40 years ago, Helen Hallett and a small cohort of women pushed through a punishing course, which included two swims in two-metre high waves, to become some of the first women in Australia to receive a Bronze Medallion, the national award as a surf lifesaver.
“They were so tough on us, all of the male assessors,” Hallett told Surf Life Saving Queensland
“They didn’t want us to pass.
“The surf was so huge, more than two metres high and they made us do the swim part twice.”
But the women at Avoca Beach, on the NSW Central Coast, did all pass and Hallett received her Bronze Medallion. She did not consider at the time that she was a trailblazer for women in lifesaving.
“At the time I didn’t even think about it, I just wanted to get on the beach because my husband was on the beach and I was sitting there doing nothing,” she said.
“I thought I’ll go and get my bronze.
“My husband was a great supporter at getting my bronze but many men in general weren’t.
“I didn’t even realise until later on that it was actually the first one.”
The couple moved to the Gold Coast in 1983 and have lived there ever since.
A few things may have changed in lifesaving since 1980 – they no longer use reel, line and belt and drones are part of everyday operations but the instinct to save lives never wanes.
Even just 18 months ago Hallett and her husband Peter were taking photos at the beach when she spotted a Google photographer caught in a rip in the water. Both fully clothed, they grabbed boards off the top of their car, paddled into the surf and rescued him.
For best part of 40 years Hallett has dedicated herself to surf lifesaving and for the the past eight years has worked in Community Awareness at Surf Life Saving Queensland. She now runs the Surf Girl program and believes the organisation is in a great place.
“What women are doing at the moment is just amazing – they’re doing just as much as the men, sometimes more,” she said.
“I think they’re so inspirational, unbelievable.”
Article by Josie Fielding