Trouble in the surf by Stephanie Owen Reeder

cover image

Illus. by Briony Stewart. NLA Publishing, 2019. ISBN: 9780642279460.
(Age:5+) Highly recommended. Themes: Bondi, Sydney, Australian history, Nineteenth century, Beach wear, Swimming, Surf lifesaving, Aviation history. When cousins, Charlie Smith and Rupert Swallow go to the beach on a hot summer's day in 1907 to dive into the surf, they swim out beyond the breakers and cannot get back. Bondi has always been known for its deadly rip and although the boys know about it, when they decide to swim back to shore, the rip tires them and they find that they cannot swim against it any more. Rupert encourages Charlie to keep going, but all Charlie wants to do is rest, and float down into the sea. Rupert waves to the shore, and is spotted by Sadie who alerts some surfers on the beach. They take a line out to the boys and pull them back in, a crowd on the beach watching with fear in their eyes. Sadie Sweeney pushes forward telling people she is a nurse and uses the latest resuscitation techniques on the seemingly lifeless Charlie, bringing him around.
The fear and excitement of a near tragedy on the beach is heightened when statistics tell us that nearly 250 people are drowned every year in Australia, and Charlie is Charles Kingsford Smith, going on to fame as an aviator, the first to fly from America to Australia in 1928. His plane 'The Southern Cross' is a permanent exhibition at Brisbane Airport.
This engrossing picture book retells a part of our history which resonates today with the formation of the Bondi Surf Life Saving Club occurring within weeks of Charlie's rescue, followed by many other volunteer clubs in and around Australia. The importance of these volunteer groups cannot be underestimated, rescuing hundreds of thousands of swimmers. Surf Life Saving Australia has over 200,000 members and is the largest volunteer organisation in the world.
Beautifully illustrated, Stewart has used archival photographs to render her images accurately, and the clothing, particularly the swimming costumes will delight younger readers. I loved looking more closely at the women's clothes, all decked out for a day on the beach, few venturing into the water, some perhaps getting their feet wet. What a contrast to today's beaches.
Readers will be encouraged to think about and discuss their own safety in the water.
At the end of the story, information is given about Charlie Smith, Sadie Sweeney and Surf Life Saving in Australia. A small glossary will help those new to the terminology used and references are given to places where more information can be found.
Fran Knight