Lifeboat service memorial launched: photos 

AS CODY Adams strolled down Nobbys beach yesterday he felt a twinge of pride spread through him as he paid tribute to his great great grandfather.

William Adams was a coxswain in the Newcastle Lifeboat Service.

During a memorial dedicated to the service, as well as the Rocket Brigades, Cody donned a replica life belt used by the crews

‘‘It was really nice to be a part of his memory,’’ he said.

‘‘It was a proud moment and a chance to find out more about him.

‘‘What they did was pretty full on.’’

Bill Hillier, convener of the Victorian Lifeboats Descendants and Friends group, assembled a team to create the replica belt.

Tom and Russell Davies cut and shaped each piece of cork, which was donated by Stephen Lane, and Graham Archer supplied the canvas and completed the vest and strapping.

It will be placed on a mannequin at the Newcastle Maritime Centre, which already houses the original Victoria II lifeboat, used between 1897 and 1946.

Susan Denholm, Newcastle City Council’s project facilitator, worked closely with Newcastle Port Corporation and Victoria Lifeboats Descendants and Friends to organise the memorial at Nobbys beach.

‘‘I keep saying it but throughout the whole process everyone’s passion really stood out,’’ she said.

‘‘It was a perfect day and we had about 160 people turn up, including representatives from current rescue services.

‘‘They played such an important role in the maritime history of Newcastle.’’

The memorial, featuring sculptures of a lifeboat and rocket launcher built by Jamie Sargeant and John Morton, sits on Nobbys beach on the walk up to the lighthouse.

Heroic tale barely told

THEY were known as the guardians of the seas.

For about 136 years, their exploits were the only thing ensuring hundreds of shipwrecks off the coast of Newcastle did not result in hundreds, possibly thousands, of funerals.

All they had to help them battle the treacherous conditions was one small lifeboat, some life belts and their own blood and guts.

Yet out they went, in all conditions – through day, night, gale-force winds and torrential rain – to save  passengers and crew left helpless on stricken ships.

The members of the Newcastle Lifeboat Service and the Rocket Brigades were about 350 over the course of their 136-year existence and are often forgotten in the Hunter’s maritime history.

Yesterday, their legacy was remembered in the opening of a memorial dedicated to those who served, those who fell in the line of duty and those they saved.

Maritime historian Pamela Harrison has chronicled the two rescue services’ history and believes the tribute is well overdue.

‘‘Some people forget about them but they saved hundreds of people,’’ she said.

‘‘It was a very hard and dangerous job, and in the early years, they were all volunteers.’’

The first lifeboat came to Newcastle in 1838 but according to Ms Harrison, it was ‘‘very cumbersome’’ and the accompanying equipment of similar standard.

‘‘It wasn’t until 1866 that they got a properly designed lifeboat,’’ she said.

A lifeboat would be stationed at Newcastle up until 1946 and the most famous vessels were the Victoria and the Victoria II.

They were involved in some of the worst and most exciting rescue missions ever seen in Australian waters.

One of the most memorable was during a 15-hour rescue in 1909, when a US ship was in danger of being washed on to the villainous Oyster Bank.

‘‘The breakwater hadn’t extended far enough back then to protect the harbour properly,’’ Ms Harrison said.

‘‘The lifeboat that went out rolled twice and the team were tipped out but managed to get back in again.

‘‘Amazingly, everyone survived, it was quite an achievement and they all received gold medals.’’

Complementing the lifeboat service were the Rocket Brigades, formed in 1866.

They were split into north and south divisions, based either side of the harbour and crews didn’t have the luxury of a boat.

Instead, they trudged heavy equipment, including a rocket launcher designed to fire ropes on to stranded ships, along the 30-kilometre stretch of Stockton beach.

‘‘They had to be very fit,’’ Ms Harrison said.

‘‘They had to go the whole distance [of the beach] and back sometimes. The danger was that they’d have to wade into the surf – can you imagine doing that during a Pasha Bulka storm?’’

The Rocket Brigades were last involved in a rescue in 1974 when the iconic Sygna was lost – the wreck is still visible from Stockton beach.

Yet, despite all the tales of heroism and close shaves, many rescuers failed to come back to tell the tale.

Some drowned, while others died from hypothermia and exhaustion.

Bill Hillier, convener of the Victoria Lifeboats Descendants and Friends, said their history should be turned into movie.

‘‘They were the guardians of our harbour,’’ he said.

‘‘They would come back with their hands bleeding and they’d collapse with exhaustion.

‘‘Their motto was ‘whenever duty calls’ – nothing stopped them from going out there.’’ 


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