Not long after the Cooks Hill Surf Lifesaving Club’s formation in 1911, around two thirds of its members were also volunteering with the First Australian Imperial Force. Nine members of the club died fighting for their country during the First World War and to honour them, the Cooks Hill community worked together to build a memorial that still stands to this day.
Though 100 years have passed since WWI, the sacrifice made by those men and women and the magnitude of the loss suffered has not diminished, but rather has left an indelible mark on the Australian psyche, one that proudly honours its Diggers every Anzac Day, every Remembrance Day and indeed every day, with monuments in almost every community. Those Diggers are remembered for what they helped to protect – our nation’s values of mateship, freedom and a fair go. This makes the recent episodes of vandalism of the Cooks Hill surf club’s war memorial both puzzling and extremely distressing. In the space of one week the memorial has been vandalised on two occasions, with different political messages. Free speech is what our nation prides itself on. It’s what we thank our troops for protecting. It’s why we have many avenues in our democracy to allow us to express our opinions. Desecrating the monuments built to honour those who protected this right is not only criminal, but utterly bizarre. And a sure-fire way for your apparently important message to be lost, drowned out by the chorus of anger at your senseless and stupid act.
Cooks Hill Surf Lifesaving Club’s John Mayo said several families of those listed on the memorial were current club members. His message to the vandals is simple: They need to understand that the loss of these people is still mourned today.
“These men, who we didn’t know personally, are very much part of Cooks Hill SLSC lore and have been spoken of constantly over the past century as if they were still on the beach with us,” he said.
While it is a natural reaction to call for hefty penalties for those behind these attacks, it is with a bigger heart than many that Mr Mayo instead extends an invitation. “I speak on behalf of the surf club membership when I say rather than vandalise our memorial, come down and enjoy our beach and great club” he said. “We are inclusive as a club and you will be welcomed.”
It seems the values the Diggers fought and died for do indeed live on.