South Melbourne Life Saving Club is the survivor of a long history of beach and swimming clubs on Albert Park Beach between the now filled in lagoon at Port Melbourne and Kerford Road Pier.
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.
The first open-water club, and clear immediate ancestor, was the South Melbourne Open Sea Bather’s Club formed on the 25th 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.
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. The clubhouse has, since that time, grown 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 South Melbourne LSC affiliated with Surf Life Saving Australia. This was the first time a RLSSA affiliated club had been able to affiliate with SLSA and the dual affiliation led the way for other clubs to do likewise. In Surf Life Saving Victoria and Royal Life Saving Australia Victoria Branch amalgamated to form Life Saving Victoria.
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