Australia is a land of innovations and inventions: many of them developed out of necessity due to Australia’s unusual or harsh conditions and environment.
One such invention is the surf lifesaving reel.
The world’s first lifesaving clubs were spawned in Australia, when the Bronte Beach Surf Club was formed in 1903.
Early rescue equipment was primitive, being a simple pole in the sand with a coiled rope attached.
In 1906, Lyster Ormsby of the Bondi Surf Bathers Lifesaving Club modelled the design he felt could be implemented, using a cotton reel and bobby pins.
Ormsby’s design intended for a lifesaver wearing a belt with a rope attached to reach a distressed swimmer, and be pulled back to the beach by his fellow lifesavers.
A full-scale working model taken from the original design was built by Sgt John Bond of Victoria Barracks in Paddington.
Later, this was improved upon by Sydney coachbuilder G H Olding.
The first surf lifesaving reel is believed to have been demonstrated on 23 December 1906 at Bondi Beach, although some sources say this occurred in March 1907.
Local legend states that the first person to be saved by a lifesaver using a reel, rope and belt was an eight year old boy by the name of Charlie Kingsford-Smith, who later became one of Australia’s most famous aviators.
The surf lifesaving reel was popularly used until 1993, when ‘Rubber Duckies’, inflatable boats with outboard motors, came into use.