The history of the Catherine Hill Bay Surf Club is tightly interwoven with the discovery, settlement and life of Catherine Hill Bay itself. The surf club has provided a service to the local community ensuring they can enjoy the sun and surf in relative safety; secondly, the club has provided a focal point for both young and old to engage in healthy and spirited competition.

Wreck of the Catherine Hill

Catherine Hill Bay beach itself was aptly named after a ship 'Catherine Hill' that was wrecked in the bay in June 1867. The 'Catherine Hill' was travelling from the Richmond River port to Sydney with a load of timber. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald (28/6/1867):

' blew a heavy gale from NE to E, with heavy squalls, thunder and lightening; the ship was hove-to under single-reefed fore trysail, there being a high confused sea at the time; ship labouring heavily and shipping a great quantity of water. On Friday morning made the lee bow, close in shore, between two reefs of rocks; tried to make sail on ship to get her off shore, but the attempt was unsuccessful. Kept her away from the beach, and while doing so, shipped a heavy sea, which took overboard the mate [Thomas Raywood] and cook [John Dooring], who were never seen afterwards. All the other hands reached the shore in safety; stayed on shore all night and the next day without clothing or food, when a settler [Mr Taaffe] came and made a fire and provided us with provisions...'

Surf Bathing in the early 1900's

It's hard to imagine living next to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and yet not being able to enjoy the sun, sand and surf. That's exactly what it was like along our coastlines little more than 100 years ago. Public bathing restrictions, numerous drownings and frequent shark attacks all conjured to keep people out of the water and not develop a familiarity and respect of the surf that we are developing today.

During the early 1900's the laws on prohibition of bathing during daylight hours were challenged and in the most high profile case the editor of a Manly newspaper, William Gocher, advertised in his newspaper the date, time and place he would be going for a swim. Faced with massive public support for Mr Gocher, the local council were not prepared to see the matter through to prosecution.

It wasn't long before people started to flock to beaches to enjoy their new found freedom, but the massive increase in beachgoers led to numerous tragedies on our beaches. As a result local surf lifesaving clubs were formed.

Developments in the Newcastle Area

The Newcastle Surf Club and Life Saving Society was the district's first lifesaving club, formed in 1908. This was closely followed by the formation of clubs at Stockton, Merewether, Newcastle South, Nobby's and Redhead. These newly formed clubs were also instrumental in 'spreading the word' up and down the coast by visiting new areas and assisting these communities to establish surf lifesaving clubs.

Formation of Catherine Hill Bay Surf Club

Catherine Hill Bay didn't need to wait long, with the formation of the 'Wallarah Surf Club' in 1923-24. According to 'The Northern District Surf Lifesaver' by Chris Conrick our origins were as follows:

'In the 1923-24 season the Wallarah Surf Club was established at Catherine Hill Bay but was only affiliated for that season and no awards were gained. The beach was visited by Stockton and Newcastle clubs and an interclub carnival held. The club was reformed in the 1927-28 season however there are indications that it was operational during its period of non-affiliation'

Using the earlier date, the club will be celebrating its 83rd year during the 2006/07 season. A remarkable achievement considering the population of 'The Bay'.




Pre-1860 No events recorded.
1860's Wreck of the schooner 'Catherine Hill' June 1867. Two lives lost, four survivors assisted by local settler, Mr Taaffe.

In 1873 coal mining commenced on cliffs near the beach close to location of present jetty. The first shipment from a newly constructed jetty was made on 17/12/1873.

By 1874 there were approximately 70 men working in the area.

In 1875 the 'Village of Cowper' was declared making Catherine Hill Bay the oldest existing town in Lake Macquarie.

In March 1877 the mine was closed with many people leaving the area. The township virtually ceased to exist.

1880's In September 1888 the London based Wallarah Coal Company acquired 1200 acres from the original land grants made to Messrs Parbury, Saddington and Lamb.
1890's First coal was shipped to Sydney from the new venture in January 1890.

Wreck of steamer 'Shamrock' April 1903. Hit the reef near jetty while leaving with 2000 tons of coal bound for Sydney. The wreck lies some 100-150 meters off shore in the bay.

Wreck of the collier 'Illaroo' June 1903 attempting to load coal at the jetty in strong in strong SE winds. Beached just off location of present lower car-park. Refloated after two weeks and returned to Sydney for repairs.

First appearance of surf belt and reel on Sydney beaches.


First Surf Bronze medallions awarded to members from Bondi, North Bondi and Coogee.

World War I - 1914 to 1918.

Wreck of collier 'Wallarah' grounded April 1914 on the rocks south of the jetty. All hands were saved by virtue of the 'Rocket Brigade' who travelled 26 miles overland from Newcastle to establish a line to the vessel and evacuate crew.


Original Wallarah Surf Club established in 1923.
System of flags introduced for safe (Blue and White) and dangerous (Red) surf zones.
March 1928 fourteen members were awarded Catherine Hill Bay's first Surf Bronze Medallions:

 J. Boyd, J. Peitch, C. Woodbury, H. Price, T. Price, G. Outram, W. Trowbridge, W. Hooey, R. Wright, N. , rice, T. Crompton, A. Boyd, T. McDougall, T. Henderson


1930/31 saw 122 active Surf Lifesaving Clubs across Australia.

1935: red and yellow diagonal stripped flags were introduced for safe areas.

1938: Black Sunday (Bondi Beach)

1939: Start of World War 2.


1940/41: Catherine Hill Bay's R. Sharman Branch Champion – Beach Sprint.

1942/43: Catherine Hill Bay Branch Champions – March Past.

1942/43: Catherine Hill Bay Branch Champions – Open Beach Relay.

1945: end of World War 2.


Approximately 164 affiliated and active clubs across Australia.

1952: Schaeffer method of resuscitation replaced by Holger-Nielson method.


1960: Expired Air Resuscitation (EAR) or ‘Mouth to Mouth' adopted as preferred method of resuscitation.

Approximately 226 affiliated and active clubs across Australia.

Trials of Jet Rescue Boats (JRBs), Inflatable Rescue Boats (IRBs) and helicopter surveillance.


Approximately 230 affiliated and active clubs across Australia.

1973: National Junior Association formed.

1973/74 saw the introduction of the helicopter rescue service on Sydney beaches.

1977: Newcastle Branch Tour to new Zealand -R.Sinclair.


1980: Females became eligible to become active patrolling members.

Approximately 236 clubs with 13,900 active members.

Australian Standard developed for Red and Yellow patrol flags.

1984/85: Catherine Hill Bay 2nd place Branch Patrol Efficiency point score.

1990's Approximately 254 affiliated and active clubs across Australia.

Approximately 273 affiliated and active clubs across Australia.

2007 - designated 'Year of the Surf Lifesaver'

On-going Development

Much remains to be recorded on the history of Catherine Hill Bay Surf Lifesaving Club. Unfortunately, the information to support these records exists in people's memories, photo albums, news clippings and club records. Much has been forgotten.

This work is the first step in capturing what still exists and making it accessible for current and future members. It should continue to develop as long as the club continues to exist.

Among my next priorities is to profile each of our life members and record the contributions that have lead to them being awarded the highest club honour.

Anyone with information or photos relevant to the history of the club is invited to contact me and I will endeavour to ensure it recorded into the club history in its rightful place.

Special thanks to Steve Johnson for compiling the history of Catho...

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