Protector of Woolgoolga beach



PETER NEWMAN is an iconic figure with surf life saving and in particular with the North Coast branch and the Woolgoolga surf club.

Peter was one of the founding members of the Woolgoolga club in the early 1930s, a member of the club's first bronze squad, held many club executive positions, was a competitor, a long-time North Coast branch and competition official and for years a branch delegate to the NSW State Centre of Surf Life Saving NSW.

He also served several years as a member of the Australian Armed Forces during World War Two.

For his service to surf life saving Peter has been honoured, in turn, with life membership of the Woolgoolga club, the North Coast branch, Surf Life Saving NSW and Surf Life Saving Australia.

Peter was a proud recipient of the NSW life membership badge from then state president Tom Meagher during the 1960 NSW surf life saving championships at the Kempsey-Crescent Head beach, and in 1966, the Australian life membership award at the national titles at North Wollongong.

Now approaching his 93rd birthday Peter is the longest serving of any of the Australian life members.

Despite advancing years and the loss of some movement due to a stroke a few years back, Peter rarely misses a surf carnival at Woolgoolga, most recently attending each of the three days of the NSW Country Championships at the beach in mid-January.

He looks remarkably well, particularly when he flashes that well-known Newman smile and his memory is certainly not impaired.

He has always been called Peter and few would know him by any other name but he was baptised John Newman by his parents Charles (Charlie) and Margaret (nee Sidman) Newman, banana plantation owners at Uralba.

In the same vein Peter's mother Margaret was generally called Nellie, a name she preferred.

Peter was born in June 1913 and had one older brother at the time, Gilbert.

The family later grew with two more brothers, Harold and Robert (Bob) and finally a sister Honor, Mrs Honor Miller, like Peter, living at Woolgoolga.

Peter's early education was at Rouse Public School and later Alstonville Public. This was followed by three years as a student at Lismore High School.

Peter helped out by working on the plantation and when the disease bunchy top virtually wiped out the industry in the 1920s, his parents bought a dairy farm at Tuckombil between Alstonville and Teven.

It was in 1932 that the family moved to Woolgoolga, purchased land and started a banana plantation in the area adjacent to what has been gazetted as Newman Road.

"Except for some months overseas and four years in the army I have been at Woolgoolga ever since," Peter said.

"The banana plantation was tough work but when we could we would go for a swim in the surf and found time to play football.

"There were two football (rugby league) clubs in Woolgoolga at the time, one simply called Woolgoolga and the other Woolgoolga Undaunted, which is the club I joined.

"I was working on our plantation when Alf Johnson and Con Graham, both members of the Woolgoolga Beach Trust, called in and said they were seeking volunteers to form a surf life saving club.

"My younger brother Bob and I thought it was a great idea and said to count us in."

The club was formed that year at a meeting held under a tree not far from where the present clubhouse stands.

Con Graham, who was one of the workmen on the Woolgoolga Jetty, was elected club president, with Oscar Featherstone secretary-treasurer.

It was not until February 1933 that the club's first bronze squad was fully qualified. Peter remembers clearly the members of that first squad which included himself, along with Lindsay (Snow) Graham, Bert Vardy, Doug Richards, Keith Graham, Norm Woldseths, Arthur Toovey and Stan (Porky) Dahl.

"Snow Graham had been in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and knew about discipline and command and he used the knowledge to train the squad from the surf life saving instruction handbook," Peter said.

"We were examined by North Coast branch officials, WHT Ridings and R P Shanahan, and we all passed for the surf bronze medallion and Snow gained the instructor's certificate at the same time."

Woolgoolga affiliated with the North Coast Branch of Surf Life Saving, becoming the most northerly club.

As Neville Collins points out in his 50th anniversary book on the Woolgoolga club, there had been a surf club at Brooms Head affiliated to the North Coast branch but by 1932 that club was virtually defunct.

Yamba had also been in the North Coast branch but had be- come the southernmost club in the newly formed Far North Coast branch.

The Woolgoolga club needed two delegates to represent it at North Coast branch meetings and Peter and Con Graham were chosen.

"The fact that I was the only club member who had access to a motor vehicle, a Model-T Ford, may have helped in that decision," Peter said smilingly.

Peter and brother Bob were members of the club's first rescue and resuscitation (R and R) team, joining Reg Parberry, Tom and Artie Morrow, and Con Hedward.

R and R was the premier carnival event in those days and most clubs had two teams, A and B, competing

"Every one of that initial Woolgoolga team enlisted in the Australian Armed Forces when World War Two came along and remarkably every one of the six returned safely," Peter said.

Woolgoolga Surf Life Saving Club had its first official clubhouse in 1935 and once more the Newman family played a major part.

The clubhouse, sited on the beach's edge, was built by voluntary labour. The timber came from trees felled on the Newman property and carted by bullock wagon to the local sawmill.

Any expenses were paid for by Charlie Newman and construc- tion was under the supervision of George Newman, who was the local postmaster and a builder by trade. This building served the club until destroyed by fire in 1953.

The new and much larger clubhouse which had been in the wings for some time was officially opened on October 5, 1959 by NSW Surf Life Saving president Tom Meagher.

Between the loss of the first clubhouse and completion of the new building, a cargo shed from the former Woolgoolga Jetty was leased by the surf club .

Before the shed could be used members removed tons of heavy machinery, installed showers and built an ambulance room to make the building suitable.

As well as patrol work and competition Peter served the club in many spheres including three terms as president, 1961 to 1964, one as vice-president, was secretary for two seasons, assistant secretary twice, treasurer twice, vice-captain for one season and chief instructor six times.

He served one term as deputy superintendent of the North Coast branch and then around 20 years as chief superintendent.

From 1936 Peter was a club, branch, state and Australian member of the Board of Examiners for carnivals and bronze medallion testing and a long-time North Coast branch delegate to NSW state centre meetings.

The only months he was missing from the club and branch were in 1937 when he says he had itchy feet and travelled to Canada and England, and then from 1942 to 1946, during his war service with the Australian army.

While in Canada Peter was travelling by coach from Calgary to the resort town of Banff in Alberta and a passenger beside him turned out to be the owner of the Brewster Bus Company of Canada.

When asked in conversation what his sporting interests were Peter said they included tennis, football and surf life saving.

"The man said he had never heard of surf life saving so I explained much of it to him and when we arrived in Banff he saw to it that I had good accommodation at the Banff Springs Hotel, where the manager offered me a job as lifeguard at the resort's dual pool complex, one pool indoor, one outdoors.

"When that summer finished I took boat passage from Montreal to England, where I stayed for six weeks meeting people and visiting the sights, before travelling back to Woolgoolga, arriving home just before Christmas.

"It wasn't long before I was back into surf life saving," Peter said.

Peter served two years of his army time in World War Two in the 2/1 Northern Australian Observation Unit (NAOU) spotting for Japanese aircraft ? aircraft that were making surveillance and bombing raids into the Territory.

Peter was corresponding with a Woolgoolga lass Berril Ford, formerly of Grafton and daughter of Charlie and Janet Ford, and in one letter he asked Berril to marry him. Berril accepted and the two were wed during Peter's next leave, in 1944.

Honeymoon accommodation could not be found so the two spent the two wonderful weeks at Red Rock in a cottage owned by the Ford family.

Returning to base Peter was transferred to the 42nd battalion at Singleton for a while, and then to New Guinea, and was there when the Americans dropped the nuclear bombs on Japan at Hiroshima and Nagasaki ? the war was over.

Peter returned home to Woolgoolga and family, the plantation, the surf club and friends.

Peter and Berril recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. They have two daughters, Beverley (Mrs Tom Moller of Woolgoolga), and Lorraine (Mrs Ben Teh of Sydney) and a son Rex, who lives with wife Linda at Woolgoolga.

Berril and Peter have been heavily involved in community and church affairs at Woolgoolga. They have travelled extensively in Australia.

Berril has been prominent in the Woolgoolga Bowling Club, where her father was the initial greenkeeper.

Peter, a long-term member of the Woolgoolga Masonic Lodge, was always active in many other aspects of Woolgoolga life until his stroke just before his 89th birthday.

He spent some time in hospital but in true Peter Newman spirit he has been hard to keep down.

Despite a right arm and knee which do not function as well as he would like, he is able to get around, either on walking sticks for close targets or by motorised wheelchair for longer forays.

The forays include trips to play cards (Bridge) as a member of the Woolgoolga Bridge Club, to the Woolgoolga RSL Club for meetings and mateship and to the beach to watch carnivals.



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