END OF AN ERA: Jackie Taffs from Wooli Marine Rescue has been operating the standby radio with her husband Richard for the past 10 years.
END OF AN ERA: Jackie Taffs from Wooli Marine Rescue has been operating the standby radio with her husband Richard for the past 10 years. Caitlan Charles

Taffs no longer Wooli's voice in the night

DEDICATED is one word you could use to describe Jackie and Richard Taffs.

The Wooli Marine Rescue members have manned the 24-hour standby radio for the past 10 years, and soon their home will be static-free. Sitting in their lounge room, the couple have three radios running around the clock and tuned into frequencies used by local vessels.

Now, the standby radio will be monitored from Iluka/Yamba and Sydney when Marine Rescue Wooli are off duty as part of the new monitoring system, which will be built on Clarence Peak.

"It will take the responsibility for one of us to be here all the time," Jackie said. "If Richard goes off for a bike ride, I've got to be close to the radios; if I walk down the street to see a friend, he's got to stay close to the radios."

The Taffs have looked after the area north of Woolgoolga that was not serviced by Marine Rescue units further along the coast.

The couple will continue to man the three mobile phones attached to the Wooli Marine Rescue, which they say is because local knowledge is unparalleled.

"We've argued our case that Sydney (Marine Rescue) have no local knowledge of what Wooli is like," Richard said. Often people ring up and ask about the conditions in Wooli, which according to the Taffs, Sydney Marine Rescue wouldn't be able to answer.

This new monitoring system comes after Marine Rescue NSW received a government grant, of which $200,000 will go towards the new Clarence Peak system.

Now, if there is a vessel in distress, the call will go to Sydney, and Wooli Marine Rescue will then be deployed.

Jackie said this new coverage would make boating safer in the area and she hopes that more vessels will log on because they know there is 24-hour monitoring.

With the new system set to be operational before Christmas, the Taffs may be spending their first Christmas radio-free, but they feel like they are losing a part of their identity.

"Our Wooli Marine Rescue Unit operates with a big commitment to community... and it's become a personal commitment we've made over the 10 years," Richard said. "There is a grieving process, because it's part of our identity, it's part of our purpose in life, it's what we do. It is going to mean a loss of that identity."

Listening to radios in the late and early hours of the day, Richard and Jackie have responded to many calls, some horrible and others humorous.

Jackie said they often hear the cargo ships passing in the night, and sometimes, it can be very funny.

"As they come towards each other, they radio each other as to which side they will pass, it's really interesting because most of the radio operators are Asian, but they don't necessarily speak the same dialect, so they try to use English" she said.

"We had two coming together one night. The efficient vessel said 'we will pass port to port', and the other sleepy voice said 'ok, port to starboard' and the other voice started yelling 'NO, NO, NO, NO, PORT TO PORT'."

Jackie added they'd responded to two major mayday calls in their time, including one where a man died after going overboard at North Solitary Island.



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