The final days of the 2016/17 summer on Tathra Beach have been some of the season’s best, perhaps ‘the best ever’ according to longtime lifeguard Tony McCabe.
The water temp through most of January and February sat at around 21-22 degrees.
“We’ve had the best water temperature I can remember in 25 years,” Tony says.
Tony struggles to remember just how many summers he’s seen on the clean sands of Tathra, but thinks it’s about 41.
“For a couple of years I was down at Aslings Beach, I’ve had a season at Main, and I’ve done a few up at Camel Rock, but Tathra is my favourite,” Tony says.
Tex Glover was the man that started Tony’s professional career on the beach.
“He use to actually sleep in the surf club, he’d get up in the morning, sometimes a bit late and as young guys we’d come and put the flags out for Tex,” Tony remembers.
“He was a bit of a legend down here at the time and I sort of hung out with Tex for a fair while and then took over the mantle from him.”
Tony believe’s Tex is still going strong and is fitter than ever living in Canberra.
When Tony did his first patrol at around the age of 18, the belt and reel were still being used to rescue swimmers from the surf.
“You had to be a very strong swimmer because a lot of times you were towing 150 – 200 metres of line behind you.
“Then the guys on the reel would have to pull you back in, the guys on the line had to be strong as well,” Tony explains.
Like old Tex Glover before him, at almost 60 Tony is now inspiring the next generation of lifeguards.
“I enjoy training other guards and keeping the standard up.
“I just like to see the young people coming through, they’re enthusiastic and I just hope I can implant a little bit of my wisdom into them,” Tony says.
Click play, Tony talks about his time on Tathra Beach and what to do with blue bottle stings…
While keeping the public safe is the thrust of the job, Tony and his young team this summer have also become tourism ambassadors pointing people towards good coffee and a feed.
“It’s a great beach where you can meet people and tell’em a little bit about the area,” Tony says.
“A lot of families come back here, they just book year after year.
“All the locals embrace the tourists that come down here, it’s a really friendly area,” Tony says.
That relaxed easy approach can also open up discussion around surf safety.
“With rips, if they (swimmers) don’t know, they come down to the beach, they have a look at the big waves, and they see the calmer water, and think we’ll stay away from the big waves and jump in the calmer waters,” Tony says.
Not realising that the calmer water is often the rip.
“We’ve had a fair few overseas people here this year and they have just had no idea, and they have really appreciated that we have pointed out where the rip is,” Tony says.
The laid back look and nature of the paid and volunteer lifeguards at Tathra masks the dramatic twists and turns their day can take at any time.
“Sometimes the days you think are going to be your calmest, you have issues,” Tony says.
Tragically this summer a rock fisherman from Canberra died after being swept off rocks to the south of Tathra beach at Kianinny. Being a Saturday volunteers were on duty and responded.
“We have had to hop in the rescue boat and shoot down to Games Bay down near Wallagoot, where someone walking with their wife and baby trod on a stingray and couldn’t go anywhere so we had to go down and assist them.”
Over the years Tony also recalls drownings at the Bega River mouth, rescues at Nelson’s Beach 8km north of Tathra Surf Lifesaving Club, boats that break down, injuries at the nearby skate bowl, and heart attacks at the bowling club across the road.
“Only on Friday we had a lady bring a baby in from Turingal Head who had been stung by a blue bottle, and someone said get down to Tathra, the lifeguards are on duty during February, and she was ecstatic that we were able to help,” Tony explains.
“It’s not just sitting looking at the water, it’s all those other things that happen while you are down here.”
One of the big talking points of summer 2016/17 was the shape and look of Tathra Beach following June’s East Coast Low.
The wide strip of golden sand in front of the surf club was sucked away, creating an amphitheater overlooking the red and yellow flags and reducing the space people could claim as their own.
“We were really worried when we first started patrol, at high tide there is very little beach in front of the surf club,” Tony says.
“We were worried people would move further up the beach (away from the flags) where there is more room.”
To Tony’s relief most people this year did the right thing and swum between the flags even though they were pushed further up the beach.
This bronzed, buff veteran is confident the beach will recover from being chewed up by the storms of June.
“It will come back, but it will be over a long period,” Tony says.
Generally Tony describes Tathra as a pretty safe beach.
“Down in the corner we normally have a reasonably sized sandbar, and even though we do get north-east winds that blows in a bit of a swell, we get a southerly change and the swell only lasts for maybe one of two days and it levels out,” Tony explains.
“As you get further round towards the Country Club or further up the beach it’s a lot more dangerous, down in the corner it’s usually pretty safe.”
With the days of summer starting to shorten, Tony is called south again to Melbourne and his regular job as a carpenter.
Born and bred not too far from the Bega Swimming Pool, Tony is already preparing for his 42nd Tathra summer.
“We’ll be back up at Easter, followed by the yearly lifeguard testing in December.
“You jump in the water, it’s sunny, it’s clear, you have a swim around, and you get out, the salt water, it’s a fantastic feeling,” Tony says.
Disclaimer: Author is currently contracted to Tathra Chamber of Commerce