The waves are wild and unforgiving at Mt Levy Beach. Here the swell takes you, and the water can be cold and calculating. That’s why there are flags. Flags to swim between over the summer months as members of the Portsea Surf Life Saving Club patrol the shoreline.
No lives have ever been lost between these pieces of red and yellow fabric flapping in the wind, and more than 5000 lives have been saved since the club was formed in 1949 by a small group of residents. President Matthew Mahon explains: “Mt Levy is commonly referred to as Portsea Back Beach. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid and my grandparents had the foresight to build a holiday house in the 1960s. I’ve been swimming at the beach under supervision since the 1970s. We are now the largest lifesaving club in Victoria with a membership of 4200 and we’ve just had an amazing summer. The beach was incredibly busy. We continue to patrol up to the end of April and recommence late November/early December. There’s no patrolling over the winter months as it’s pretty much only the brave and committed surfing community that gets in the water then. It’s pretty cold, particularly when there’s a roaring southerly. I think the water would go down to about 15C.”
This committed to community club has just experienced its first summer since the new clubhouse was built. The original clubhouse was constructed from a packing crate more than 70 years ago and was located 200m from the new building, which now includes space for education programs and dining. Ambulances can drive right inside.
Matthew continues: “This was our first summer being fully operational with new lifesaving equipment and ambulance access. We used to have a timber bridge and last year was hard as we had four suspected spinal cases and the ambulance couldn’t get to them easily. Five million dollars of the funding for the new clubhouse was generated by the local community with the remainder contributed by Mornington Peninsula Shire, state and federal government. It’s amazing.”
From its primitive roots to present-day operations, the Portsea Surf Life Saving Club has seen its Nippers program grow from 80 kids to about 600 over the past decade, while first aid and water safety courses are also on the rise. Matthew concludes: “I joined the Nippers program when I was 10 or 11, but it was on Sunday mornings when St Thomas’s Mass was on so I didn’t always make it. It’s great to see the young kids go on to gain a Surf Rescue Certificate or be involved in the Bronze Medallion Camp in December now.” Sure is, especially when the community benefits.