called safety announcement.
Another rule to be introduced belatedly is that all competitors in the Aussies must hold the Bronze Medallion with a certificate in public safety. But once again there is a ridiculous time lag for introduction; 1915!
'Strange' that SLSA is dragging heels on flotation vests
- Michael Gatenby, solicitor, brother of Robert, killed in 1996
(Pics: Courier Mail 23 August 2013, Mr Michael Gatenby and his brother Robert, killed in 1996.)
Gold Coast solicitor Michael Gatenby, whose younger brother Robert drowned in a surf boat race in the Australian championships in 1996 when hit on the head in the surf, says it's 'very strange' that the SLSA is dragging its heels with the introduction of flotation vests.
He was commenting in the Courier Mail in Brisbane on 23 August 2013 following the SLSA's new safety regulations announcement.
Michael Gatenby said the delay in introducing the vests was despite coroner Michael Barnes recommending the vests after an inquest into the death of lifesaver Saxon Bird in 2011.
He said a 'trial' of the vests this year, when three top competitors criticised them as cumbersome and ill-fitting, appeared to be 'more of a publicity stunt'.
Mr Gatenby welcomed the introduction of compulsory helmets for surfboat competitors,saying helmets should also
be compulsory in other surf craft events such as board, ski and ironman.
'Risk culture is not in our DNA', smiles Mr Ford
"Is there a macho risk culture in the movement?
Absolutely not. If you just look at our membership number,half our members are felmale,half male.Risk culture is not in our DNA."
Surfprobe notes that Mr Ford smiled when he made the comment.
- National SLSA president Graham Ford interviewed by the SLSA, from the SLSA website, August 2013.
Does this guy with his hand up wish he had a helmet?
According to the Courier Mail, some surfboat rowers have criticised the introduction of helmets, arguing the macho sport is becoming over-regulated.
Champion surf lifesaver Bryce Munro, who was part of the open men's crew that has won the past three national titles, said the safety measure should have remained optional:
"I'm a grown adult and they should let me make my own decision (over) what I want to do, not force things on me."
Bryce Munro (far left) celebrates with his Mona Vale black crew after they won the 2012 national open men's surfboat title. Source: News Limited.
Speaking to Sydney's Daily Telegraph, Munro added: "It's not compulsory to wear headgear when playing rugby league, is it?"
This is the crux of the SLSA's lack of leadership
Here is the crux of Surf Life Saving Australia's disgraceful inability to introduce important safety measures in the surf that will actually save lives, as apart from a string of proposed regulations that don't even mention the most important safety device now developed to an advanced stage - flotation vests.
Surfprobe Australia chair Bob Wurth, in the brief essay below, says that the SLSA has taken the easy way out yet again by neglecting the introduction of flotation vests, which have been recommended by very experienced lifesavers and developed to an advanced stage:
The macho image is a damned curse in surf lifesaving. The so-called macho sport isn't becoming over-regulated. In fact, the truth is it is dangerous under-regulated. People running the SLSA are their own worst enemy. An entrenched macho image across the surf lifesaving movement has dictated the unsatisfactory level of safety measures recently announced, rather than there being a genuine focus on what safety measures were really required to prevent further deaths in the surf for competitors while under SLSA supervision.
The end result was that the SLSA and people like Greg Nance and Graham Ford took the easy way out and buckled to the expected macho outbursts. They went far less than half-way in their efforts to a realsistic approach the safety issue. It is telling and somewhat bizarre that an organisation with such a rich history, whose members do so much great work saving lives, reacted in such a feeble manner when it came to the most important surf safety issues.
The reported remarks (above) by Bryce Munro explain part of the problem: many surf lifesavers are a part of an over-bearing macho image which extends across the entire movement where peer pressure rules. All of this despite the continuing tragedies among lifesavers. Bryce believes he personally doesn't need helmets in surfboat competition, yet for many decades lifesavers have been receiving mild to very severe injuries in surfboat accidents. A quick glance at the surfboat photos on this site is evidence enough of the dangers.
The SLSA simply didn't have the guts to take the necessary step further and introduce flotation devices for board and ski competitors when that is what is needed. For many months the SLSA has said it is co-operating with the development of flotation vests. Respected manufactuers say they are at the stage where the vests are not only safe to use, but will save lives. Now SLSA CEO Greg Nance hides behind the contention that the flotation vests might be dangerous to competitors and aren't yet ready for adoption. SLSA operations manager Bree Corbett has conducted a disgraceful media stunt in an effort to disparage flotation vests prior to the 2013 Aussies.
The SLSA media stunt at Kirra in 2013 exposed by Four Corners. (See story below.)
Nothing really has changed for board and ski competitors
The SLSA keeps delaying the introduction of these vests in which Australia is the leader. In fact, in a very worrying statement, Greg Nance states that flotation vests might never be developed to a stage where they could be used.
So despite these new SLSA regulations being introduced, there is still no protection for board and ski competitors. If competitors are hit on the head by surf craft, they have and still can be knocked unconscious and sink to the bottom and drown. That is the simply truth. Nothing really has changed for board and ski competitors.
The use of the lycra vests for every competitor is absolutely no guarantee of safety. Robert Gatenby, Saxon Bird and Matthew Barclay all died after being hit on the head by surfcraft and they sank to the bottom in turbulent, opaque (cloudy) water. They could not be seen despite many desperate lifesavers making determined searches and dives. Later the boys' bodies were recovered.
So the safety value of the coloured lycra vest is mostly a myth; might help but is not a life saver. Lycra vests have in fact become a handy crutch for the SLSA to be seen to be doing something, but in reality the vest is pretty useless.
The introduction of helmets for boaties is a no brainer. It comes about fifty years too late. Safety regulations governing officials at carnivals or at the Aussies fall into the same category; you simply wonder why they weren't introduced long ago.
Competitors like Bryce Munro, complaining about helmets (not flotation vests) thinks helmets should be a matter of personal choice. He says he's a grown adult and doesn't want to be forced to do things. Well Robert Gatenby, Saxon Bird and Matthew Barclay were not grown adults and nobody within Surf Life Saving Australia acted to stop their deaths when they could have and should have done so. So then it comes down to the competitors themselves. Do they say: 'I'm not going to compete' when the seas are treacherous. Usuaully not, because of the pressure from their peers.
The comments of Bryce Munro match many on the SLSA's Facebook page after the SLSA "safety" regulations were announced. Unfortunately, nothing better explains the macho problem which the SLSA has failed ikn its lack of leadership to address. Here are a few examples which appeared on the day of the SLSA announcement:
Dani Herman there is inherent risk in life and as surf lifesavers we acknowledge that risk in order to rescue and potentially save the life of another. forcing people to wear something that hinders that goes against the core of the sls movement. we should have a choice. i'd happily sign a waiver to not have to wear them.
Reece Willem Ross Vogels This is crap SLSA. Get out from behind your desk and go look at how many Irb (inflatable rubber boat) driver/crews have drowned lately. Ill happily sign a waver, even better, a petition to rid of us this crap. I will not wear life jackets with straps and tassels to hold me underwater of an upturned Irb.
Mitchell Renouf It would be nice if instead of this knee jerk media publicity bull shit slsa focus on sweep and coaching development to improve skills and awareness in the surf and to be honest the biggest truth about the accidents at Aussies is that the carnivals should of been call off simple and we already have risk management ect in place now to call off competition and if slsa insists on helmets maybe start small such as make them mandatory for juniors and slowly change the culture not just shit on the volenters that put so much time and effort into this organisation by treating them like children. I know I've had enough
Joe Ford As long as there is no life jackets for ski paddlers I'm happy lol.....
Pete Carter This is BULLSHIT! Do the Iron men have to wear helmets????? Forced retirement!
Cameron Baker How incompetent do we look cruising around on a dead flat beach with life jackets on, it's like we don't know how to swim or something. Utter crap SLSA, desk jockeys making decisions with no real world experience as usual.
Darryl Easton Why did SLSA bother to do a survey, and then ignore the results - I am specifically referring to PFD (flotation vests) requirements in IRBs for Lifesaving activities?
Good way to further disenfranchise patrol members SLSA... knee jerk publicity stunt at the expense of the actual people who make the organisation what it is...
(Refer to macho image articles below).
Jerry Dennis doing what he loved. Courier Mail photo.
Reflections on another surf lifesaving tragedy
A coronial inquest is likely to be held probably next year into the tragic death of junior ironman champion and Northcliffe surf club member Jerry Dennis, aged 17, who disappeared during a flat-water training session in a canal at Mermaid Waters on August 1, 2013.
Jerry was with about 20 other Northcliffe club members when he fell from his paddle board about 4.20pm and disappeared.
It apparently took his club mates 40 minutes to find his body, according to newspaper reports, with the search made more difficult by the dirty water and his black wetsuit. They immediately tried to resuscitate him, in vain.
He was the fourth teenage lifesaving competitor to drown in Gold Coast waters since 1996, following the deaths of Robert Gatenby, Saxon Bird and Matthew Barclay at the Australian Surf Life Saving championships at Kurrawa Beach.
Witnesses said Jerry, who was training with a large group of lifesavers, apparently suffered chest pains during a paddle up the canal before he toppled from the board.
Surf Life Saving Queensland president Ralph Devlin said after the tragedy: "In these calm environments of canals, hundreds if not thousands of athletes and lifesavers from our clubs around Australia would train on canals on any given day and an incident like this is completely unknown in our history, so it's very, very sad.''
Surfprobe Australia declined media requests for comment at the time of the tragedy, noting to reporters that the fatality appeared to have occurred in entirely different circumstances to the deaths of the three young competitors killed during past Aussie championships after being hit on the head by surf craft.
On reflection, we can only contemplate if the tragedy might not have occurred if all surf lifesavers, both in the surf and in still water training, were required to wear the new flotation devices (see item below). If Jerry Dennis had floated, rather than sunk, perhaps he could have been revived. That is a matter for the police investigation and a coronial inquest.
Surfprobe is pressing for flotation devices to be used in surf competition. Perhaps this should be extended to all water training events, but that would require a monumental shift in thinking by Surf Life Saving Australia, which has taken so long going back to 1997 to embrace necessary safety devices even for treacherous surfing conditions. It would also require SLSA to tackle the macho image and peer pressure problems within surf lifesaving, which until today have militaged against the use of safety devices such as surf vests. (See items below on peer pressure.)
Surf vest that will save lives was being evaluated as SLSA came out
with its new "safety" measures. Result? No mention whatsoever!
A flotation vest, made by SurfTraker, endorsed by experienced surf lifesavers and competitors, was being tested and evaluated by Surf Life Saving Australia and an independent company when it issued it's 'new safety announcement' on 22 August 2013. Surfprobe on this site hoped that the testing was being done professionally and scientifically, given the shonky media "test" performed on surf flotation vests at North Kirra before the Australian surf championships of 2013.
While it has taken Surf Life Saving Australia some 16 years of review into surf safety devices for competitors, without effective result to date, two highly experienced surf lifesavers have produced commercially a buoyant, durable and comfortable surf vest ideally suited for tough surf conditions.
All three deaths at Kurrawa occurred in surf craft competition. The vest will keep afloat competitors who are hit in the head by a surfboat, board or surf ski. If adopted it most certainly could save lifesavers injured in the surf. Matthew Barclay, for instance, might still be alive today if this vest had been used.
Lives at risk!
The vest is the SurfTraka SSV produced by SurfTraka Australia, which is operated by Allan Woolley and Bruce Owen, who between them have a combined SLSA association of more than 60 years. Woolley is a director of Redfin Surf craft, and a past lifesaving member of Coolangatta Surf Club. Owen is a life member of the SLSA, a former National Surf Craft Officer of more than 20 years standing, who for more than 50 years has actively used surf craft, including skis, boards and boats. Both men have spent years involved in surf craft and safety design. His outspokenness about surf safety has occasionally seen him at odds with SLSA administrators.
The SurfTraka SSV features fixed flotation pockets and is designed to assist immediate flotation to the surface once a wave passes. It provides protection to the upper body and the back from wayward surf craft. The makers say the vest does not ride up under the chin as do some devices when in deep water.
More importantly, with this volume of flotation a surfer can float vertically in deep water with head and shoulders clear of the water. SurfTracka SSV allows for unrestrained movement, such as paddling, diving under waves and other surf activities in boats, IRB's and patrol work, according to the makers.
SurfTraka's brochure says: 'During the previous five years we have been carrying out a comprehensive testing programme using a cross section of competitors and volunteers under various surf conditions.'
Stuart Keay, Gold Coast lifeguard (left) and Bruce Kolkka. Picture goldcoast.com.au.
"...every competitor should be wearing one of these."
Commnent on the vest comes from the likes of Bruce Kolkka (pictured below), champion Northcliffe SLSC competitor who is quoted by SurfTrakka as saying, after testing the vest in big seas: "...every competitor should be wearing one of these." Others who have trialled the vest include Stuart Keay (pictured above), senior lifeguard and champion Surfers Paradise competitor who endorsed the vest on TV and in local newspapers, and Arch Salaris, long term veteran paddler from Swansea Belmont SLSC.
The president of Aldinga Bay SLSC, Mark Rothwell, says: "...excellent vest, could not believe I would be able to duck dive in these conditions. Should be made mandatory for all competitors."
Uni of Ballarat ethics committee clears its anonymous
online lifesaver survey used by SLSA:
(Pics from Queensland and national surf titles. No flotation vests. Not even helmets which are to be introduced from 1 January 2014.)
The ethics committee of the University of Ballarat has dismissed Surfprobe’s complaint about an anonymous online survey of surf club members saying the survey had been approved as there is no problem at all with the study.
The survey was created by the University’s Centre for Healthy and Safe Sport and was commissioned by Surf Life Saving Australia.
In a letter to Surfprobe of 25 August, in reply to our original complaint of 3 July, the University’s deputy vice-chancellor research forwarded the finding of the chair of the Ethics Committee, Dr David Newman. In it Dr Newman said our response to the survey was an ‘opinion piece, with no substantiated evidence in it.’
Dr Newman added: “They have a particular vested interest. My view is that the respondent probably is unaware of the scientific method and the ethical requirements under the national Statement for the Ethical Conduct of Research involving humans.
“The Surfprobe group have the opportunity to make an informed decision to not participate in the survey if they wish, but their claim that it is an unethical survey is simply not true.”
Surfprobe continues to have serious concerns about the survey and the use to which it might have been put by Surf Life Saving Australia, which recently announced that it had ‘consulted members’ before introducing what Surfprobe calls irresponsible new surf safety regulations.
In particular Surfprobe feared that the SLSA would use the anonymous online survey of surf club members to further delay the introduction of essential flotation vests and helmets in surf competition.
The SLSA said in a notice to all surf club members that the survey was to identify suitable personal protective equipment for surf lifesavers. But the survey appears to be more than that. The SLSA said it was interested in members’ “attitudes towards personal flotation devices and helmets and how lifesavers feel about wearing these safety devices." This is indicative of the SLSA's wariness and tardiness in laying down rules for the wearing of suitable safety devices under the pretext of finding the right devices.
In the survey the SLSA asks lifesavers ‘how do you feel about wearing PFDs (personal flotation devices)and helmets?’ The survey asks, ‘What do you think the risk of head injury is for each of the following lifesaving activities’, and asks members to rate them as no risk, low risk, moderate risk and high risk.
Risk comparisons to cycling, driving, football...
Another survey question strangely asks ‘How would you rate the risk of sustaining a head injury in the following situations’ and lists riding a bicycle on the road, horse riding, driving a car, playing Aussie Rules or Rugby and the like.
Surfprobe asks, what really are questions like this be likely to evoke, especially among the thousands of young male competitors who answer anonymously? Do they really think teenagers will admit that surf lifesaving competition is dangerous or will the macho factor again kick in?
The question about the macho problem within surf lifesaving is a serious one: what if a majority of the members say they don't want flotation vests and surf helmets, regardless of the equipment's ability to save lives in the surf? Will the survey results give the SLSA more ammunition to even further delay the introduction of such devices, as indeed was stated on 22 August by SLSA's CEO Greg Nance?
Surfprobe asks, did the SLSA use this survey to bolster its case for fending off the introduction of more realistic safety devices and regulations? Perhaps the SLSA or the University of Ballarat might make public the findings of its survey?
Greg Nance (pictured), CEO of the SLSA, said in an introduction to the survey: ‘This survey will play a role in the development of future SLSA safety policies and practices':
“The aim of this study is to determine what SLSA members perceive to be barriers and facilitators to using PFDs (personal flotation devices) and helmets during surf lifesaving aquatic activities. This survey will play a role in the development of future SLSA safety policies and practices.”
The survey asked for feedback on a number of issues and seeks detailed injury data from members sustained in the surf. (Surfprobe thinks it highly unusual that the SLSA would not already have such data.)
Competitor attitudes and perceptions about vests canvassed - but why?
The SLSA also asked members about ‘attitudes and perceptions of SLSA members around the use of personal flotation devices and helmets during surf lifesaving activities and asks lifesavers ‘how do you feel about wearing PFDs and helmets?’
Surfprobe asks why it was necessary to ask members abolut their perceptions of the use of flotation devices. Surely after the deaths of lifesavers under SLSA supervision it is reasonable that the SLSA would thoroughly examine such safety devices and introduce them if they were shown have the ability to save lives.
The three young men killed in the national surf championships at Kurrawa were hit on the head by out of control surf craft and they drowned. Surf helmets and flotation vests almost certainly would have saved them.
SLSA won't tackle to tackle the macho problem in surf lifesaving
(Surf lifesaving's macho problem and peer pressure, see stories below)
“As to safety, what have we put into genuine
action from this learning?” asks the SLSA
Surf safety is the priority, says review, but
where is the evidence of real action on safety?
Surf Life Saving Australia acting CEO Greg Nance has released the first of the findings from the SLSA’s ‘Top to Bottom Review’ of its conduct of the Australian surf lifesaving championships, but surf lifesavers might not hold their breath waiting for meaningful safety reforms.
cting CEO Greg Nance has released the first of the findings from the SLSA’s ‘Top to Bottom Review’ of its conduct of the
Mr Greg Nance.
The SLSA in June said it reviewed the significant growth in participation in the Aussies, which is open to all proficient surf lifesavers, the welfare of athletes and officials, logistics and costs, the pressure to increase the number of events and the limited number of suitable venues around Australia to host the event with the availability of nearby suitable contingency sites in case of unsuitable weather/sea conditions.
The SLSA said the need for the review haprecipitaty several factors but principally:
A steering group consisting of internal SLS members and external sport and event industry experts aapparently was selected to oversee and manage the review process. But better marketing – that is, selling the SLSA’s tarnished image - seemed to be a priority. Greg Nance announced:
“The first recommendation from the steering group was that SLSA develop a purpose statement for the Australian surf life saving championships to be used in communication, marketing and planning for the Aussies, as well as the future assessment of the suitability of inclusion or exclusion of individual competitions/events.
After extensive consultation, this 'purpose statement' is now complete and here is the announcement from on high:
“The purpose of the Aussies is to bring our national movement and the community together in a safe and spirited celebration of the best of our lifesaving traditions, culture and sport.”
Nance said: “It should be noted that safety (is) the paramount element of the development of the event. It always has been and always will be”.
(Surfprobe hasn’t seen too much evidence of this in the recent past! We ask: was surf safety paramount at Kurrawa when surfboat events were transferred to calm waters because of the justified pressure from boaties, while younger competitors still had to battle the treacherous surf of Kurrawa? (What about a 'purpose statement' that says; the SLSA will introduce the best available, tried and tested safety vests well before the next Aussies?)
The SLSA said Matthew Barclay's tragic death was the third such tragedy at the Aussies, following the death of 15 year old Robert Gatenby in the final of the 1996 U/18 Boat Race Championship; and the death of 19 year old Saxon Bird in a semi-final of the U/19 Ironman Championship in 2010. Mr Nance continued: “In looking at these tragedies we must ask ourselves:
• As to safety, what have we learned as a humanitarian movement, from this tragic loss of life?
• As to safety, what have we put into genuine action from this learning?"
SLSA has not actioned crucial finding from State Coroner on vests
Greg Nance admitted that the SLSA had not yet actioned the crucial finding of former State Coroner Michael Barnes in relation to developing and introducing, with in conjunction with manufacturers, suitable flotation vests and surf helmets to protect competitors in the Aussies, especially in surf craft events.
(Surfprobe believes it should be noted that Surf Life Saving Australia first announced an examination into these safety devices an amazingly long 16 years ago - back in 1997 - the year after the death of young Robert Gatenby, whose tragedy was never the subject of a coronial inquiry and the SLSA escaped scruitiny in a formal court, although there was a police investigation. (Note below, Mrs Vickie Gatenby’s comments to the ABC’s Radio National programme on that score.)
SLSA, according to Nance, ‘has actioned each and every one of these recommendations except for those regarding helmets and vests which it is currently working on.
Personal protective equipment project 'a current undertaking...'
Nance’s statement continued: “SLSA is currently undertaking a project to identify suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) for surf life saving members whilst they undertake SLS activities... This PPE project commenced following the death of Saxon Bird.Nance said:
“SLSA has conducted a risk assessment and injury analysis into core SLS activities and identified a number of PPE that may assist in reducing activity associated risk. At this stage of the project SLSA is evaluating the following PPE for use in aquatic activities.”
Dodgy vest media stunt listed as 'progress to date'
Under the head ‘Project Progress to Date’, the SLSA had the gall to refer to the “media demonstration and information day held at Kirra Beach in late March to discuss the PPE Project and it’s (sic) progress.” This is a reference to the shonky, unprofessional and unscientific stunt staged for the media by the SLSA a week before the Aussies which had the appearance of being partly an attempt to explain away why nothing had been done to introduce safety devices for the national competition.
Greg Nance’s statement, placed online on the SLSA’s website for the benefit of surf club members and others, then referred to its unusually worded online opinion survey conducted for the SLSA by the Ballarat University in which club members were asked to participate in a survey anonymously. One question in the survey asks: ‘How would you rate the risk of sustaining a head injury in the following situations’ and lists riding a bicycle on the road, horse riding, driving a car, playing Aussies Rules of Rugby and the like.’
So here we have a situation where lifesavers from 18 years up are being asked to express themselves in private about how dangerous they consider surf lifesaving competition to be compared with other activities. Surfprobe is concerned that the survey results might reinforce the ‘macho effect’ which goes that lifesavers can tolerate mountainous seas and treacherous conditions ‘because that’s what we do!’. C'mon SLSA; Get real!
Late news: The survey was completed and the SLSA, talking about its new safety regulations, boasted that it had 'consultewd with members'. But the survey results were not released.
Another dubious reaction to surf safety issues:
SLSA flicks key safety responsibiltiies to
anonymous surf club members, instead of being pro-active
'Who needs a surf helmet or a flotation vest? Let’s conduct a survey of members!'
After more than 16-years of so-called “investigation” into competitor safety devices in the surf, such as flotation vests and helmets, Surf Life Saving Australia flicked its responsibilities to members around Australia to gauge their reaction to the use of these safety devices.
The Surfprobe group believes this smacks of further unnecessary procrastination. Questions in the survey seemed to be a bit like asking motorists if they like wearing seatbelts.
Surf Life Saving Australia undertook the members’online questionnaire project around Australia by saying it was to identify suitable personal protective equipment for surf life saving members. But the survey was more than that; the SLSA was interested in members’ “attitudes towards personal flotation devices and helmets and how lifesavers feel about wearing these safety devices."
This raises the question: what if a majority of the members don't want flotation vests and surf helmets, regardless of their abaility to save lives in the surf? (See questions below about the 'macho problem' involved in the use of these devices.)
Surfprobe was somewhat skeptical at the idea behind the survey, given our experience. The dodgy SLSA public relations exercise demonstration of vests and helmets at North Kirra beach just prior to the national titles in 2013 certainly did not give cause for any confidence in the SLSA's handling of the safety devices issue generally. Three well-known competitors panned the safety devices to the assembled media for a variety of reasons. But some of the devices were not even worn correctly and the manufactuers guidelines in some cases were not followed. One competitor even wore a vest that was not done up properly. At best, the PR demonstration for the media just prior to the Aussies was highly unscientific.
(For the record, Surfprobe has not levelled criticism at those conducting the survey within a unit of the University of Ballarat.)
(See Four Corners story below on the dodgy vest trial at North Kirra.)
Flotation vests not required here!
Gathering lifesaver 'attitudes and perceptions' about safety gear
Greg Nance (pictured), acting CEO of the SLSA, said in an introduction to the survey: ‘This survey will play a role in the development of future SLSA safety policies and practices.’ He continued:
“The aim of this study is to determine what SLSA members perceive to be barriers and facilitators to using PFDs and helmets during surf lifesaving aquatic activities. This survey will play a role in the development of future SLSA safety policies and practices.”
The survey asked for feedback on a number of issues and sought detailed injury data from members sustained in the surf. (Surfprobe thinks it highly unusual that the SLSA would not already have such data.)
The SLSA also asked members about ‘attitudes and perceptions of SLSA members around the use of personal flotation devices and helmets during surf lifesaving activities and asked lifesavers ‘how do you feel about wearing PFDs and helmets?’
Another question asked ‘How would you rate the risk of sustaining a head injury in the following situations’ and lists riding a bicycle on the road, horse riding, driving a car, playing Aussies Rules of Rugby and the like.
The survey has been prepared by the University of Ballarat and the Centre for Healthy and Safe Sport and was completed on Sunday the 16 June. Questions included ‘What do you think the risk of head injury is for each of the following lifesaving activities’, and asked members to rate them as no risk, low risk, moderate risk and high risk.
The three young men killed in the national surf championships at Kurrawa were hit on the head by out of control surf craft and they drowned. Surf helmets and flotation vests probably would have saved them.
When will they do something about it?
The surf lifesaver 'macho men' with potential
to pressure vulnerable surf club members
Surf Life Saving Australia, with its new survey of surf club members into their 'attitudes and perceptions' about flotation vests and helmets, seems to be responding to the macho senario which unfortunately is alive and well in many surf clubs today.
Surfprobe believes that the SLSA should not be responding to young lifesavers who feel that vests are 'uncool' but should be taking the lead by introducing approved flotation vests in potentially dangerous surf conditions, with the emphasis on ensuring the younger competitors wear them.Yesa, this means mandatory competition regulations!
The macho senario contends that lifesavers in competition must be able to handle the worse of surf conditions because that's just what they do on patrol. End of story? No it's not really. If it was that easy, why did senior surfboat crew at Kurrawa in 2012 responsibly refuse to continue competing in the treacherous surf while officials continued with surf events for more junior competitors? (See stories on this below in Four Corners and Joe Knight-Smith articles.)
The new private survey, just for starters, is for surf club members 18 years and older. All three competitors killed at Kurrawa under SLSA supervision at the national titles were under 18 years of age. Some just did not want to compete in such dangerous seas but felt obliged to take part because of peer pressure, with an understandable attitude: 'What would my mates think if I pulled out?'
It is high time that the people who nationally administer the Surf Lifesaving movement, right down through State branches to officials of local surf life saving clubs and patrol captains, should pay greater personal and closer attention to peer pressure within the movement because of its potential to unwittingly kill surf competitors, especailly those younger and less experienced than those more senior and stronger.
Surfprobe experienced a lively dose of this unintelligent 'macho man' attitude amongst some club members on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland when we began to criticise the SLSA over the ongoing deaths of young competitors in competition. Surfprobe received online criticism from club members who said we 'just didn't get it'.
The 'All in boys!' attitude.
"That's our job to go out in a big surf' said one. 'That's what we do, idiot!' said another and 'I'll cream ya if I see you walkin down the street' threatened yet another unthinking club member.
Surf vests and helmets are possibly seen as uncool by some of these macho men (or lads) some of whom might not give a damn about the families of the three young men lost at Kurrawa. Surfprobe thinks the survey, being private and anonymous, could be wide open to abuse by those who might want to 'stack' the results.
It would be a terrible abuse of authority if Surf Life Saving Australia was guided by the sort of thinking and peer pressure exerted by some club members who earlier responded so negatively about safety devices and surf deaths.
The SLSA could get a really disastrous result if certain 'macho' club members and officials organised themselves and overwhelmingly expressed themselves in the anonymous survey as seeing little danger in any surf or getting together and insisting that it was more dangerous riding a bicycle than competing in a big surf. Obviously a dead flat sea is not going to create the sort of surf craft mayhem that was experienced at Kurrawa on the three occasions in which the three young men were killed.
It's not rocket science. Just do it!
The SLSA must shake off its floundering and slothfulness ('investigating' surf safety gear for 16 years), dump its PR people and their dodgy stunts, get off its collective backside, take the initiative and immediately introduce a range of competition surf safety measures which include approved and available mandatory surf helmets and flotation vests, especially for the more junior competitors and particularly for use in treacherous surfing conditions.
The SLSA, for the safety and well-being of surf lifesavers under SLSA care, must become pro-active and lay down rules, not cavass widely among the membership, anonymously, to see if everyone is unhappy with potential changes. That is not leadership.
Here are a few comments published earlier in the Sunshine Coast Daily:
The 'we do this all the time' mentality
* Day in and day out us lifesavers are training on open beaches, exactly the same as Kurrawa, and a lot of the time in rougher conditions, right around Australia...and nothing goes wrong.
* As a competitor and a very competent lifesaver I really do believe this was a freak accident and people who were not there and cannot themselves say they can save a life should not be allowed to comment - let alone be published in a newspaper! I agree, some officials haven't ever been in the surf, but I can safety say the safety officials ARE very experienced and our safety was paramount. Conditions were deemed safe and I 100% support them.
* Freak accident??? You've got to be kidding.... freak accidents don't occur three times…Highly likely that the problem is these grown adult athletes who are strong, experienced and like to be challenged by the prevailing conditions, are making decisions that impact on younger athletes that do not have the same skills, strength and experience for the conditions.
“You've had virtually 12 months since Matthew's death, you've had three years since Saxon's death, you've had 16 years since Robert's death - and still there's nothing in place. You've got to ask the question, you know, how long does it take to put something in place?" - Mr Phil Bird, on ABC TV's Four Corners programme May 6, 2013 (pictured alongside son Saxon.)
Surfprobe stumbled on this item from the Illawarra Mercury newspaper in Wollongong which further points to the macho problem confronting the surf lifesaving movement...
Safety gear 'doesn't fit surf lifesaving's macho culture'
By ANGELA THOMPSON
May 7, 2013
Austinmer surf club president Jack Patison. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI
A former national officer for Surf Life Saving Australia says a "macho culture" is behind the movement's reluctance to mandate the use of helmets, flotation vests and other safety aids during competition in big seas.
The safety credentials of the organisation came under scrutiny on Monday night during a Four Corners investigation into the circumstances leading to deaths at the 1996, 2010 and 2012 National Surf Life Saving Championships. The program also outlined concerns about the group's finances and governance.
South Coast resident Jim Bradley paved the way for the introduction of leg ropes to SLSA competitions and invented the surf helmet while national officer from 1982 to 1995, but said the organisation was not interested in these or other measures that could protect competitors from being knocked unconscious by runaway boards and boats.
'Proven measures dismissed'
"We experimented with leg ropes in difficult conditions. We proved conclusively that these things worked but it was basically dismissed," said Mr Bradley, now national advisor to the Disabled Surfing Association of Australia.
"It didn't fit in with the macho image of surf lifesaving heroically battling the elements.
"There is a great reluctance to adopt anything that would seem to detract from the iconic image. They really like to protect that image because they feel it's very marketable."
The Mercury approached Surf Life Saving Australia for a response to Mr Bradley's comments. However, a spokesman said he was unable to comment.
Austinmer surf club president Jack Patison attended the 2010 championships where Saxon Bird, 19, died during an event.
Mr Patison said he withdrew one of Austinmer's junior crews from competing the day before Saxon's death, after an Austinmer crew member observed the "big, dangerous" surf conditions and grew hesitant about competing.
"When I pulled them out, you could see the relief in the other three's eyes," Mr Patison said.
Mr Patison said he and other members of the Austinmer club sometimes wore a helmet and a buoyancy vest when competing in big waves. He believes helmets should be compulsory at competitions when the surf reaches a certain height. But he added competitors were also responsible for their safety.
"For some people, big surf is like their backyard," he said.
"There should be a bit of responsibility put back on yourself."
Mr Patison said he was concerned the negative exposure would scare people off lifesaving. "I think it's a great movement.
"My big concern is that the couple of deaths we had could wreck the sport."
(Three young competitors have died in the Aussies since 1996. One coronial inquiry has been held.)
Turmoil inside the SLSA; CEO Brett Williamson's resignation
Surf Life Saving Australia president, Graham Ford announced on 24 June 2013 that Brett Williamson, who was appointed CEO in 2006, had resigned as chief executive officer of SLSA, effective 30 June 2013, but the reason for his departure was not given.
Williamson had taken four months leave ‘for personal reasons’ in February amid concerns that the organisation’s change management programme was proceeding too slowly.
Announcing Williamson’s departure, Ford said in a statement, ‘It is with great sadness that we have accepted Brett’s resignation… he was an innovator and has firmly cemented the organisation’s position as a peak body in coastal water safety...’
Williamson said ‘It has been a very difficult personal decision. I’m proud of the role I have played in re‐shaping SLSA. However, I believe the hard yards associated with the change management process for the future of the organisation is well in hand, so it’s the right time for me to leave to allow SLSA to finalise that important process.’
Skewed priorities for surf lifesaving?
Graham Ford: Passionate about recognition,
support and maximising revenue raising
Surf Life Saving Australia president Graham Ford has written to surf club members around the country about the SLSA’s priorities. His online message of 22 May 2013 said in part the SLSA was always striving to improve the services it delivers:
“Following a review of SLSA and the Surf Life Saving Foundation by Deloitte in late 2012, it was agreed by both boards to accept all the recommended changes in order to reposition us as one organisation with a single, vision of saving lives, creating great Australians and building better communities.
“As such SLSA will be structured to enable true collaboration across the organisation and the enhancement of our governance to contemporary standards. Our efforts will be focused in a more integrated manner on our key stakeholders – the states, members, sponsors and donors.
“In order to do this most effectively some jobs will change, be redefined or repositioned. The aim is to match our skill base to better address emerging needs of our membership now and in the future.
“For the purposes of complete transparency to the public and in particular our 165,000 volunteer members, The Deloitte Report has been publicly posted on the SLSA website.”
Trust and transparency
Mr Ford said the aim was to maintain ‘trust and transparency’ in the SLSA with key stakeholders:
“SLSA has implemented a change plan to address and implement each and every one of the 43 recommendations made in the Deloitte Report.”
The state president spoke of some management changes, previously announced. He added:
“There is no turning back. Our goal is to identify opportunities to improve efficiencies and maximise the collective capacity to raise much-needed revenue for the movement…”
“I can assure everyone that the surf life saving volunteer will still drive the organisation in the future as it has for some 106 years... We all have one thing in common. We are passionate about Surf Life Saving receiving the recognition, funding and support it so rightly needs and deserves”.
Surfprobe takes the rather old fashioned stance that the number one priority for the SLSA should be the saving lives in the surf.
See the full message from Graham Ford by copying the address below:
Will Premier Campbell Newman allow
a Royal Commission into surf deaths?
Surfprobe has asked the Queensland Premier Campbell Newman to respond to
calls for a Royal Commission into the deaths of three young lifesavers at the
Australian surf championships at Kurrawa.
This followed revelations in the Four Corners programme 'The Surf Club' of 6 May 2013, many of which Surfprobe knows to be accurate.
On 29 March 2012, after the death of Matthew Barclay, the Premier told the media:
“If there does need to be a further inquiry other than a coronial inquest then of course we will be letting you know.”
The Surfprobe letter to Mr Newman seeking the Royal Commission concluded:
"Please act; we now appeal to you as a father to do something to end this dangerous and unprofessional situation, to take the steps to improve surf safety, to help place the SLSA in the eyes of the public back on the pedestal that it rightly deserves and to bring justified closure to those affected."
In a letter dated 15 May 2013, Premier Newman responded with committing himself to any action or even a formal response on the matter:
"Thank you for your letter of 8 May 2013 about your support for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into surf deaths at Kurrawa. Please be assured that your correspondence has been received and a formal response, if appropriate, will be porovided in due course."
Surfprobe had said to the Premier in a letter of 8 May:
"Four Corners found significant and dangerous shortcomings in the organisation, as we have been saying, especially in the field of competitor safety.
We note the many experienced lifesavers who have been highly critical of the SLSA’s astounding inaction in introducing proven surf safety devices, including helmets and flotation vests, which the SLSA first began investigating a remarkable sixteen years ago following the first death, that of young Robert Gatenby in 1996. The SLSA ‘investigation’ continues to this day."
Will there be a Matthew Barclay coronial inquiry?
Surfprobe is asking authorities if indeed there will be a coronial inquest into the death of Matthew Barclay in the surf at the Australian surf titles at Kurrawa in 2012. The answer might seem obvious to some, yet it might not be so. It should be remembered that there was no coronial inquest into the death of young Robert Gatenby who was killed in 1996 at Kurrawa.
The State Coroner's office, in giving guidance to the public about methods generally adopted by the office (not referring to any particular case), states online:
“Once the coroner has completed these enquiries they will consider whether to hold an inquest into the death. The coroner will consult with the family about whether an inquest is to be held. Families can also request the coroner to hold an inquest.”
Surfprobe believes that the deaths of all three boys in the Kurrawa championships had important and obvious linkages in each tragic incident. All three were killed, it would appear, when competing in the Australian surf titles at Kurrawa beach in surf craft (meaning boat, ski or board) events and apparently were hit on the head by surf craft and they sunk to the bottom, could not be found for some time and were dead when recovered.
All three deaths occurred in competitions arranged and under the supervision of Surf Life Saving Australia. (In the latter concerning Matthew Barclay we are relying on statements by the SLSA soon after Matthew’s death.)
We contend then that events which occurred during all three deaths might have a strong bearing on surf safety issues and the conduct of SLSA competitions and therefore should be considered in detail in any coronial inquest into the death of Matthew Barclay, of the Maroochydore Surf Club. We believe that Matthew Barclay’s tragic death cannot and should not be taken in isolation.
Matthew Barclay's parents, Mrs and Mrs Steve and Donna Barclay, made it clear in March last year in a statement released through Queensland Police that they did not blame anyone for the death of their son and were ‘distressed about reports in the media about the circumstances surrounding the accident and the organisation of the event’, adding:
“We do not believe anyone is to blame for what has happened and we totally support the officials and organisers of the event.”
It is not known if the parents of young Matt Barclay have requested that there be no coronial inquest into the death of Matthew, as they are entitled to do.
(The families of the three boys killed remember their sons at the 2013
Australian surf titles. News Ltd photo.)
Mother raised questions about Gatenby process
The mother of Robert Gatenby, killed at the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships at Kurrawa in 1996, Vicki Gatenby, has said the coroner investigating the death of her son did not disclose his involvement in surf lifesaving. Ms Gatenby was speaking on ABC Radio National’s Background Briefing programme on Radio National in May 2012.
The programme said that in 1996, coroner Peter Webber decided that no inquest would be held into the death of Robert Gatenby because there were no suspicious circumstances and no person was to be charged. The police investigation had found no evidence of criminal negligence.
The programme said that Mr Webber's reasons for not holding an inquest also included the statement that "the parents have requested no inquest be held".
Vicky Gatenby told Radio National's Background Briefing that the coroner convinced her that an inquest was unnecessary.
"He basically said we had been through enough and in his opinion – and these were his exact words - "no good purpose would be served by the holding of an inquest."
"I said to him, 'Based on what you have said, if you believe no good will come of it, then I agree'. He basically convinced me."
Mr Webber, then a Southport magistrate, was the president of the Tugun Surf Life Saving Club on the Gold Coast. The club had competitors at the national titles.
Ms Gatenby said she should have informed her of his affiliation and says she is not sure whether she would have chosen not to request an inquest if she had known of his affiliation.
It appears that all three young men were killed at the Australian surf championships when hit in their head by runaway surf craft and they sank to the bottom.
See the Four Corners programme. Copy and paste:
Four Corners lifts the lid on Surf Life Saving Australia
Administration at the crossroads
Surfprobe, the organisation of current and former surf lifesavers, believes that ABC TV's Four Corners in-depth investigation of Surf Life Saving Australia has revealed a dangerous and lamentable lack of due diligence in competitor safety within an organisation where safety should be absolutely paramount.
The programme on May 6 revealed SLSA's appalling reluctance to implement workable safety devices and regulations long overdue in surf competition.
Four Corners acknowledged the work of surf lifesavers on the beaches while lifting the lid on the organisation's failed administration in many areas.
Royal Commission into three surf deaths only answer for SLSA
The Surfprobe group believes that a Queensland Royal Commission is the only way to resurrect the failing administration of surf lifesaving in Australia to point the controlling organisation in the direction of competitor safety.
The Surfprobe group of current and former surf lifesavers says it is extraordinary and absurd that Surf Life Saving Australia has over recent years failed to ensure that safety in surf competition is the organisation’s paramount consideration.
(Picture: A surfboat crew in trouble at Kurrawa.)
Surfprobe says revelations about Surf Life Saving Australia on the ABC’s Four Corners programme on May 6 demand that the Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, now must appoint a Royal Commission into the deaths of all three young men killed in the Australian Surf Championships in recent years.
Four Corners has demonstrated time and again that Surf Life Saving Australia has failed its members who patrol the beaches and who enter surf competition. The organisation has allowed young lifesavers to compete in dangerous seas without adequate protection, even though experienced people have asked organisers not to proceed with events. The SLSA has defied efforts to introduce proven safety devices including flotation vests and surf helmets and has even staged dodgy media ‘tests’ which may have helped keep the devices out of surf competition.
Yet all three youths who were killed in the national titles were hit on the head by surf craft and sank to the bottom where they could not be found for some time. They were under the supervision of Surf Life Saving Australia who failed them.”
Surfprobe points out that Queensland Premier Newman on 29 March last year, after the death of Matthew Barclay, aged 14, told the media: “If there does need to be a further inquiry other than a coronial inquest then of course we will be letting you know.” Nothing further has been announced.
North Cottesloe introduces flotation vests without SLSA help
While Surf Life Saving Australia has been delaying and floundering with the introduction of proven flotation vests for the surf, Four Corners revealed that the North Cottesloe club in Perth has introduced the use of the flotation vests when conditions require them.
(Pictured: North Cottesloe women's crew.)
New information on Matt Barclay's death: surf officials were warned
Four Corners revealed new information relating to the death 14-year-old Matthew Barclay in the national surf titles at Kurrawa in 2012.
An official at last year's National Surf Life Saving Championships says senior carnival referees were warned about dangerous surf conditions "at least twice" several hours before a young competitor drowned.
Matthew Barclay and a boat crew searching for his body at Kurrawa.
Sunshine Coast boy Matthew Barclay, 14, became the third competitor to die at the national championships at Kurrawa Beach on the Gold Coast in less than 20 years.
Robert Gatenby died in 1996, and Saxon Bird in 2010.
According to Four Corners Greg Holland (pictured), an official competition announcer in the under-19 arena at last year's championships, told Four Corners that he overheard the warnings on the official two-way radio channel used by competition officials.
He says on the programme he heard reports that the surf was "pretty strong for that young group of competitors" and perhaps they ought to be moved to another day or a different spot on the beach.
Mr Holland says he contacted the police and Surf Life Saving officials with the information, but neither has followed up with him.
The Four Corners episode The Surf Club, the former president of Sydney's Cronulla Surf Club says he overheard the area referee in the under-15 arena relay concerns to the deputy referee saying officials, parents and spectators were concerned about the safety of junior competitors.
"There was a request coming from ... officials in the carnival that surf conditions were pretty strong for those young group of competitors and that possibly they could consider ... trying to move them to another day. I heard that at least twice.One of the officials who has the authority to make the adjustments asked them to keep going as per the normal program."
The programme says a professional lifeguard from Gold Coast City Council also told officials about 11:00am that day that they were concerned about the dangers posed by dumpers in the under-15 arena.
Despite these warnings, Matthew Barclay's competition continued, and about 4:30pm on March 19 last year, he was apparently struck on the head and lost in the surf during the board rescue heats.
His body was recovered the next morning.
Mr Holland told Four Corners he was involved in coordinating the rescue of Matthew Barclay but as dusk fell and hopes for finding the boy alive faded, he had a conversation with the deputy referee of the carnival.
"The deputy referee said to me, 'it's a great shame, because we were about to call this off anyway'," Mr Holland said.
"And I said, 'please don't tell me that because that was the same response that we understood was given in 2010, that you were about to call it off just before Saxon Bird's accident'.
"And there was no response. We walked on in silence, but then I thought, 'well, how has this happened again?'"
Neither Surf Life Saving nor the deputy referee Dick Bignold would comment on Mr Holland's recollection of the conversation, telling Four Corners the death was still under investigation.
The police report is now in the hands of the Queensland coroner, who is yet to decide if there will be an inquest.
Four Corners reveals information that implies organisers had been warned by people on the beach, including parents and other officials at the carnival, that conditions were dangerous and that controlling officials should consider moving the event.
For the past 16 years, SLSA has indicated that it is committed to the testing and possible introduction of helmets and safety flotation vests for use in competition. Last month, SLSA set up a dodgy demonstration of safety equipment for the media. During the course of the demonstration, three lifesavers explained why the equipment was not appropriate. In turn, a spokesperson said she could not find anybody who would endorse the use of the equipment, according to Four Corners.
At the same time, Four Corners discovered that in Western Australia one major club has made wearing helmets and vests mandatory in dangerous surf. When surfboat crews gathered for a recent championship in that state, many competitors wore safety equipment.
People at the top need ‘open mind and full transparency’
- Neil Balnaves.
Four Corners also featured Neil Balnaves, pictured, a former executive chairman of television production giant Southern Star. He’s now one of the nation’s leading philanthropists, donating more than two million dollars a year to the arts and charities including surf lifesaving.
Four Corners reported that Neil Balnaves was one of a team of high-powered business figures recruited as independent directors to Surf Life Saving’s fund-raising foundation in 2010. He resigned two years later, saying he was frustrated at the charity’s response to a reportedly damming independent review which recommended a major overhaul of the organisation’s national administration:
“There is absolutely nothing wrong with the organisation at the beach level. What is wrong is the people that manage that and, and at a national level need to consider change and an open mind and full transparency.”
Neil Balnaves and Deborah Thomas resigned from the foundation, along with Greater Union boss Alan Rydge, John Kirby of Village Roadshow and Jeremy Charlston of legal firm Clayton Utz.
Neil Balnaves is calling for surf life saving to release the highly critical independent review: “I challenge, I really challenge them to release that report.
"There's a simple rule here, full transparency. This is this is no secret little club. I mean I'm a director of public companies and have been for a lot of my life. You could not get away with this.”
Four Corners said it had obtained a copy of the Deloitte review, which has not been publicly released. It concluded there was an inherent conflict of interest on the board of Surf Lifesaving Australia, because most of the directors were drawn from within the organisation’s own ranks.
The programme said the report described senior management ‘ineffective.’
Four Corners said the report concluded there was an inherent conflict of interest on the board of Surf Lifesaving Australia, because most of the directors were drawn from within the organisation’s own ranks. Without a radical restructure there was a “real and immediate risk” to surf lifesaving’s fundraising efforts. Neil Balnaves said:
“We went through that process of trying to create change and found a lot of resistance.”
Another independent director, former Women’s Weekly editor Deborah Thomas, pictured, shared those concerns on Four Corners. Late last year, in the midst of the review, Surf Life Saving reappointed chief executive Brett Williamson on a new contract. That proved to be the breaking point:
“We felt that the change wasn't happening fast enough and ... I had concerns about the fact that the CEO had been rehired whilst we were reviewing the structure of the organisation. That really precipitated the final straw and there was a breakdown where I don't think that we could have worked together.”
Call to donate to your local surf clubs, not SLSA:
Nance: '...funds do eventually get down into the clubs.'
Craig Riddington, former champion iron man, told the programme that if people knew what was going on, they would go down to their local surf club and donate money straight to the club because that way they'd know the money would go into vital rescue equipment and services:
“When you look at the $37 million you could probably guarantee that a lot of that goes into the payrolls and then you see the beach is not being serviced; the clubs are paying for everything they have, then there's something seriously, seriously wrong.”
Greg Nance, SLSA’s acting CEO, responded to Four Corners:
“Seventy cents in every dollar raised through our foundation is distributed through SLSA down to our states and the states provide a range of services for the members and for the public at large. Helicopters, jet rescue boats, training and education services, some of those funds do eventually get down into the clubs…”
Subsequently on 7 May 2013, the SLSA issued a statement - the day after the Four Corners programme - saying Surf Life Saving at all levels relied heavily on the goodwill and financial support of the community and business to help fund the safety, rescue and education services. : ..."the call for the Australian public to give no money to SLSA/SLSF is small minded and irresponsible in the extreme."
The SLSA statement added:
"In the past year alone, Surf Life Saving Entities and clubs received over $9 million in funding from the national fundraising arm, the Surf Life Saving Foundation (SLSF). This money helps support critical services such as helicopter operations, Rescue Water Craft, state communications networks, training, education and insurance to name a few."
Surfboat sweep: '... this is not right. Nobody's looking after us.'
In 2010 Midget Farrelly, pictured, the former board champion, was a surfboat sweep at the national titles that claimed the life of young Saxon Bird. Farrelly told Four Corners:
“Numerous requests were made. We don't feel this is safe, we don't feel the area's good, we can see the conditions are gonna worsen. And the answer kept coming back down, no we're going on, no we're not moving. I thought, ooh, this is not right. Nobody's looking after us.”
Farrelly told Four Corners that the surfboat crews took the extraordinary step of refusing to compete. Their events were transferred to a still water site, but competition, even for juniors, continued in the appalling conditions at Kurrawa beach.
Champions: 'Across the whole beach was just pure anger'
In 2010 when Saxon Bird was killed at Kurrawa, champion paddlers Ruth Highman and Jane Humphrys (pictured) were becoming increasingly anxious as they preparing to defend their national double ski title. Jane Humphrys:
“I could see that it wasn’t safe to race and it just got continually worse during the week and each time they’d say that it was just like, disbelief. We ended up, we came off coming in on a massive wave and it took us about 20 minutes to swim in and it was treacherous. I was scared.”
Jane was asked about her reaction when she heard that a competitor had drowned:
“Anger. Like that is what I remember across the whole beach was just pure anger.”
Ruth Highman felt the same:
“Absolutely. I think that was the initial response; just the sheer anger.”
Interviewer Wendy Carlisle: ‘Because you believed it should have been called off earlier?’ Ruth Highman: ‘Absolutely, absolutely. They showed total disregard for competitor safety.’
Ruth Highman, a GP with training in trauma, was on the beach with lifesavers who worked to revive Saxon Bird. She gave an extensive report to Surf Life Saving Australia’s investigation of the tragedy. SLSA did not pass the report on to the State Coroner.
(Please see the earlier comments of ski champion Dr Ruth Highman further down this page.)
Phil Bird, father of Saxon Bird, killed at Kurrawa, concluded Four Corners programme:
“You've had virtually 12 months since Matthew's death, you've had three years since Saxon's death, you've had 16 years since Robert's death - and still there's nothing in place. You've got to ask the question, you know, how long does it take to put something in place?”
"The Surf Club" on ABC Four Corners was reported by Wendy Carlisle and presented by Kerry O'Brien. The programme went to air on Monday 6 May at 8.30pm on ABC1.
R.I.P. Robert Gatenby, Saxon Bird and Matthew
Barclay, three young men killed at the national surf
lifesaving championships, all while under SLSA
Royal Commission into Kurrawa surf deaths -
please add your support, scroll down below:
Current and former members of the surf lifesaving movement around Australia have been calling on the Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, to hold a Royal Commission into all of the circumstances surrounding all three teenage competitors killed in the National Surf Championships at Kurrawa Beach in Queensland.
'What have we learned as a
humanitarian movement?'- Greg Nance.
It’s time to get stuck into
Aussies safety from top to
bottom, only 16 years late!
State titles Kurrawa 2010.
Surf Life Saving Australia Acting CEO Greg Nance has released the first of the findings from the SLSA’s ‘Aussies, Top to Bottom Review’.
Significantly Mr Nance made the announcement on Friday 3 May on the eve of the ABC’s Four Corners programme on 6 May 2013.
The SLSA Board, he said, had determined that a complete ‘top to bottom’ review of the conduct of the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships should take place:
“The first recommendation from the Steering group was that SLSA develop a purpose statement for the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships to be used in communication, marketing and planning for the Aussies, as well as the future assessment of the suitability of inclusion or exclusion of individual competitions/events” said Greg Nance.
'Safety always paramount'
“After extensive consultation, this purpose statement is now complete. The purpose of the Aussies is to bring our national movement and the community together in a safe and spirited celebration of the best of our lifesaving traditions, culture and sport….It should be noted that safety the paramount element of the development of the event. It always has been and always will be.”
Surf board rescue race in Qld state titles Kurrawa 2010.
Mr Nance spoke of the tragic deaths in the Australian championships at Kurrawa of Matthew Barclay in 2012, Saxon Bird in 2010 and Robert Gatenby in 1996:
“All three athletes were among the elite in the sport of surf life saving. In looking at these tragedies we must ask ourselves: As to safety, what have we learned as a humanitarian movement, from this tragic loss of life? As to safety, what have we put into genuine action from this learning?”
Nance said regular SLSA updates would be posted on each action taken by SLSA to address the recommendations.
“We would welcome constructive feedback to ensure we collectively continue our commitment to constantly improve our standards for water and event safety for members, beach goers and the general community.SLSA can be contacted at email@example.com"
He said the SLSA was currently undertaking a project to identify suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) for surf life saving members in SLS activities.
Nance said the personal protection equipment project commenced following the tragic death of Saxon Bird at the 2010 Australian Championships in Queensland.
Surfprobe comments:In actual fact Surf Life Saving Australia on its website until about a year ago stated that it had begun investigating flotation vests and surf helmets back in 1997. This reference was subsequently removed from the SLSA website.
Mr Nance went on: “..SLSA collaborate with the designers of such devices (floatation vests) with a view to making the wearing of them compulsory once the organisation is satisfied they are suitable. Consideration should also be given to the use of helmets by competitors in surf craft events”.The key goal of the project is to help reduce the risk of personal injury or death to a SLS member by providing them with suitable PPE solutions."
But how long will it take?
Wrecked at the Queensland SLS championships at Kurrawa 2010.
Coach at Kurrawa for all three surf deaths.
Boats moved, but under-15s event continues:
"I was to say the least, bewildered."
Joe Knight-Smith (on the right) and picture at right, sad reaction to the tragedy.
West Australian coach Joe Knight-Smith, one of the conveners of the Surfprobe group, was present at Kurrawa when all three young competitors were killed in the national surf titles. He writes here of his feelings:
"I am a Life Member of SLSWA and have been present at Kurrawa Aussies when the deaths of Robert Gatenby, Saxon Bird and now Matthew Barclay have occurred.
Like all members of our movement my heart goes out to the three families. However I am greatly confused by events at 2012 Aussies when Matthew was taken from us.
"I read the report by the Queensland Coroner, Mr Barnes, online, following Saxon's death and noted that he was critical of SLSA for not stopping water competition after the boats refused to race because of dangerous and unsafe conditions.
"Fast track to 2012 and on Matthews fateful day I was informed by North Cottesloe boat sweep, Craig Smith-Gander that the boats had been moved to Lake Coomera because of concerns about the nature of the surf. Later that afternoon, as I watched search efforts for missing Matthew,the Floreat boat captain and boat arena official, John King, informed me that the boats had ceased racing hours before because of the nature of the surf. I was to say the least, bewildered.
"In view of Mr Barnes' findings in 2010, should not the carnival water events have ceased in 2012 when the boats opted not to compete because of adverse conditions on that day?
"I am particularly concerned that the most vulnerable arena, the under 15's, was allowed to continue.
"I have been passionately involved with our movement for some 50 years possessing a Citation of Merit for saving a life, WA Training Officer of the Year, WA Community Coach of the Year, WA State President's Medal but latterly have developed an apprehension concerning the movement's commitment to the safety of its competitors.
"I note that a new appointment to the SLSA board has a history of involvement in Occupational Health and Safety. Here's hoping that a more pro-active era in competitor safety may eventuate."
The fallacy of the SLSA's pink lycra
'safety vest' used in the 2013 Aussies
All competitors in the 2013 “Aussies” had to wear pink lycra non-flotation vests as a safety device. Fortunately, the surf at North Kirra for the national titles mostly was moderate as lycra vests as a safety device are not much use if you are hit on the head by a board, ski or boat.
All three young competitors killed while under SLSA supervision at the Australian Surf Championships on the Gold Coast in the past, including Matt Barclay last year, were hit on the head by surf craft and sank to the bottom. They could not be found immedeiately in the turbulent and opaque surf. By the time all three were found in the unclear surf, sometimes hours later, they had died.
Yet the SLSA failed to introduce compulsory flotation vests and surf helmets in favour of the pink lycra vests. Surf competitors were informed by the SLSA:
“As part of the Championship Safety processes all competitors who are entered in the SLSA Open and Masters Championships will be issued a ‘lycra’ type racing vests (fluoro pink for all competitors)... Except where otherwise specified it is a condition of entry for these vests to be worn by all competitors and handlers entering the water beyond knee depth.”
The SLSA just doesn’t get it when it comes to competitor surf safety, especially for the younger lifesavers. What an extraordinary situation!
Surf lifesaver competition compromised;
SLSA’s dodgy surf vest & helmet trial
[Picture: Competitors Shannon Eckstein, Naomi Flood and Phil Clayton wearing different flotation vests while taking
part in the SLSA’s vest ‘test’ at North Kirra on March 26 2013. Shannon is wearing an SSV vest. News Ltd photo.]
The safety of surf craft competitors at the 2013 national surf lifesaving titles on the Gold Coast were potentially com promised by a flawed and unscientific test conducted for the media at North Kirra on March 26.
This is the opinion of Surfprobe – the organisation of current and former surf lifesavers across Australia – after hearing the opinions of flotation vest manufacturers.
Surfprobe believes that surf safety in competition generally has been compromised by a dodgy and unscientific test conducted at North Kirra on the Gold Coast last month. The test resulted in the SLSA failing to make vest and helmet safety devices compulsory for the national compeition in April.
Three competitors selected by the SLSA to ‘trial’ the vests and helmets on March 26 unanimously criticised the devices at a media event at North Kirra. [Surfprobe directs no blame whatsoever towards the three competitors.]
As the national titles got underway, the SLSA’s operations manager, Bree Corbett, who has a background in public relations, said on ABC TV News at North Kirra on April 16:
“Until we can find something that’s right, we won’t be introducing anything.”
Ms Corbett, pictured below, helped to conduct the SLSA ‘trial’ at North Kirra and spoke to the media after the event.
The SLSA's Greg Nance,(below), now acting CEO, said on ABC TV News:
"We can never eliminate all risks in surf lifesaving in the surf... what we can do however is continuously improving our risk management."
The SLSA, by its own website admission, first began investigating flotation vests and surf helmets almost 16 years ago.
Flaws in North Kirra media test:
Vest makers concerned at misuse of product
The makers of one of the three flotation vests tested - people with a strong history in national surf lifesaving competition – have revealed that Surf Life Saving Australia’s so-called ‘trial’ at North Kirra last month failed to observe even basic guidelines on how to use the flotation vests.
Allan Woolley of Redfin Surfing, maker of the Surftraka SSV vest (pictured above left being worn by Shannon Eckstein, has commented:
“The very first thing we noticed was that the correct sized vests were not worn. This alone would have had a negative outcome on any testing.
“It was mentioned that our SSV could not be worn while duck diving. However, we have proved this statement as incorrect after numerous professional lifesavers and kayakers have worn this vest correctly fitted.
“It was also noted that the SSV and the other two vests were worn as a swimming device. The SSV is not meant to be used for the swimming leg of any competitions; they are simply a device designed to be worn by paddlers and boat crews as extra safety buoyancy for coming to the surface when separated from their craft. This extra buoyancy would then allow lifesavers in IRB (rescue boats) to collect these competitors at a moment’s notice.
“It was also mentioned on TV that a vest of any type ‘would not be suitable for competitors… especially Nippers’”.
Mr Woolley believed that if the three competitors in the ‘test’ had been given extra time to acquaint themselves with the use of the vests, ‘the outcomes would have proved much more positive.’
One of the developers of the SSV vest was engineer Bruce Owen, who has won six state surf ski paddling titles and many masters' titles. He had been the SLSA's national craft officer for many years and undertook a great deal of research after the death of Robert Gatenby in the national titles more than 15 years ago.
Three surf competitors pictured above trialled the flotation vests and surf helmets on 26 March at North Kirra. Afterwards the SLSA announced that the devices would not be introduced at the surf titles and more investigation was needed.
Coroner in 2011 called for collaboration on
vests & helmets between SLSA & makers
According to Queensland State Coroner, Michael Barnes, competitor Saxon Bird (pictured) was unable to be saved because some 50 minutes elapsed between him being struck by a board and his lifeless body being pulled from the ocean. Mr Barnes, in handing down his findings into Saxon’s death in 2010, said on 2 August 2011:
“He was not recovered sooner because when he was hit he lost consciousness and sank in opaque water. Trials have been undertaken with competitors wearing high visibility vests. Apparently these proved not to impede the competitors and made them easier to see but may make little difference if the competitor is on the ocean floor.
“However, work is also progressing in the design and development of a self-inflating vest suitable for use in iron man events.
“An experienced competitor who gave evidence said he had trialled the device and found it to be suited to its purpose. A designer of such a device was recently recognised in the Australian Design Awards.”
Barnes in 2011 recommended a continuing review of safety devices:
“As it is impossible to eliminate the risk of a competitor in a surf ski or board event being struck by a craft, it is essential that injured competitors be rescued as quickly as possible. This would be enhanced by devices that make the competitors easier to see and cause them to float on the surface even if unconscious.
“I recommend SLSA collaborate with the designers of such devices with a view to making the wearing of them compulsory once the organisation is satisfied they are suitable. Consideration should also be given to the use of helmets by competitors in surf craft events.”
Photo: Saxon Bird is the sport that he loved.
Read the Coroner's full findings into the Saxon Bird tragedy at:
Accidents can happen, even in a small surf
A Yamba boat rower was injured while competing at the Australian Masters Surf Life Saving Championship at North Kirra beach on April 14.
The rower was brought back to the beach by water safety officials with suspected neck and back injuries.
His crew had been travelling out to sea when the boat climbed over a big wave, and he fell heavily in the boat.
The competition was suspended for about 20 minutes.
He was competing in the over-180 division, where the rowers average 45-years-old.
Water safety and first aid officers attended to the man, according to the Courier Mail. He was treated for suspected spinal injuries. - Source, The Courier Mail April 14, 2013.
Calm seas at North kirra on Sunday 21 April. Photo UNSW, Warter Research Lab.
Will revised vest be ray of hope for future?
Some surf club members believe there might be some hope that with Greg Nance as acting CEO of Surf Life Saving Australia the organisation might put renewed and genuine efforts into the development of surf vests and heltmets for the safety of cometitors, as outlined by Strate Coroner Barnes.
At least there now is a level of co-operation underway between the makers of the safety devices and the SLSA after the SLSA's unscientific and downright dodgy media 'trials' of vests and helmets for the media at North Kirra before the national titles.
Surftrakker's Allan Woolley is on the SLSA's committee for the development of surf safety equipment. With the information obtained from the group's meeting with SLSA staff and other designers, there is the hope and expectation that an acceptable follow-up vest has been developed.
This vest was on the way to the SLSA for further evaluation as the 2013 Aussies event was underway at North Kirra..
Our hope is that this newly designed vest will come up with the results needed.
Surfprobe believes that the Surf Life Saving Australia in the past has been far too adversely influenced in its approach towards flotation vests and helmets by a 'gung ho' attitude among certain competitors and surf club members within the movement. Convenor Bob Wurth says this was discovered what Surfprobe put its views on Facebook after the third death, that of young Matt Barclay:
"We received an immediate macho-inspired tirade from some club members who generally adopted the stance 'Deaths happen in a big surf. Lifesavers know the risks and that's what happens'.
"This ignorant macho approach in no way should influence the rapid introduction of safety devices which will save lives. Certain issues about the flotation devices had top be resolved, but it is inconceivable that it should take some 16 years to get to this stage where devices are still being considered, but not introduced. At the very least, the safety devices should have been introduced for the younger competitors in time for the 2013 titles."
Vests and helmets could have saved young competitors
[Photo: The search for young Matthew Barclay and club members (above) at the national surf lifesaving titles, Kurrawa, in 2012.]
Matthew Barclay was hit on the head by a surfboard and he sank to the bottom on March 29 2012. His body was not recovered until some 19 hours later. A flotation vest, properly worn, almost certainly would have kept him afloat. Surfprobe believes that this should be a key issue for a coroner’s inquest into Matthew Barclay's death. No inquest date has yet been announced.
Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) says it will continue to ‘vigorously pursue’ the development of safety vests, using the opinions of elite competitors Shannon Eckstein, Naomi Flood and Phil Clayton, who participated in an ‘open testing session’ at North Kirra, according to an SLSA statement of 27 March 2013.
The lSLSA statement of 27 March said Eckstein, Flood and Clayton provided 'instant feedback' to the SLSA following what was described as ‘a 90 minute testing and demonstration session in front of the media’:
The SLSA said the three elite competitors were open and honest in their opinions, providing valuable feedback for SLSA Coastal Risk Manager Adam Weir, the SLSA Operations Project Manager Bree Corbett and the organisation’s Personal Protective Equipment Project Groups, according to Weir:
"We are going in with an open mind and trying to come to the best outcome for the safety and well-being of our members and competitors.”
Olympic kayak paddler and three-time National ski champion and former Australian Ironwoman champion Naomi Flood, the SLSA says, tested a vest while paddling a surf ski along with a helmet used in whitewater canoeing:
“We wear the pink (high visibility vests) at the moment anyway when we are racing, so it’s an extra bit of padding which you have to get used to again. Swimming was a different story for me though. It does move around a lot and does come up around your ears a little bit. I am leaning away from it myself.”
(Surfprobe comment: Pink visibility vests will not prevent a competitor, hit in the head by a board or ski for instance, from sinking to the bottom.)
SLSA’s Operations Project Manager Bree Corbett says in the statement that other issues such as vests riding up and impeding breathing or restricting swimming ability need to be rectified before a recommendation can be made.
"Anything that poses a secondary risk to our athletes is just not acceptable," Corbett said.
The Queensland State Coroner on August 2, 2011, headed his recommendations with the words 'Make safety paramount' when delivering his findings into the death of ski competitor Saxon Bird, aged 19, killed in 2010. He recommended that SLSA carnival organisers 'can get distracted' and the highest importance should be placed on safety. (See report bottom of this page.)
Nothing has changed to prevent
more surf deaths -
Phillip Bird, father of Saxon
The father of Saxon Bird, one of three junior lifesavers killed in Australian surf championships on the Gold Coast, says nothing has changed to prevent the deaths of further competitors in the upcoming national surf titles to be held in April.
“Nothing material has changed that would have saved the three lads, Robert Gatenby in 1996, my son Saxon in 2010 and Matthew Barclay last March”, said Mr Phil Bird, of Sydney.
“Same people, no measurable criteria to assess risk and no flotation or head protection. We are looking for actions, not words.”
Mr Bird said Robert Gatenby was denied a coronial inquiry in highly questionable circumstances, while the coroner in his son’s death had been scathing in his comments, especially about competitor safety. After almost a year, no inquiry had been announced into last year’s tragedy.
Mr Bird said the organisers must be accountable for these surf tragedies. He said that under existing SLSA rules there appeared to be no concept of modifying race format rules to accommodate more difficult and dangerous surf conditions, especially for younger competitors.
A convenor of the Surfprobe movement of current and former lifesavers, Bob Wurth, said the national surf titles should be cancelled this year for young competitors, especially those under 17, unless significant reforms including vests and helmets were introduced within the next month.
“In a notice to all surf clubs recently the national president of the Surf Life Saving Australia, Mr Graham Ford, has said, and I quote, ‘We are now focused on a solution to flotation vests and helmets as safety devices’.”
Wurth said it was an outrage that organisation was still ruminating on vests and helmets after first announcing an inquiry into the devices more than 15 years ago:
The national surf championships will be held at North Kirra Beach, with boat events at nearby Tugun, between 17-21 April.
The shot was taken at North Kirra during a storm surge. A large low was off the northern NSW coast. There have been other storm surges as the result of lows off the southern Queensland coast in the early months of 2013. Bad conditions could easily occur again in April.
It is not suggested that SLSA officials would send young board or ski competitors out in the conditions pictured above . However, SLSA officials on previous occasions have made highly questionable decisions about sending young competitors out in dubious and dangerous conditions at Kurrawa at very great cost.The record in recent years is not good.
The point needs to be made that dangerous surf conditions need not look like the surf in this shot above. Mr Phillip Bird questioned recently an assumption of commonsense and 'acting in the best interests of the competitors' in the mindset of those in charge within the SLSA, in relation to young competitors:
No concept of modifying race format
rules to fit the surf
"There appears to be no concept of modifying race format rules to accommodate more difficult/dangerous surf conditions;for example,if the surf is over one metres then (perhaps) all competitors must wear floatation equipment (and head gear) for the board and ski legs of any race with allowances through transition for putting gear on and off, the same way triathlons work. If it is over one and a half metres (perhaps)don’t compete."
Mr Bird's comments above are given just as an example. As experienced lifesavers know,a surf that might look relatively small could well contain treacherous conditions.Surfprobe believes that it comes down to this: Can we trust the SLSA officials, who have debated safety issues but done nothing about inflatable vests and helmets,to do the right thing at North Kirra and Tugan this year?
Surfprobe asks: After Kurrawa,
can we trust SLSA beachside decisions?
Unfortunately, there is little of encouragement in words from Surf Life Saving Australia on its own previously announced inquiry into the death of young Matthew Barclay, the third and latest young competitor killed at the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships earlier this year. One might also query the outcomes and values of inquiries into themselves.
The president of Surf Life Saving Australia, Graham Ford,(pictured) said on 13 February 2013:
"We are now focused on a solution to flotation vests and helmets as safety devices."
It has taken an amazing 15 years of SLSA inquiry to get to this point.(See items below.)
[Picture: Ccompetitors and the crew of an IRB search for Saxon Bird off Kurrawa beachin 2010 . The
swimmers were soon called out of the water to allow boats to conduct the search.]
SLSA on its website earlier this year said its own inquiry would be wrapped up in August, but since then references to this inquiry seems to have disappeared from the SLSA website.
More importantly, there has been no announcement of any coronial inquest into Matthew Barclay’s death, presumably because police are still investigating. Of the three young competitors killed in the national surf titles since 1996, to date there has been only one coronial inquest, that into the death of Saxon Bird, killed in 2010, after which the Coroner castigated Surf Life Saving Australia and its attitude towards competition safety.(See items below.)
Mysteriously, no coronial inquest was ever held into the first death, that of Robert Gatenby in 1996 and serious questions have been raised by the boy’s mother about the police investigation and the advice she was given about whether an inquest was necessary. Our efforts to ascertain officially why there was no coronial inquest into Robert Gatenby’s death have produced no sound explanations other than police thought it was unnecessary.(See Mrs Gatenby's comments below.)
Further, Surf Life Saving Australia continues to drag its feet appallingly in introducing simple and effective inflatable vests for competitors, especially juniors, who don’t have the same strength as senior competitors.
Also silent on this whole issue is the Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, who first raised the possibility of ‘another inquiry’, separate to a coronial inquiry, being possible into the death of Matthew Barclay.
Replying to comments on ABC Radio National on Monday 11 February, SLSA president Graham Ford had this to say in a letter to all surf club presidents:
Royal Commission into Kurrawa surf deaths needed –
please add your support here:
Current and former members of the surf lifesaving movement around Australia are calling on the Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, to hold a Royal Commission into all of the circumstances surrounding the three teenage competitors killed in the National Surf Championships at Kurrawa Beach in Queensland.
Support the call for a Royal Commission by filling out the form below to email the following letter to the Premier of Queensland.
Or copy this and post the letter below to Premier Campbell Newman:
PO Box 15185,
“Dear Mr Newman,
On the day that young Matthew Barclay’s body was recovered from the surf after competing in the Australian surf championships at Kurrawa Beach, you expressed condolences at a media conference to the family of the young lifesaver and said you believed that an inquiry, other than the normal coronial inquiry, could be held into his death.
We, former and current members of the surf lifesaving movement in Australia, now respectfully request that you appoint a Royal Commission of Inquiry not just into the latest tragic death but into all aspects of the deaths of the three teenage competitors killed during the national surf titles at Kurrawa Beach; Robert Gatenby killed in 1996, Saxon Bird killed in 2010 and Matthew Barclay killed this year. No coroner's inquiry was ever held into Robert Gatenby's death.
Rather than an internally appointed Surf Australia inquiry (in addition to the coroner’s inquiry), as occurred after the death of Saxon Bird, and another internal inquiry into Matthew Barclay’s death announced by the Surf Australia on 10 April 2012, it is only a Royal Commission that can impartially and thoroughly investigate every relevant aspect of these tragedies and consider whether lessons have been learned and what corrective measures have been and should be applied for the well-being of future competition. This Royal Commission should have the ability to adequately question whether suitable safety precautions associated with the Australian surf championships had been recommended or adopted after previous deaths. It could also look at the quality of management decisions taken and the reasons for these decisions, and the suitability, in the past, of Kurrawa beach as a venue for subsequent national championships, especially junior events, despite concerns voiced by competitors and others about surfing conditions at that beach.
We believe that a thorough and unbiased expert inquiry at the highest level of a Royal Commission in Queensland is necessary to ensure the future confidence of competitors, their families and the public in Australia’s great surf lifesaving movement whose primary goal is the saving of human life in the surf.”
Submission from doctor-world
champion competitor wasn’t
sent to coroner in Saxon Bird case…
[Dr Ruth Highman (above) and the treacherous conditions at Kurrawa.]
The Queensland State Coroner, Michael Barnes, has confirmed that his inquest never received written evidence from a Perth doctor and elite competitor into the death of a lifesaver in treacherous conditions at the national surf titles in Queensland.
The current world champion in World Series Ocean Paddling, Dr Ruth Highman, of Perth, was present with lifesavers on the beach as they tried to revive Sydney lifesaver Saxon Bird in 2010 at Kurrawa beach in Queensland.
Saxon’s death brings to an end to ‘four
days of madness’ – Ruth Highman
She said in a submission that the death brought an end to “four days of madness” at the surf lifesaving championships in which she competed. The event, she wrote, showed “total disregard for participants’ safety, all in the pursuit of sporting glory.”
Dr Ruth Highman submitted her evidence to an inquiry established by Surf Life Saving Australia on the assumption that it would be forwarded to the Queensland Coroner and is surprised that it wasn’t passed on.
The Queensland State Coroner, Michael Barnes, has confirmed that he never received the statement.
Dr Ruth Highman, a GP anaesthetist with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a keen interest in sports psychology, had said most of the competitors weren't keen on competing in the treacherous conditions and that “their emotions ranged from degrees of apprehension to frank fear.”
“disregard for participants’ safety, all in the pursuit of sporting glory.”
Dr Highman competed in surf ski events in the 2010 national titles. She said she forwarded her submission to the legal firm, Lander & Rogers, which had been commissioned by SLSA to hold an internal inquiry.
Coroner Michael Barnes has refused a request from the Surfprobe group to re-open the Saxon Bird coronial inquest, saying that the court did receive a report from police after an extensive investigation. He was satisfied that all relevant evidence was put to the court. He said:
“Obviously there were thousands of people present on the beach on the day Saxon died. It would not be reasonable or helpful to receive evidence from all of them.”
Ruth Highman’s written evidence over five pages said that due to a number of psychological pressures, few athletes were able to make the decision to say “no, I will not risk my safety and enter the water in these unsafe conditions.” She concluded with these words:
“I have outlined the many psychological factors influencing the surf athlete at Kurrawa – conformity, compliance, obedience – in addition to the cognitive techniques the athlete would have been actively utilising – thought stopping, reframing, positive affirmation – all these on top of their innate personality traits of single mindedness and risk taking.
“...not the first time they failed, and chillingly will not be the last”
“It is clearly obvious that with all these psychological influences clouding the athlete's judgment, the athlete was in no position to make an objective risk assessment of the conditions at Kurrawa & then decide whether they would compete in the conditions at Kurrawa.
“The athlete was there physically & mentally to compete at the Australian SLS Championships – it was the National organising body's role to perform an objective risk assessment & provided a safe environment for the athlete to fulfill their goals. Tragically, they failed. More tragically, it is not the first time they failed, and chillingly will not be the last unless responsibility for the outcome is accepted and major changes made.”
Dr Highman’s written evidence over five pages said that due to a number of psychological pressures, few athletes were able to make the decision to say “no, I will not risk my safety and enter the water in these unsafe conditions.”
Coroner Michael Barnes has stated recently (attached) that despite not seeing Dr Highman’s evidence, he was satisfied with the evidence put forward at his inquest, including a report from investigating police. In his findings, Mr Barnes had some strong criticisms of the SLSA and suggested safety changes, including an explicit statement that safety is paramount, the use of devices to assist incapacitated competitors remain buoyant and the utilisation of emergency response teams.
#Surfprobe - the group of current and former surf lifesavers seeking a Royal Commission into three lifesaver deaths at Kurrawa - asks: ‘Why was Dr Highman’s evidence not sent to the Saxon Bird Coronial Inquest?”
Please forward the Surfprobe site link - www.surfprobe.com.au - to your surf club mates!
We are a can do movement. Optimistic at every turn.
Eternally vigilant. Forever serving Australia.
For we believe in life. In the sanctity of life.
And in our great Australian way of life.
We support it. We protect it.
We celebrate it.
We are Surf Life Saving.
We are Australian for life.
Surfprobe asks: Who took the vigilance out of 'vigilance and service'?
(If a movement is eternally vigilant, how could three young competitors die in the 'Aussies' while under SLSA national supervision?)
Just what the surf movement needs to fix its ills -
Christine Hopton (left) mixes it with some Pittwater pollies.
SLSA Appoints New 'Independent' Directors to the Board
SLSA Article (edited) 26/04/2013.
Surf Life Saving Australia announced soon after the 2013 'Aussies" the appointment of Christine Hopton, Lynette Barratt and Martin Walsh as the organisation’s new 'Independent' Directors.
The SLSA said the three directors all brought to the SLSA board valuable combinations of surf life saving experience coupled with unique professional skill sets:
"Christine Hopton has an extensive media background having worked in the newspaper and television industries, public relations, marketing and communications for more than 30 years. She has held senior production roles at all of Sydney’s commercial networks and was the first female to be appointed as an Executive Producer at Channel 9. She has also worked as a researcher/editor on two major books.
"Christine has been involved in Surf Life Saving for over 15 years, joining as a nipper parent and holding positions on the Avalon Beach Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC) junior committee before gaining her Bronze Medallion in 2000. Christine is currently in her sixth term as President of Avalon Beach SLSC.
"Lynette Barratt brings a wealth of professional experience in change management, risk management and work health and safety and environment experience with her to SLSA.... Lynette was also the founder of Port Sorrell Surf Life Saving Club in Tasmania.
"Holding qualifications as a registered company auditor, Member of the Institute of Company Accountants and Member of the Institute of Company Directors, Martin has served as Treasurer for Surf Life Saving Victoria, Board Member of Life Saving Victoria, Chair of the Audit and Finance Committee for Life Saving Victoria and is currently the Chair of the Surf Life Saving Foundation."
Surf Life Saving Australia President Graham Ford believes the newly appointed independent directors will be great assets for SLSA.
SLSA faces its greatest
challenge in its history.
By Damien Murphy
Brisbane Times, 23 March 2013:
Walked: Media mogul Neil Balnaves.
Australia's lifesavers can't be blamed for swimming scared these days. On the back of two deaths at recent national titles, Surf Life Saving Australia on Tuesday decided to relocate next month's surf boat events from Tugun to North Kirra because the Gold Coast beach had insufficient sand.
But off the beach the lifesaving movement is facing the greatest controversy in its 106-year history.
SLSA is being buffeted by internal brawls, territorial battles, walkouts and the extended leave of its chief executive Brett Williamson as it attempts to reform a hidebound structure gridlocked by masculine tradition.
Walked: Village Roadshow's John Kirby.
High-profile business leaders, including Village Roadshow director John Kirby, Greater Union chairman Alan Rydge and magazine executive Deborah Thomas, resigned en masse from the SLSA's fund-raising arm.
The bemusement of sponsors such as Telstra, DHL and Kelloggs, at the ruckus changed to concern as the organisation repeatedly failed to stem the flow of damaging allegations.
Instead, SLSA pulled up the drawbridge. It rejected critics by claiming commercial in confidence or by issuing statements that portrayed a rosy confidence in everything the administration had done.
Spoken out: Grant Kenny. Photo: Glenn Hunt
Neil Balnaves, the former media entrepreneur and another of the five high profile business leaders who resigned from the Surf Life Saving Foundation in protest last January, said the public had a right to be treated with respect by such a nationally important organisation.
''This is an organisation that depends heavily on government subsidies and the support of business to continue as one of the country's great icons and I would have thought it was incumbent on the administration to explain itself fully and comprehensively instead of sheltering behind statements that reveal very little or address the criticisms that have been made,'' he said.
''If this was a corporation it would be hauled up before ASIC.''
A behind-the-scenes brawl had been going on during the closing stages of last year but when the controversy erupted publicly in February, the SLSA president Graham Ford and new SLS Foundation chairman Martin Walsh jointly expressed their full and total confidence in the organisation's management teams, including SLSA chief executive Brett Williamson.
Eighteen days later, on February 25, Ford announced Williamson had asked for four months leave ''for personal reasons''. He would return on June 30. Ford said: ''The SLSA board fully supports Brett's request and respects his privacy.''
Williamson's long break coincides with the SLSA's most high profile event: the national titles. Thousands of competitors are expected to gather at North Kirra on April 15 to compete in the 2013 national titles. This year, the event is being conducted under tight scrutiny as it has been the scene of such tragedies in two of the last three years.
Former chief executive Greg Nance, who was leading the change management project, has replaced Williamson in an acting capacity.
Nance's public relations office refused Fairfax Media requests for an interview.
In some ways, SLSA has been enjoying considerable growth. Membership jumped from 129,870 in 2006-07 to 165,820 in 2011-12, while revenues in the same period rose from $27.7 million to $37.5 million.
But the deaths of Matthew Barclay at Kurrawa Beach last year during the national titles and Saxon Bird at the 2010 competition cast an pall.
Both youngsters were sent out in dangerous surf and organisers came in for criticism for not shifting the competition to less hazardous beaches, partly because of the macho world of lifesaving dictates that real men ride mountains but also due to fears that sponsors could not easily shift their facilities to new beaches. SLSA took a further hit last November when allegations of sexual assault and possible cocaine use surfaced concerning six members of Australia's under-20 surf team, some of whom competed at the recent world surf lifesaving titles in Adelaide. They were suspended while a committee investigated. Last Monday, SLSA announced the committee had recommended the suspensions be lifted and reprimands or extra patrols for three of the lifesavers.
Against this background, some in SLSA saw the organisation's rapid growth required a change of culture.
Ron Rankin, the former SLSA president, drove the reforms.
One of his main achievements was the 1997 establishment of the Surf Life Saving Foundation as the national fund-raising arm of Surf Life Saving Australia. He also succeeded in attracting high profile business leaders to the foundation board. By 2010, they included its chair, corporate director Stephen Maitland, Balnaves, Thomas, Kirby, Rydge, and corporate lawyer with Gadens, Lionel Hogg, who left after a short stay. He was replaced by Clayton Utz lawyer Jeremy Charlston.
There was slight change too over on the SLSA board: in March 2011, Suzanne Young, a corporate services general manager at the Commonwealth Bank, was appointed to the board. Not only was it the first time the clubbies had an independent director, but she was the first woman to sit on the board.
But like the foundation board members, she too walked.
Balnaves said Rankin had real vision and had attempted to effect cultural change within the SLSA.
''He tried to break up the old culture. But it was an old boys' club, made up of men from organisations that don't accept change and don't accept other ways of doing things. Now there are no women left.''
The 13-member SLSA board is all male again. So too is the new five-member foundation board, headed by corporate headhunter Martin Walsh. Former Wran government minister and football and athletic hero Mike Cleary was among four others appointed as directors.
In early 2012, the SLSA commissioned accounting and advisory firm Deloitte to carry out an independent review of fund-raising operations. The purpose of the review was to identify opportunities to improve efficiencies, reduce operating costs and maximise the collective capacity to raise much needed revenue for the movement. It also assessed the key areas of revenue raising, structure, strategy, culture, communication, roles and responsibilities as well as processes and risk management.
The Deloitte report still has not been publicly released. The movement's 300 clubs around Australia remain in the dark about its recommendations.
However, the SLSA admitted after the mass exodus of foundation board members that one of the key recommendations included establishing a structure in which all functions report to a single board and said management accepted the Deloitte findings and were working to implement the recommendations.
The administration is now battling to recover from shock departures amid legitimate fears that uncertainty among the philanthropic community and government could lead to a decline in donations and grants.
While the walkout has attracted national attention, at a club level, much of the criticism has centred around swollen bureaucracy numbers and the lack of funds filtering through the system to the local level.
SLSA has countered with figures showing the national organisation staff numbers have remained fairly static, even as membership numbers swelled.
However SLSA has three levels of administration - national, state and regional - and some, such as Grant Kenny, the 1980s competitor who turned the ironman into a national figure, said there was just too much waste and duplication.
''In an era when computers and IT programs can do the work of many, why does the SLSA need three levels of administration?'' Kenny asked. ''But at the same time there are these various levels of administrations, some struggling clubs hardly see a dollar from national headquarters.''
Kenny claimed he had been targeted for going public against the SLSA hierarchy and its failure to respond to the coroner's recommendations following his inquest into the death of Saxon Bird. He recommended the introduction of helmets and floatation vests.
''I was at Freshwater for the Australia Day weekend carnival and noticed they made competitors wear white 'supposed' flotation vests. Yet white is the very colour that can't be seen against the whitewater. But never mind, the SLSA decided these vests were OK and that was it. When I spoke out about it, they complained to my club [Noosa Heads]. It's an administration that can't take criticism and just closes ranks.''
On March 15, the body of Christopher Branson, QC and famed surfboat competitor, was found at the base of the cliff between Queenscliff and Freshwater. Not long before his death, Branson, who was believed to have been suffering from depression because of a number of unrelated personal issues and who had represented Saxon Bird's family at a coronial inquest into his death last year, unloaded on the SLSA and demanded Williamson resign as chief executive.
''To any business person, it should have been pretty obvious that Surf Life Saving Australia is not being operated on a prudent commercial basis,'' Branson told the Gold Coast Bulletin on February 8.
''They spend an outrageous amount of money and they are never audited. There is no transparency. It is a top-heavy administration filled with pen pushers and keyboard operators. There are a number of people on very large salaries who lack the skills, the competence and the expertise to operate such an organisation.''
[Please note: Surfprobe cannot guarantee the accuracy of news reports.]
On March 29 2012, Premier Newman flagged special inquiry into death
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said March 29 2012 he would be looking very closely at what happened at Kurrawa when 14-year-old ironman champion Matt Barclay disappeared during competition and said he would probably launch a special inquiry separate to a coronial inquest, according to AAP reporters.
Mr Newman sent his condolences and flowers to Matthew's parents Donna and Steve and said he would be offering any support they might need.
"We will obviously be looking at the matter closely," Mr Newman said.
"If there does need to be a further inquiry other than a coronial inquest then of course we will be letting you know."
Surfprobe is still waiting. The Premier would not speculate on whether the championships should continue or what sort of inquiry could be held.
"Lets just see what happens out of the next few days and then we will make a call on what needs to happen," he said.
Subsequently, Mr Newman has been referring those who email him the Surf Probe letter, calling for a Royal Commission, to Surf Life Saving Australia, the organisers of the championships which took the lives of three teenagers.
This vest, fully tested, provides protection from drowning
Surftraka SSV surf safety vest
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Surf Life Saving Queensland president Ralph Devlin says there’s no need for a Royal Commission into the three competitors killed at Kurrawa. He has spoken (ABC Coast FM)of ongoing SLSA reviews into the staging of the national surf event. These reviews include the use of safety equipment.
All three young competitors killed were taking part in surf craft events – surfboat, board and ski. The SLSA began investigating the introduction in competition of inflatable vests and surf helmets for surf craft events way back in 1997, the year after Robert Gatenby was killed at Kurrawa.
But for 15 long years Surf Life Saving Australia has been reviewing these issues and is still reviewing the use of helmets and inflatable vests. These devices almost certainly would save lives, according to experts.
Helmets have been worn by thousands of surfboard riders on our beaches for many years. Elite competitors have said both devices under review could be used successfully in national competition.
Relatives of two surf tragedy victims call for triple Royal Commission
Relatives of two of the three teenagers killed during surf lifesaving championships at Kurrawa beach have now joined the call for a Royal Commission into the three deaths.
Pictured: Robert Gatenby
The brother of Robert Gatenby, killed in a surfboat crash during the national titles in 1996, is the latest to demand a Royal Commission. A week earlier the family of Saxon Bird, who was killed in 2010, strongly supported the Surf Probe letter to the Premier of Queensland, Mr Campbell Newman, calling for a Royal Commission. (See below Mr Phil Bird's story.) All three deaths, including that of Matthew Barclay were held in surf craft races.
According to Radio National's Background Briefing programme on the ABC on May 13, Robert's mother Mrs Vicky Gatenby said a coroner convinced her that an inquest into Robert's death was unnecessary.
Coroner under spotlight in wake of lifesaving death, says Radio National
Source: ABC News Online, updated May 14, 2012:
The mother of 14-year-old competitor Robert Gatenby killed at the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships on Queensland's Gold Coast in 1996 says the coroner investigating the death of her son did not disclose his involvement in surf lifesaving, according to ABC Radio National's Background Briefing programme.
The programme reported that in 1996, a coroner decided that no inquest would be held into the death of Robert Gatenby because there were no suspicious circumstances and no person was to be charged.
The police investigation had found no evidence of criminal negligence, the programme said.
The coroner's reasons for not holding an inquest also included the statement that "the parents have requested no inquest be held".
Ms Vicky Gatenby has told Radio National's Background Briefing that the coroner convinced her an inquest was unnecessary.
"He basically said we had been through enough and in his opinion – and these were his exact words - "no good purpose would be served by the holding of an inquest."
"I said to him, 'Based on what you have said, if you believe no good will come of it, then I agree'. He basically convinced me."
The coroner, then a Southport magistrate, was the president of a Gold Coast surflLife saving club which had competitors at the national titles.
Ms Gatenby believes he should have informed her of his affiliation and says she is not sure whether she would have chosen not to request an inquest if she had known of his affiliation, Background Briefing reported. Robert was killed when the surf boat in which he was rowing collided with another. He was thrown from the boat and his body was not recovered for three days.
The Gold Coast coroner said the death was a drowning, and referred to the police investigation saying it was "an unfortunate situation" due to the inherent risks of surf lifesaving.
[The report above is taken from ABC News Online reporting on Radio National's Background Briefing programme. The name of the coroner has been deleted by Surfprobe in the text above.]
Hear the full report:
Saxon Bird's family asks surf lifesavers to back call for Royal Commission
The family of lifesaver Saxon Bird, one of three lifesavers killed in the national Surf Life Saving Championships at Kurrawa beach in Queensland, has called on Australia’s current and former lifesavers to strongly support a Royal Commission into the deaths of the lifesavers.
Saxon Bird, aged 19, from the Queenscliff club in Sydney, died when knocked unconscious after being struck in the head by a surf ski during an iron man event at the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships at Kurrawa on the Gold Coast on March 19, 2010.
Saxon Bird’s father Phil,(pictured above), mother Dana and their daughter Arielle, of Sydney, have forwarded an online letter from the Surf Probe group of current and former lifesavers seeking a Royal Commission to the Premier of Queensland, Mr Campbell Newman.
Mr Phil Bird in Sydney on May 3 2012 said: "We have no hesitation in petitioning Campbell Newman to establish a royal commission through the Surf Probe letter and we ask you to send it also". Mr Bird welcomed the Queensland Premier’s remarks on May 2 which left the door open for a Royal Commission.
“We’re obviously very heartened by it,” he said. “It’s a step forward because they haven’t ruled it out. We’d now like to see as many current and former surf club members get together and send in the letter of support for a Royal Commission to Mr Newman.”
Mr Bird said that should Queensland fail to call a Royal Commission, he would appeal to the Australian Government for intervention. “Our next step would be to escalate the matter to the federal level, and call for a royal commission if the Queensland government failed to act”.
“Ignoring substantial risk”: Boat events cancelled but not under 19 iron man
On March 30 2012 Phil Bird told the ABC he was infuriated that another boy had lost his life during the national surf lifesaving competition and said lifesaving officials should not have let Matthew and others continue competing, after earlier ordering boats out of the water.
"They have ignored the fact there was substantial risk, as evidenced by them cancelling boats earlier in the day," he said.
"If it's too dangerous for boats how could it possibly be not too dangerous for 15 and 14 and 13-year-old girls and boys?"
All three teenagers were killed in surf craft events on the same beach. They were Robert Gatenby killed in 1996, Saxon Bird in 2010 and Matthew Barclay in March of this year.
Please forward the Surf Probe site link - www.surfprobe.com.au - to your surf club mates
[Pictured: Conditions at Kurrawa Beach and National surf lifesaving titles in 2010.]
‘Make safety paramount’ said State Coroner in Saxon Bird finding
The Queensland State Coroner Michael Barnes on August 2, 2011,headed his recommendations with the words 'Make safety paramount' when delivering his findings into the death of ski competitor Saxon Bird, aged 19, killed in 2010. Such a recommendation might seem obvious, but the coroner noted that carnival organisers 'can get distracted' and the highest importance which safety deserved could be unintentional diminished.
No coronial inquiry was ever held into the death of Robert Gatenby at the Australian Surf Championships at Kurrawa in 1996 when the boy was involved in a surfboat accident in heavy seas. However, the Surf Life Saving movement conducted its own inquiry.
State Coroner Michael Barnes' remarks on the Saxon Bird inquiry came as he found that competitor Saxon Bird, of the Queenscliffe Club in Sydney, died as a result of being knocked unconscious when he was struck in the head by a surf ski while competing in the iron man event at the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships at Kurrawa Beach on the Gold Coast on March 19, 2010.
SLSA should direct organisers to focus on safety so as not to balance competing views as to whether competition should continue.
Mr Barnes (pictured) said in his recommendations: “Because surf life saving carnival organisers have to deal with so many competing demands, it is possible the paramountcy which safety deserves can be unintentionally diminished. Accordingly, I recommend SLSA review the safety section in the Surf Sports Manual with a view to ensuring event organisers are directed to focus on safety in a way that does not invite them to seek to balance competing views as to whether competition should continue. Event officials should be required to suspend competition whenever there is a reasonable basis for concluding there is a risk of serious injury.”
The coroner noted that at the 2011 Championships extra officials conducted surf patrols and provided information to area referees about the safety of surf conditions. “As I have identified earlier in these findings, this flow of information was absent from the under 19 area at the 2010 Championships on the morning of 19 March, at least in regards to some events.”
Mr Barnes said changes ‘which may augment these improvements’ include:
• an explicit statement that safety is paramount;
• the use of devices to assist incapacitated competitors remain buoyant; and
• the utilisation of emergency response teams.
The Coroner said the SLSA’s Surf Sports Manual required event organisers to prepare a safety plan ‘but it is devoid of any statements about the paramount importance of safety.’
Coroner Barnes said in 2011: “I am persuaded these [SLSA] reforms will enhance safety.”
The Coroner found that Saxon Bird was unable to be saved because approximately 50 minutes elapsed between his being struck and his lifeless body being pulled from the ocean. He was not recovered sooner because when he was hit he lost consciousness and sank in opaque water.
Trials had been undertaken with competitors wearing high visibility vests. Apparently these proved not to impede the competitors and made them easier to see, but 'might make little difference if the competitor is on the ocean floor'. However, the Coroner said, work was also progressing in the design and development of a self-inflating vest suitable for use in iron man events. An experienced competitor who gave evidence said he had trialled the device and found it to be suited to its purpose. The Coroner recommended that the SLSA collaborate with the designers of such devices with a view to making the wearing of them compulsory once the organisation was satisfied they were suitable. He said consideration should also be given to the use of helmets by competitors in surf craft events.
Floatation vests and surf helmets under review since 1997
Surf helmets and floatation vests have been a long time coming and have still to be adopted by Surf Life Saving Australia. A detailed report on the actions taken by SLSA in response to Robert Gatenby's death was included in SLSA submissions provided to the Queensland Coroner during the Saxon Bird inquest in 2011. SLSA said there were six specific recommendations from its own 1996 inquiry.
“These were all actioned at the 1997 Championships. They have been further refined and enhanced each subsequent year.” However, the issue of floatation devices and the wearing of helmets by competitors in the surf were two issues that at the time were still being considered by SLSA, according to the SLSA’s submission, which said in part:
“- Review of flotation devices carried out – still under review.
“- Review of helmets carried out and introduced as optional (but still under review).”
[- Source: SLSA website.]
Coroner Barnes (above) in his findings recommended that the Queensland Police Service contingent at large surf life saving events should include at least one officer with advanced marine search and rescue training that would equip the officer to plan and co-ordinate the emergency response should a competitor or official go missing in the water. He commented on the distress of competitors who had been cleared from the water when Saxon Bird went missing to allow inflatable boats to conduct searches:
“The concern relating to the decision not to utilise swimmers to search for Saxon is not as easily addressed. Were they to be involved, swimmers would need to be coordinated and managed – an advantage of the power craft was that their operators were all in radio contact. The necessary arrangements could not be made instantaneously – planning would be required. It might be the role could most effectively be undertaken by the surf patrols which have been given a more prominent role in the Championships since 2010.”
At least one competitor had pointed out that people in boats couldn’t see into the churned up water, whereas swimmers could feel along the sandy bottom.
“I sympathise with those who express frustration that better use was not made of the many life savers present when Saxon went missing. I acknowledge the need for any response to be planned and coordinated and for there to be various alternatives depending upon the emergency that presents. Accordingly, I recommend that SLSA investigate whether surf patrols could coordinate a search by swimmers for a person missing in the sea as an alternative to a search by power craft in appropriate cases.”
Big surf: something that organisers would have to plan for
Coroner Barnes referred to evidence from Saxon Bird's family: "The family submitted that Kurrawa and adjoining beaches were inherently dangerous and an unsuitable venue for the Championships at which competitors of varying ages, experience and ability could be expected to participate. I am not persuaded that is the case: wherever the event is held, the organisers are obliged to ensure it is managed as safely as is reasonably possible. If the surf at Kurrawa is more frequently bigger and challenging than other beaches, that is something the organisers would have to plan for."
The inquest viewed video vision of an earlier under 19 double ski race, in which Saxon Bird was not competing, that was run shortly after 10 am on the Friday of Saxon's death. Saxon Bird was killed in the second semi final of the under 19 iron man event which commenced sometime between 11:05 and 11:20am. In the video of the earlier race every competitor was knocked from his craft on numerous occasions, according to coroner Barnes:
"Competitors narrowly avoided being struck by wayward skis. It was just lucky that somebody was not seriously injured. The SLSA submitted that the vision played was of the worst conditions experienced in that race but that would have been no answer if it had resulted in injury or death.
Carnage in surf. No officials in under 19 area took action
"After being shown the vision at the inquest, Mr Brennan (John Brennan, Championship Referee) indicated that had he seen the race unfolding he would have caused competition to be suspended. Mr Moore (Darren Moore, Safety and Emergency Services Coordinator) said had he seen it he would have changed his assessment of the suitability of conditions for racing and he would have recommended to the Carnival Referee that the event be cancelled. Mr Kenny (Paul Kenny, the Under 19 Male Area Referee) agreed that “carnage” was an appropriate description of what was depicted. Perhaps surprisingly, none of those officiating in the under 19 area took any action and none of those who gave evidence could recall seeing the events as they occurred.
Recorded vision of other events, said Mr Barnes, showed swimmers swept south out of their area catching large waves in while board paddlers in another event were seeking to go seaward among them.
"At about the same time in the Open Area , Sectional Referee, John Restuccia, postponed double and mixed ski events because he felt it was desirable to avoid the strong sweep pulling the large double skis out of their competition areas with the risk of it interfering with competition in other areas. However, Mr Restuccia considered it was safe enough to run iron man rounds which included single ski legs in the same conditions.
"Also at about this time, Mr Paul Kenny, the Under 19 Male Area Referee, discussed the surf conditions with Mr Brennan and whether the events should be relocated. They decided to conduct the semi finals of the iron man; then look at running the board races and then re-assess whether competition should continue.
"When asked about this at the inquest, Mr Kenny said they had decided it was acceptable to run the iron man event even though it included a ski leg and other ski races had been postponed because there was still plenty of water on the bank at that time and: 'I thought with the iron man it was the semi finals. Probably, you know, good quality, you know, the competitors and it's a single ski as opposed to a double ski, which - so, they were a bit more controllable.'
Manly Surf Club official: Moving from Kurrawa beach only the start
When Surf Australia finally decided to move the national surf titles from Kurrawa in 2012, hundreds of lifesavers and officials were relieved. But many agreed the move was only the start.
Manly SLSC general manager Marc Manion, quoted in the Manly Daily on April 12, 2012, welcomed the decision to move the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships, but said more needed to be done to address water safety issues.
“Irrespective of whether this is an emotional decision or not, there are serious safety issues that need to be reviewed, refined and implemented to ensure we reduce the likelihood of people getting injured or killed in competition,” Mr Manion said.
Dee Why Surf Life Saving Club vice-president Martin Quinn was quoted as saying progress had been made with regards to better water safety at the championships, but he agreed with Mr Manion that more could be done.
“I’m glad it has moved from Kurrawa, but there’s still some water safety improvements to be made,” he said.
At the time Surf Life Saving Queensland president Ralph Devlin said SLSA’s decision to move the event from Kurrawa was focused on concerns about emotional factors rather than water safety.
Emotional stress, but what about the safety issue?
“We focused on the difficulty that our members would face in returning there,” he said. “We need to acknowledge those feelings and give a lead from the top-most levels of SLSA to simply say, ‘look, we’re not going to put you through that in terms of your feelings and your thoughts about going back there’.”
Saxon’s father, Phil Bird told the Manly Daily he agreed “emotional distress” was a good reason to move the event from Kurrawa but also said: “I would have liked the safety issue to have been acknowledged, too”.
Premier Newman did not rule out a Royal Commission
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, on May 2 would not rule out a Royal Commission into the deaths of the three lifesavers killed in the national championships at Kurrawa since 1996. He indicated that police were preparing a report for the State Coroner on the death of Matthew Barclay that and that the process should take its natural course.
In a letter a few days earlier to Surf Probe convenor Bob Wurth, Mr Newman said he hoped further deaths in competition could be avoided. He said he 'respects the SLSA's expertise on surf conditions and safety considerations.' "Those of us across Australia pressing for a Royal Commission into the three Kurrawa tragedies will step up our bid for the widest-reaching inquiry."
Mr Newman in his letter did not refer to some serious issues:
"I note your proposal for a Royal Commission. Certainly, the death of Matthew (Barclay) this year, and Saxon Bird in 2010, during their participation in the championships at Kurrawa Beach are grave tragedies and ones that I hope can be avoided in the future." The Premier made no mention of Robert Gatenby killed at Kurrawa in the national titles in 1997. He continued:
"While my Government, through Events Queensland, provides funding to Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) to hold the championships at Kurrawa Beach on the Gold Coast, the event is organised, managed and run solely by SLSA, including responsibility for safety matters.
"As you may be aware, SLSA has recently announced a decision to permantly shift the championships from Kurrawa Beach. My Government respects SLSA's expertise on surf conditions and relevant safety considerations for the event, and will support the relocation of the championships to an alternative suitable Gold Coast location."
No inquiry was ever held into the death at Kurrawa of Robert Gatenby
In response to the Premier's letter, Bob Wurth, Surf Probe convenor in Queensland, wrote back:
"I note that in your letter that you actually do not directly address the proposal for a Royal Commission into all three deaths. Indeed, I note that your letter excludes any reference to Robert Gatenby, the young man killed in the national titles at Kurrawa in a surfboat collision in 1996. The experiences of the Gatenby tragedy are vital. I also note that no coronial inquiry was ever held into Robert Gatenby’s death. Instead, Surf Life Saving Australia carried out its own “independent” investigation and thereafter, two more similar deaths occurred.
"Robert Gatenby, Saxon Bird and recently Matthew Barclay were all participants in surf craft events (i.e., surfboat, ski and board) and were killed at the Australian Surf Championships at Kurrawa, a Royal Commission into the three deaths can determine the issue of possible linkages; whether all proper precautions were taken and whether the officials conducting the championships learned from the previous deaths and whether the deaths were in any way jointly related to the conduct of the surf titles in any way."
Phil Bird on Kurrawa surf deaths: ‘… it's just so preventable’
Text below from ABC Online news, March 30, 2012.
In 2010, 19-year-old Saxon Bird was hit in the head with a surf ski and knocked out and was not rescued for about 50 minutes despite thousands of people being on the beach. His father Phil Bird says the water is a dangerous environment but is critical of the efforts and culture of officials to make things safer.
“[Saxon's death] is still as real and vivid to us every minute of every day and we go through it every day," his father Phil Bird told ABC TVs 7.30 program.
"This just made us so angry that it's happened again and it's just so preventable. The safety of the competitors is not their top priority.” Mr Bird says organisers focus on "running to program, keeping competition going, keeping sponsors happy, keeping commercial interests happy. We knew that it would happen again unless they made substantial changes, which they haven't, and our worst nightmares have come true,” he said.
"I just feel so sorry for poor Matthew's parents and family and poor Matthew who has had his life taken away and all those dreams of his family for him. The decision-makers in Surf Life Saving Australia have got to be held accountable. There has to be change. We can't send our young people off to be killed for no reason."
Hard questions from coach who witnessed all three Karrawa tragedies....
[Pics: Searching for Matthew Barclay, Kurrawa, 2012, right, Joe-Knight-Smith.]
Life Member of Surf Life Saving Western Australia and member of the WA State Coach Advisory Panel, Joe Knight-Smith, is one of the co-ordinators of the campaign for a Royal Commission. Joe was at Kurrawa beach when all three young competitors were killed in the surf during the national titles:
“I have attended four Australian Championship Titles at Kurrawa Beach in recent years and have observed three fatalities. Saxon Bird's death was followed by a coronial inquest as well as an internal SLSA inquiry. I believe there is a need for a wider look at the issues involved in the three fatalities and that look can be ensured with the appointment of a Royal Commission with the widest possible terms of reference."
Joe in 2002 was named SLSWA Training Officer of the Year and in 2005 was awarded the SLSWA State Presdident’s Medal. He has a Twenty Year Patrol Service Award, Long Service Award and in 2008 was made a Life Member of SLSWA. He has attended around twenty “ Aussies “ as a competitor, official and latterly coach.
“I stood on Kurrawa beach this year absolutely bewildered as the tragedy of Matthew Barclay unfolded. I have written a personal letter of sympathy to the Barclay family but the words of philosopher Paulo Coelho ring in my ears: ‘If something happens once there is a possibility that it may happen again. If something happens twice, it will most certainly happen again.’
"This quote concluded SLSA Australian Open Women’s Double Surf Ski Champion, Dr Ruth Highman’s letter following the unfortunate death of Saxon Bird in 2010. Sadly Ruth’s words were not heeded. She is also supporting the campaign for a Royal Commission", Joe Knight-Smith said.
Why are they opposed to an independent inquiry?
"Why is the Surf Life Saving movement so opposed to a wider independent enquiry into the three drownings?" Joe Knight-Smith asked.
Doctor & Aussie champion: "totally avoidable and foreseen by many"
[Pic: National ski champion Ruth Highman in 2010.]
Dr Ruth Highman was present on Kurrawa beach on the day in 2010 when they pulled Saxon Bird from the surf. She witnessed the lifesavers’ attempts to resuscitate Saxon, aged 19, and later said they had done everything possible.
When Ruth received a phone call during the 2012 championships that another competitor was missing, she was furious with the organisers and the movement. After Saxon Bird’s death she had called for changes to the way Australia’s surf lifesaving championships were held. She submitted a report to the coronial inquiry. At the time she said the death of Saxon Bird was “totally avoidable and foreseen by many.”
Chillingly this year she thought back to the report that she had submitted to the coronial enquiry following and the quote, mentioned above, that she had used to end her report.
Ruth's national champion double ski partner, Jane Humphreys, along with Ruth Highman, have both signed the letter to the Queensland Premier calling for a Royal Commission into the three Kurrawa deaths.