By Rita Bratovich
If you went on the Marriage Equality Rainbow Walk from Bondi to Bronte in October 2017, you would have walked past the brightly painted Tamarama Surf Lifesaving Club building. You may even have had your picture taken in front of the large painted wings on one of the walls, or posed with the colourfully decorated life guards. Tamarama Surf Lifesaving Club really got into the spirit because TSLC has a high LGBTQI membership.
Current President, Tim Murray, remembers Tama’ having a reputation as a “gay beach” during the 1980s and ‘90s.
“So it’s always had that element to it and there’s always been some LGBTQI people in the club,” he says.
Murray himself is straight, but he has never found sexuality to be an issue in the club one way or another. TSLC is one of the oldest in existence, dating back to 1906, according to Murray.
Surf lifesaving itself is steeped in tradition and it was only in the 1980s that women were permitted to be lifesavers. Patriarchy and conservatism are still strong in many clubs.
“I really hope that the next president [of TSLC] is young and female and representative of the future of the club,” says Murray, who feels youth and diversity are elements that make TSLC so open and accepting.
“We’ve got a lot of members from Newtown, Erskineville, and that’s actually been the case throughout the history of the club. So, those areas have changed and so the members who join from those areas have changed. So I think our club reflects the changing nature of Sydney.”
The club’s inclusivity means that rainbow families feel comfortable about joining nippers. Apart from the LGBTQI community, TSLC actively encourages indigenous children, migrants, and muslim women to participate in beach safety courses.
They want to do a whole lot more but are currently being held back by the dilapidated state of the club building. It can’t be repaired and needs to be rebuilt and the club has been raising funds to achieve that. At the moment they are about $400,000 shy of their target.
“Once it’s rebuilt it’ll be much more useful as a community facility, and more self-sustaining financially because we’ll have good areas that we can rent out for functions and things,” says Murray. The design has been completed and they’re looking for sponsors and asking for public donations to help get the new club built.
Club Captain, Holly Love, has been with TSLC for 5 years and identifies as bisexual – something she says she was able to work out as a result of joining the club.
“It was definitely a huge part – being within a community and being accepted and being able to do that work within yourself…we’re known as quite an accepting club, and for me I saw that from day one,” she says.
Love is now endeavouring to spread that climate of acceptance to all clubs.
“I’m also secretary for a group called Lifesavers With Pride which, you know, march in the Mardi Gras each year but we also do a lot of advocacy work […] to make sure life saving is a more inclusive and diverse sport…Some of the work we’re doing with Lifesavers With Pride is to get an inclusion policy happening with Surf Lifesaving Australia.”
Lifesavers With Pride is a volunteer organisation that began around 12 years ago. Each year, participants fly in from Adelaide, Perth, and around Queensland to be in the Mardi Gras float.
When they’re not marching in the parade,Lifesavers With Pride is helping clubs attract and retain queer members. One way of doing this is by offering two scholarships each year (one regional, one in Sydney) to people who identify as queer. The scholarships cover fees for attaining a bronze medallion which is a requirement for becoming a life saver.
Love is very keen for the new club house to be built with the design including a fully equiped training room, a kiosk, and function hosting capabilities with a bar.
David Murphy completed his bronze medallion in 2015 and is entering his fifth season at Tamarama. Murphy is gay but was unaware of the LGBTQI component of TSLC until he joined. He was instrumental in getting the club building painted and the life savers decorated for the Rainbow Walk.
“When I went to our president and said ‘can I paint the club?’ he was 100% behind it,” says Murphy. It was great publicity for the club.
Murphy echoes the sentiments above regarding inclusivity. In fact, he became concerned one year when an intake for bronze medallion was comprised of mostly gay men.
“I thought ‘this is fun but I wouldn’t want the club to become just a gay club’, because what’s really great now is how, regardless of sexuality, Tama is a really open and diverse place and we welcome everyone.”
In 2016 and 2017, Murphy marched with Lifesavers With Pride. He points out that, along with other emergency services who participate in the parade, the lifesaver’s float is “signalling that this is an institution that’s open to LGBT people.” It’s a positive visual message for young people watching the parade.
Having had to cook for up to 100 people in a kitchen that is “pretty bad”, Murphy is looking forward to a new building with better facilities.
If you’d like to help out, you can walk past the Tamarama club building and swipe your credit card to instantly donate $5, or donate online at www.tamaramaslsc.org/renovation.