The surf lifesaving reel is an Australian innovation which was invented in 1906 by Lyster Ormsby who made a model of his invention from a cotton reel and two hairpins. Countless Australians were saved by a life saver using a reel, line and belt. This timber life saving reel dates from the about 1960 and was used by the South Curl Curl Surf Life Saving Club in the Sydney beachside suburb of Curl Curl.
Australian surf lifesaving clubs were the first in the world. In 1903 a group of swimmers formed the Bronte Beach Surf Club. They rigged up some rescue equipment: a coil of rope on a pole stuck in the sand at the centre of the beach.
In 1906 Lyster Ormsby of the Bondi Surf Bathers Lifesaving Club built a model from a cotton reel and two bobby pins of a portable horizontal reel for the rope. The first full-size reel was built by Sgt John Bond of Victoria Barracks in Paddington; and was improved on in the same year by Sydney coachbuilder G H Olding whose final design was used until 1993.
The reel allowed a lifesaver wearing a belt with a rope attached to reach a distressed swimmer. The crew on the beach could then pull them back to the beach. It required discipline and control to carry this out efficiently. While lifesaving competitions still include the use of the reel, it was phased out of active service for rescues in 1994. Now 'Rubber Duckies' (inflatable boats with outboard motors) carry out over 50 percent of all rescues.
The legend goes that the first person to be saved by a lifesaver using a reel, rope and belt was an eight year old boy whose name was Charlie Kingsford-Smith, who later became a famous aviator. The rescue methods pioneered in Australia have been used throughout the world.
Surf life saving by volunteers as begun in Bondi has saved many lives and is now an integral part of Australia's beaches. Volunteer-run clubs, carnivals and competitions are a big part of the Australian summer. In 1999-2000 Surf Life Saving Australia involved 269 clubs all over Australia with 98 000 members. Of those members 21 000 were active in patrolling beaches and performed over 10 000 surf rescues.