South Melbourne Life Saving Club is the survivor of a long history of beach and swimming clubs on Albert Park Beach between the sand-dunes (formerly a lagoon) at Port Melbourne and the Kerford Road Pier.

South Melbourne Swimming Club 1876

The club was first formed as the South Melbourne Swimming Club at, what were then known as, the Emerald Hill Baths in November 1876.  These baths were later known as the Tramway Baths and after that as Stubb’s.   A number of other clubs then followed with more baths erected later, each a block apart, on the Albert Park foreshore. None of baths now remain.

South Melbourne Open Sea Bather’s Club 1913

The first open-water club, and clear immediate ancestor, was the South Melbourne Open Sea Bather’s Club formed on 25 February 1913, with a small clubhouse at Foote Street, a block west of the existing clubrooms. The Club affiliated with the Royal Life Saving Society in the 1922/23 season and changed its name to South Melbourne Life Saving and Swimming Club in 1927/28. Like many other clubs it succumbed during the Depression in 1934/35.

South Melbourne Life Saving Club

The club remained dormant until it was reformed in August 1944 following the tragic drowning of two small children at the Albert Park Beach. The club moved to its present site at Withers Street in March 1957, and changed its name to the current South Melbourne Life Saving Club in September 1958. Over the years the clubhouse grew substantially through a series of extensions, to the current three-level building.

There is a long history of drownings and rescues from the Albert Park Beach. The most famous was probably the loss of a young man in February 1876 after being attacked by a shark at the jetty where the club now stands. This incident involved a particularly daring rescue by a horseman who dragged the victim from the estimated four-metre-long shark.

There have been many other drownings and rescues in the area, including three children drowning in the one incident in 1934 and two in 1944. It should be remembered that the area from Kerford Road to Foote Street was probably one of the most dangerous parts of the bay, with a relatively rough and uneven beach. The beach was heavily used, often at night, with many being poor or non-swimmers. In addition, the presence then of the docks, fishing vessels and the waste from the lagoon may well have attracted sharks.

Another famous incident at the club’s current site occurred in November 1926. The most recent of the baths on the foreshore, Stubb’s Gentlemens’ Baths was effectively cut in two when the steamship Malaita broke its moorings, crashed through and ran aground in the baths. Damage was so severe that the baths were subsequently removed, after the ship had lain there for nearly six months.

In 1986 the club affiliated with Surf Life Saving Australia, becoming the first club to be affiliated to both SLSA and RLSSA. The club’s dual affiliation led the way for other clubs to do likewise.

The club enjoyed major successes during the mid to late1990s in Surf Life Saving Australia’s Inflatable Rescue Boat racing with crews achieving many national medals.

In 2002 SLSA’s state body, Surf Life Saving Victoria, and RLSSA’s state body, Royal Life Saving Society Australia Victoria Branch amalgamated to form Life Saving Victoria.

William Crawford Pavilion

In May 2018, our old clubhouse, the William Crawford Pavilion was demolished to make way for our new clubhouse.

The William Crawford Pavilion served as the clubhouse for around 70 years, from the mid-1950s. The club held a celebration to farewell the old clubhouse on 25 March 2018.

William Crawford

Our old clubhouse was named in honour of William Crawford who had a significant involvement in the South Melbourne Foreshore Committee and who served as its Chairman in 1951 as well as serving as Under Secretary for Lands.

Aileen “Mac” Kennedy Pavilion

On 2 November 2019 the club officially opened our new clubhouse, the Aileen “Mac” Kennedy Pavilion, a state-of-the-art lifesaving facility. Built on the same site as our old clubhouse, the new clubhouse was designed and built as a fit-for-purpose lifesaving and emergency response facility. A timelapse of the demolition of our old clubhouse and the construction of our new clubhouse is available here.

Aileen “Mac” Kennedy BEM

Our new clubhouse is named in honour of the late Aileen “Mac” Kennedy BEM who together with her husband Abe helped re-establish the club in 1944, she served as secretary from 1944 until her death in 1980. She was made a life member in 1957 and was awarded the British Empire Medal for her service to lifesaving.

Mac was recognised on multiple occasions by the Royal Life Saving Society through its Commonwealth and UK headquarters, receiving the Recognition Badge in 1956, Service Cross in 1968 and bar in 1978, Certificate of Merit in 1973 and was made a Life Member of RLSS (Victoria Branch) in 1961/62.

She was also on the inaugural committee of the South Melbourne Community Chest, formed the South Port Women’s Amateur Athletic Association and she reformed the Melbourne Suburban Beaches Association which provided support to smaller lifesaving clubs. It was due to Mac’s campaigning that a second story to the club was erected in 1962. The City of South Melbourne had planned to name a swimming pool in her honour, but he project, unfortunately, never proceeded. Mac was not only prominent in lifesaving but also in athletic associations and was the first female to hold the position of starter in the Commonwealth Games.

Dave’s Bar

In June 2023, the club named our clubhouse bar “Dave’s Bar”, in honour of the late Dr David Porter who had died the previous month.

Dr David Porter

Club legend Dr David Porter (1945- 2023) was a stalwart of the club. His lifelong passion and contribution to the club is his legacy, one which has been a cornerstone of our club’s historic survival and modern success. David was an avid competitor in his younger years, a dedicated official, a long-serving assessor and a long-serving member of the clubs committee. He was inducted as a life member in 1985 and was recognised by both the Royal Life Saving Society and Surf Life Saving Australia with awards including the RLSS Service Medal, among others. He served on the club’s committee for over ZZ years, including ZZ years as Chief Instructor, making him one of the longest serving chief instructors of an SLSA club.

He was additionally actively involved in many community groups through SMLSC, including the Croxton School Program, and his work gave children from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to learn vital water and CPR skills outside the classroom.

Continued success

Today South Melbourne Life Saving Club has over 500 Members and conducts multiple rescues each season as well as providing first aid to dozens of members of the public. Its Nipper program is one of the largest conducted by any of the lifesaving clubs in Port Phillip Bay. Club members undertake and deliver a comprehensive range of surf lifesaving qualifications, enhancing and refining their skills and the club continues to enjoy regular success at state, national and international lifesaving competitions.