Dive into the year of the lifesaver

Ballina Lighthouse & Lismore Surf Lifesaving Club life guard and lifesaver, Joe Keane, is one of hundreds of local volunteers who help to keep our beaches safe each summer.

Joe Keane epitomises the bronzed, blonde lifesaver that has become a cultural institution in Australia.

Joe, and more than 100,000 other volunteer surf lifesavers nationwide, will be acknowledged this year as Australia celebrates 100 years of the surf lifesaving movement and 2007 is officially named the Year of the Surf Lifesaver.

Thanks to these dedicated volunteers, Australians can enjoy our national passion, safe in the knowledge that their watchful eye is upon us. As long as we swim between the flags!

The thing that annoys me the most is when parents swim with their children outside of the flags, said 20-year-old Joe, who has been a volunteer life saver at Ballina Lighthouse & Lismore Surf Lifesaving Club for seven years, a life guard for three, and is also the club captain. These parents are putting their childrens lives at risk and the children have no say in it.

In fact, not swimming between the flags is the pet hate of all lifesavers, and with an average of 60 Australians drowning in the surf each year, you can understand why.

Over-tasked and under-funded, the surf lifesaving movement certainly deserves recognition for its priceless contribution, and the Australian Government has come to the party with a $10 million investment.

The money will go towards public safety training and education programs and, for the first time, an Australian Lifesavers Training Academy will be set up and an additional 60,000 patrolling lifesavers trained over the next four years.

As far as Joe is concerned the governments investment is sorely needed. The number of people frequenting North Coast beaches continues to increase and it becomes a numbers game as the volunteer lifesavers battle to keep drownings at bay.

Education is a big part of it, said Joe, who is studying for his Bachelor of Education at Southern Cross University along with his lifesaving commitments. A lot of people just dont know about the ocean and think that just because it looks calm that its safe.

The surf lifesaving clubs are always looking for new volunteers and you dont have to be a bronzed, sporty type to get involved. You dont even have to go into the surf, as help is always needed in the radio room, or with administration and first aid.

Its like being part of a big family, said Joe of the lifesaving culture. Its a really supportive environment, you make heaps of friends, learn new skills, stay healthy and fit, and youre doing a community service while youre having fun.

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