8 July 2022

Batemans Bay Surf Club stalwart Tony 'Grumpy' Vella remembered as King of the Kids

| Katrina Condie
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Tony Vella will be greatly missed.

Tony Vella will be greatly missed. Photo: Sue Hunt.

Anthony (Tony) Vella was a larger than life character but the mark he has left on the Eurobodalla community is even greater, made evident by the endless flow of tributes since his sudden death on Saturday 2 July.

He was 64-years-old.

An active member of the Batemans Bay Surf Life Saving Club for almost 40 years, Tony was a true hero, saving scores of lives on local beaches and training the next generation of lifesavers.

On the beach, he was King of the Kids.

Batemans Bay SLSC president and close friend, Tracy Innes said Tony loved nothing more than spending time at the beach sharing his skills with young lifesavers.

“He was a brilliant trainer and all the kids adored him,” she said.

“His nick name was Grumpy, but the children would squeal and jump all over him – they thought he was the best.

“He would run around roar and bellow at them, they thought it was the best thing ever. He really was quite hilarious.”

Tony had no children of his own, so dedicated much of his life to his surf club kids and, Tracy says, it will be the young ones that will miss him the most.

READ ALSO: The next generations of Grants reflect on the legacy of a Wiradjuri icon

For the past 25 years Tracy and her husband Neil have spent Christmas morning on patrol and having breakfast on the beach with Tony.

“The three of us would go down till after lunch. It became a tradition and my children used to come with us when they were young,” she said.

Tony spent a decade on the Far South Coast Branch call-out emergency rescue team, a position which saw him first on the scene of major incidents up and down the coast.

Tracy said Tony was highly commended for his involvement in search and rescue operations.

“Tony was involved in quite a number of big rescues and around a dozen major retrievals,” she said.

Tony received a bravery award following a rescue at McKenzies Beach, south of Batemans Bay, and he and his fellow lifesavers were nominated for the NSW Surf Life Saving Rescue of the Year after pulling 72-year-old Victor Hansen from the water when his helicopter crashed into the sea at Lilli Pilli in 2011, killing his wife Helen.

Tony travelled around the state in his role as a volunteer trainer and assessor, and was also a NSW Lifeguard Services coordinator, training professional lifeguards in the Gold Medallion advanced lifesaving course.

For some time he was the only jet ski trainer on the Far South Coast, and clocked up more than 2000 patrol hours since club records began in 1994.

READ ALSO: 40 years on, women still making waves in surf lifesaving

Other than president, he has held just about every other role on the surf club committee and was instrumental in planning and fundraising for the $1.8 million surf club rebuilding.

Originally from Canberra, Tony moved to Batemans Bay around 40 years ago and was involved with the Batemans Bay and Moruya Rugby League clubs.

He won first grade premierships with the East Canberra Tigers, Batemans Bay Tigers, Tweed Heads Seagulls, and took the Albury Roos to the finals as captain coach.

Tony spent ten years in France, playing in national first division teams and coaching for four years.

“He had a fairly illustrious rugby league career,” Tracy said.

“He played in France and won premierships with the Batemans Bay and Moruya clubs and trained a lot of juniors. He also trained the women’s league teams.”

Tony worked at Services Australia in Batemans Bay and, before that, at Campbell Page Employment Service.

Eurobodalla mayor Mathew Hatcher said Tony touched many lives.

“I’ve been lucky enough to know Tony for many years,” he said.

“A very kind hearted man who put so many hours in for this community. The Eurobodalla has lost a great man.”

Member for Bega Dr Michael Holland said Tony “embodied the community spirit of volunteerism”.

“Tony made a huge contribution to the Batemans Bay community through his involvement with the Batemans Bay Surf Life Saving Club and Batemans Bay Tigers Rugby League Club,” Dr Holland added.

“Many members of the community have been touched by his life saving actions and his service in more tragic circumstances. He will be sincerely missed.”

Tony’s family is expected to hold a private funeral service in the coming weeks, while Tracy said the surf club is planning a memorial day with details to be announced.

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