Thursday, October 30, 2008

Warren Mitchell, Young Mulga.

These are the guys who were responsible for Surfing and Surf lifesaving becoming popular in Britain. Along with other members from the Avalon Surf Club, they surfed mainly in Cornwall and began patrolling the beaches as Lifeguards. Along with John Greaves, Don Mitchell and one of the Jackman brothers from Freshwater, they were responsible for Australian SLSA methods and procedures being adopted by the Brits. From left to right.....Bob Head, John (Bull) Campbell, Ian Tiley, Warren Mitchell.  

For what it's worth, a British Army officer named John "Mad Jack" Churchill during 1955 became the first person to surf the Severn bore for a distance of 1.5 miles. Ten years later in 1965 the Avalon based Rodney Sumpter rode the wave for upwards of 6 miles. He eventually left Australia to settle in Cornwall where he currently resides, I believe. During the early 1960's the group of pioneering Aussies in the above photo took on the bore wave with Bull Campbell riding it for an unspecified number of miles inland. The shorebased local police all thought the surfers were insane and were pleading with them to paddle ashore before the series of tidal waves arrived and drowned the lot of them. 

Today the bore attracts guys and gals from all over the UK and the world ltself and rides lasting up to an hour or more are quite common. If it floats and can be paddled or rowed, you can bet your boots it will make an appearance along the Severn River at least once during its life.
Warren with Warren Young at Avalon.

Warren Mitchell and John Fuller showing off.

Newspaper clippings featuring Warren Mitchell and John Fuller testing IRB 1.


This is a view of Perranporth Beach in Cornwall, looking to the north west towards Holywell at the far end. It is arguably the Brits finest beach and attracts huge crowds on most fine weekends. Professional lifeguards patrol the beach during the surfing season and many rescues are carried out on a regular basis. The above pic shows the beach at low tide, but when the tide is in, or the Atlantic produces huge seas, nearly all the sand is covered by the boiling surf.

Yes, this is England.
It was on Perranporth and other Cornish beaches that the inspired vision for surf life saving in Oz first took root and several years later eventually became a reality, thanks to the persistence and ingenuity of Warren Mitchell.

                                Cornish Butt
Gee! No wonder Warren was not in a hurry to return home in the 1960's and possibly why he returned with his family to the UK. Problem is, not too much surf in Leeds though.
                                Cornish surfer

                   Perranporth Beach Cornwall

For all the Poldark fans out there, Perranporth is the fictional Hendrawna Beach where Ross and Demelza Poldark lived in their modest home that was named Nampara. Novelist Winston Graham positioned Nampara just off to the left of the beach at the top of the picture and one of the Poldarks mines, namely Wheal Leisure was just to the left of the picture's left side. The beach is just over 3 miles long.

                          Newquay Beaches

When one takes in the preceding images, it is hard to believe that the photos were not taken here in Oz. If this is typical of the geography of Cornwall, any wonder our pioneering adventurers stayed as long as they did. I believe the county of Devon is also blessed with many beautiful beaches, although if the water temperature is on a par with Tasmania, one could very easily find himself singing soprano.

                                Home away from home

It looks as though the team from Towradgi has met with some success going on all the smiles. It is interesting to note that the guys appear to have left all the heavy lifting to the young ladies. Something else worth noting are the wet suits that all and sundry are wearing mainly to keep out the chill and to protect the body from friction burns and abrasions that are part of IRB racing. They also ensure that the girls cozzies remain intact, something that did not always happen during those early days of development and testing at Avalon during the late 1960's and early 70's......Refer Abalone Balony.

                                IRB No 1 Retired

The end result. Chaos around the cans.
No! Not Alf Garnett 
Warren Mitchell is a living legend to all who knew him. Throughout Surf Life Saving circles he is known as the Father of the IRB. He has been presented with an Innovation Award from the Surf Life Saving Association for his efforts to adapt and perfect an inflatable boat for use in the Australian surf and has been honored by his country of birth with an Order of Australia. Many overseas nations have also adopted the IRB as their main means of rescuing swimmers from the surf and are aware of who was responsible for the development of this invaluable piece of equipment. At first the duck was painted yellow for improved visibility, but it was not that long until the current colour of red was adopted, why that was I know not. The first official ‘ Rubber Duck ’ is currently on display in the National Maritime Museum at Sydney’s Darling Harbour. After much time and effort the end result was what now takes pride of place in the national museum. I am truly proud to have known Warren as a fellow Avalon member as well as a mate. Many laughed at his vision of the future, some did not, I am also proud to state that I was among the latter.

During 2005 the first IRB's appeared along the German coastline. The world's largest lifesaving organisation, namely DLRG German Lifesaving realised the potential of the rubber ducks and in no time they became the primary means of rescuing swimmers from the Baltic and North Seas. For three days in May 2009 at Scharbeutz on the Baltic Sea, an IRB Carnival and Training Event was organised, the main purpose to provide training for the many lifesavers in the region who have taken to the IRB like ducks to water. The guest of honour at the carnival that will be held from May 15th to the 17th, will be Avalon's pioneering IRB developer Warren Mitchell OAM. Fresh from his participation in November 2008 at Abveron in Wales, Warren will be addressing the organizers of and participants in the German event to pass on his knowledge and some of his experience to the right people, who are aware of the role he played in transforming the way surf and ocean rescues are performed.

Rounding the cans, German style.
Back in Avalon during 1969-70, none of us could have imagined that all the fun mixed in with some hard work occasionaly would be responsible for such a change in attitude and procedures involving water rescues........Onya Mulga!

SEASON 69--70
During the early 1960’s, Avalon active member Warren Mitchell was holidaying in Britain and became one of the first professional lifeguards to patrol beaches in Cornwall. Some of the Cornish beaches were extremely long and four wheel drive vehicles were used to get from here to there. Zodiac rubber boats were used for offshore work. I believe they were driven by 30hp. outboard motors. It was during the last quarter of 1969 that Warren, now happily married and back home in Avalon, decided it was about time to improve local surf rescue techniques and equipment. Even though unsure that what he had in mind would actually work, he started working on a plan to adapt rubber boats to suit Australian conditions. Generally speaking, surf conditions in Cornwall were not too different from Oz and he believed that what had worked over there should work here. Dunlop supplied a six year old rubber duck and an old second hand 20 hp. Mercury was borrowed through OMC and work began on the necessary modifications. Warren was more than ably assisted by former club captain John Fuller, who used his entrepreneurial skills to obtain fuel and equipment as well as helping with the creation of designs and was also involved in some of the construction work. During the November committee meeting Warren revealed his ambitious vision of the future, along with the rubber boat.
Some of the Committee members thought it was a joke. They weren't laughing a few weeks later when the first mass rescue was successfully carried out at Avalon by Warren and John.
After a few chuckles and the odd sideways glance he was eventually given moral support and permission to continue, but unfortunately no money was available.
In November, Warren and his older brother Don gave the boat its first trial in the surf. Don was known as Mulga by his mates and Warren was quite often referred to as Young Mulga. It worked, despite the aluminium keel being bent in more than one place and the 8 foot wave that Warren surfed to the beach was only a fluke. Notes left by Warren state that Don was concerned by a wave rapidly catching them up and called on Warren to gun the boat. Warren informed his brother that the boat was travelling at maximum speed owing to the bent keel and when the wave picked them up they were simply lucky to ride it all the way to the beach.
"Hey Warren, get a move on mate."

Poor Don had to have his chin stitched as it struck the steel fuel tank on the way out inflicting a nasty wound.
Various keels were experimented with and it was agreed that timber and aluminium were not suitable. Although light and strong, the aluminium keel had a tendency to buckle and bend when the boat slammed into a broken wave. The timber keels simply cracked, split and broke. The problem was solved when Warren turned up one morning with a large weird looking length of timber he was certain would work. It was a series of timber strips laminated together and proved to be extremely strong and long wearing. It was subject to God only knows how many trips in and out in the surf and it lasted around 6 months before the first crack appeared. 
Two, three and four bladed props were tried and eventually the one deemed to be the best all rounder was the common three blader. The two blade racing prop enabled the boat to travel at its fastest, but was slow to accelerate and like the four bladed prop was prone to cavitation in the aerated foam. As for a prop guard, there were many designs constructed and fitted, the most satisfactory ended up looking like an oversize egg ring. Today, of course the guards are much more sophisticated and work a treat, but all those years ago we were happy with what we had at our disposal.     

Members of the 1969 Tasmanian trip were also among the true believers and spent considerable time surf testing the boat and experimenting with various propellers and prop guards. Three of the local females gave us all support and were rewarded by many mind blowing trips around the bay at Avalon. Us guys too were rewarded when the girls would occasionaly lose the odd cozzie or bra top during the run around.
"Double Bugger."
The girls referred to the rubber craft as the Giddy Boat. The three of them were also genuine true believers and later on one married Roscoe, another married John and the third ended up drawing the short straw and for a while ended up with, guess who?
Although at first there were some reservations, the people who mattered, slowly but surely started to become more positive and were warming to this innovative rescue craft. During December a mass rescue at Avalon saw the boat and crew save eight people. This was the first rubber boat rescue and many knockers were silenced by the speed and efficiency of it all. A few weeks later at the Dee Why surf carnival during January 1970 many SLSA officials and others sat up and took notice. The demonstration had to be done a second time as it was so quick it was all over almost before it began. The patient was 50 to 60 metres out to sea yet from the moment he raised his hand through to when resuscitation commenced back on the beach, only 52 seconds had elapsed. Warren Mitchell and John Fuller were the crew members and Surf Club Captain John Towner was the patient. The other crew members that day were Ross Lumsden, David Plunkett, Rick Millar and some no hoper named Trevor Fuller [Pogo].

Throughout the many months that followed, Warren and John travelled all over the state demonstrating the ability of the 'Duck' to many Surf Clubs, some of which began experimenting with their own versions of rubber boats.

Soldiers Beach SLSC were also at the forefront of IRB development.
The two pioneers would use the cars exhaust to pump up the boat and on cold winter days Warren would attach a tube to the outboard motor and inside his wet suit so the hot water would help keep him warm and cosy, talk about innovative.
Warren received an Innovation Award from the SLSA for his persistent efforts and exceptional ground breaking achievements, that helped make the IRB what it has become today. He also was honoured by his country when awarded an OAM, which I believe he received from non other than Her Majesty The Queen. As far as I know he is currently living in Leeds along with his wife Carol and family and although content to be there, the last time I spoke to him on one of his visits home to Avalon, he was looking extremely thoughtful. I was on a Sunday morning patrol when he strolled up and stood alongside the Patrol Area, staring out to sea and taking in everything. The beach and surf were clean, the sky, blue and cloudless, a small surf was running, a gentle nor east breeze wafting in and the usual gathering of bikini clad beach girls along with the odd pair of white pointers on display, were present. 

We were standing together on the beach and I asked him, “Be honest mate, do you miss any of this?” He never turned around to face me, but after a few seconds his head suddenly bowed, then nodded and I distinctly heard him give out a big sigh and answer ever so softly.............." Yes."



dion said...


Trev said...

Attention dion,
Pamela,I started this blog as a means to pass on to the fast growing family ankle biters what it was like during those days of political incorrectness. Back then the Avalon club had an active membership of around 50, today it is 726 plus over 300 nippers. If you require Warrens address I suggest you contact the Avalon club who may or may not be able to help you. I am so pleased that you enjoyed reading my piece on Warren as I do not want memories of the former surf club legends to simply fade away.
Best wishes to you and let Bec know that she could not have picked a better way of life.
Trevor Fuller (Pogo)

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