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North Bondi's trailblazing female lifesaver still crewing the registration desk after 20 years

After more than 20 years as an event volunteer, Gaye Rosen is preparing to lead registration again at this Sunday’s North Bondi’s Buckler to Bergs ocean swim.

Gaye Rosen was a pioneering figure in the fight for women to be allowed into surf lifesaving and after becoming one of the first female lifesavers at North Bondi – in the early eighties – she has gone on to play a significant role in the club.

As Ms Rosen prepares to volunteer at another of the club’s ocean swim events, a role she’s had for more than 20 years, she looks back on her journey as a female lifesaving trailblazer.

“I was born 100m from Bondi Beach so I spent much of my time at the beach growing up,” said Ms Rosen.

“I actually held all my Royal Life Saving qualifications, prior to 1980, but women were banned from being surf lifesavers at that time, so I couldn’t join.

“I was one of several people who agitated for women to be allowed to be surf lifesavers and the ban was finally lifted in 1980 with North Bondi Surf Lifesaving Club being one of the first clubs to allow women to become lifesavers.

“So, on December 18, 1980, I along with Jenny Anderson, were the first senior woman to achieve surf lifesaving bronze medallions at North Bondi.”

Ms Rosen (R) and Jenny Anderson (L) were North Bondi’s first two female lifesavers

In the early years, Ms Rosen battled sexism within the ranks but she is pleased to see how far the world of surf lifesaving has come over the years.

“In the 1980s surf clubs had a ‘very blokey’ culture and there were plenty of males resenting the arrival of females within the club,” said Ms Rosen.

“I was very fortunate that I had a very welcoming Patrol Captain and he made me feel very welcome on patrol as a female.

“It’s a big contrast to today, where most patrols have equal numbers of males and females and over the years we have seen females hold several senior management positions within the club, which is a great progression.

“I can actually still recall my first patrol – It was a bleak Boxing Bay and a tourist suffered a major cardiac arrest. Despite my patrol’s best efforts, all attempts to revive him were unfortunately unsuccessful. It was a very dramatic start to my first patrol but my Patrol Captain was very supportive.”

Not only has the North Bondi Surf Lifesaving Club been a leader in welcoming women into the ranks but also a leader in innovation and inclusion for community ocean swimming events.

The club believes it was the first ocean swim to introduce the ‘back of the pack’ wave which allows swimmers to use flippers, wetsuits and other swim aids during the swim.

More than 20 years ago, Ms Rosen was asked to help refine the process of registration at one of North Bondi’s ocean swim events. And, to this day, Ms Rosen still takes the lead on this role and will be right in the thick of it this Sunday at the first of the club’s summer swims, the Clearview Buckler To Bergs Ocean Swim.

“I was also asked to lead a team of volunteers to help register the large number of competitors in a relatively short period of time we had before the start of the swim,” said Ms Rosen.

“I still lead registration but the increased use of technology has really sped up the process and has made it a little easier.

Not only does Ms Rosen continue to volunteer at North Bondi’s ocean swim events but she also volunteers with the Sail GP Inspire program. As seen above (L).

Whilst the current registration process is something we take for granted these days with online registrations and timing chips, Ms Rosen still enjoys the human element.

“Face-to-face interaction with the participants is still required for them to get their caps and timing tags and that part is still a lot of fun.

“It’s nice to see some of the original volunteers still stepping up each swim and helping with the registration process. We always try to make it as welcoming, fast and smooth as possible for everyone.

“And if it wasn’t for all those volunteers and talented members, our ocean swims wouldn’t be as successful as they are, and that’s a good thing.”

Join Ms Rosen at the registration desk before the Buckler to Bergs Ocean Swim, this Sunday, 11 December 2022. Late entries from 12 pm Saturday.

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  • Written by Ocean Swims on 6 December 2022
  • (Updated on 3 August 2023)

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