28 October 2019

Mad Boaters Tea Party this Saturday celebrates superhero women of surf lifesaving

| Ian Campbell
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2018 Pambula Women’s Team George Bass Rowers – Margie Briggs, Kristi Papalia, Simone Shaw and Belinda Libbis. Photo: Courtesy of Chris Briggs

Imagine a mad hatters party at sea – sailors, sirens, lifesavers and boaties dancing till late to a soul and funk soundtrack.

This Saturday (November 2) you’re invited to just that – The Mad Boaters Tea Party at the Pambula Surf Life Saving Club. This night of music, food and dancing is all in aid of the superhero women of the Far South Coast – the Pambula Women’s George Bass Team.

2018 George Bass Team – Kim OHalloran, Amanda Raffety, Kirsty Burns, Margie Briggs, Simone Shaw, Kristy Papalia, Belinda Libis, Sharon Clark. Photo: Courtesy of Margie Briggs

Known as the longest, toughest surf boat race in the world, the George Bass Surf Boat Marathon sees women and men row a gruelling 190km over 7 days, from Batemans Bay to Eden.

With a history that dates back to 1975, this biannual marathon was the brainchild of Bega newspaper editor Curly Annabel and in its first year saw clubs from Tathra, Cronulla, Point Lonsdale and even Wales compete with half the teams racing in Vaseline shorts.

1997, Pambula Babes Team in George Bass – the youngest female team ever to compete at the George Bass._L to R -Rachael McLeod, Tegan Smith, Kellie Milroy, Rebekah McLeod, Kate Williams, Greg Shaw, Karen Dean, Yaana Smith, Renee Williams, Leanne Wykes, Clare Baker. Photo: Courtesy of John Liston.

Women rowers weren’t included in the race till the late 1990s, which reflects the gendered views of surf lifesaving of the time. It wasn’t till 1980 that women were admitted as full members of the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia, and women were banned from qualifying for the Bronze Medallion as it was argued that women were not strong enough to operate the equipment or swim in heavy surf.

In 2019 it’s hard to imagine the George Bass or local surf clubs without women, in many cases female members are the lifeblood of the movement.

1980s Pambula’s First Female Lifesavers – Madaline McMahon, Maureen McMahon, Wendy Wait, Kerryn Wait. Photo: Courtesy of John Liston.

According to John Liston’s history of Pambula Surf Lifesaving Club, called ‘Bronze Among the Breakers’ Pambula has operated patrols since 1914 and although women worked on committees behind the scenes from its inception, they too weren’t permitted to be official lifesavers till the 1980s.

However, it wasn’t long till women demonstrated their equal athleticism and strength in the surf. By 1985 Pambula’s women lifeguards were among the first to drive inflatable rescue boats in NSW. In 1997, Pambula brought the youngest female competitors ever to race in the George Bass – ‘The Pambula Babes’ – who swept into fifth place in their maiden marathon.

Today, the women’s masters team has steadily risen as the team to beat, rowing to victory in the last two events, training for almost 200 hours over seven months, under trainer and sweep Chris Briggs. This year’s race will begin at Batemans Bay on December 29 and finish at Eden on Saturday, January 4.

The original ‘mad boaters’ of Pambula! The Pambula Broadwater Aquatic Cliub operated between 1905 and the 1920s. Photo: Supplied

The Mad Boaters Tea Party this Saturday is an opportunity to step out and support the women of surf lifesaving and help the George Bass women’s team float their boat.

With a fancy dress theme of vintage seaside and mad hatter’s afloat, slip on your fifties frock, Victorian neck to knee swimsuit, Hawaiian kitsch or don a boater, cravat, parasol or hat. Dance till you drop with a DJ spinning some soul and funk feels, tuck into a buffet spit dinner and some delicious gourmet salads, and sip on a drink from the bar.

Tickets are on sale now and selling fast at $45 pp, head to TryBooking now!

Any enquiries, contact organiser Mark Bichard 0400 255 937.

#Thanks to Bettina Richter and John Liston for their content contributions.

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