The Noosa Coast guard boat is retrieved after flipping on the Noosa Bar. Photo contributed
The Noosa Coast guard boat is retrieved after flipping on the Noosa Bar. Photo contributed Contributed

Coast Guard celebrates 44 years of brave deeds

THE words were heartfelt, unalloyed.

"It is this character and professionalism shown by your people that makes me proud to do the job I do and to know I am supported by a fantastic group of volunteers."

The writer was Senior Constable Mark Muddiman, of the Sunshine Coast Water Police, and he was writing about an incident that occurred in October 2013.

A 21-year-old Saudi Arabian, Talal Alanizi, had been swept from the rocks into Alexandria Bay and Coast Guard Noosa set up a task force to try and find the student, whose body was later recovered.

When your core value is volunteering your skills for the good of other people and virtually giving over your every week to make it happen, an appreciation like this is a moment of some personal pride for the flotilla.

And the 44-year history of our local Coast Guard is studded with proud moments, of brave deeds of rescuing the stranded and distressed at sea and on our waterways.

Two of these occurred on the same day, April 7, 2009. The first was probably the most dramatic in local flotilla history, when 36 children were trapped by rising flood waters in Noosa Everglades and the Coast Guard was asked by police to effect an emergency rescue.

Peter Brady and Graham Deece skippered two boats through life-threatening storms to Harry's Hut to rescue the children. Both men were honoured with the National Commodore's Gold Award for bravery.

Later in the day a cutter captained by Patrick Odore was sent to help the crew of the 14m yacht Ausmaid, which had rolled after being battered by a 11m wave off Double Island Point.

Mr Odore was also awarded the Commodore's Gold Award.

First steps in forming the flotilla were taken in 1974. A small group of six boaties and commercial fishermen, led by Ashley Booth, George Williams and Ron Sterling, became concerned by the large number of roll-overs on the Noosa bar crossing.

They decided to do something about it by becoming part of the Coast Guard Sunshine Coast formed seven years earlier.

They worked only at weekends and Winifred Wynn, 80, of Tewantin, recalls how it "became a regular occurrence for the men to be called from the bowling green to go out and rescue someone".

Her late husband, Kevin, joined in 1976. He served for 30 years and among his several decorations for bravery is the Commodore's Gold Award for his leadership in saving the stricken 65ft steel ketch "Catherine Grace" 16 nautical miles north of Noosa on January 13, 1992.

Radio operator Maureen Stapp from Noosa Heads has been a Coast Guarder for 33 years and remembers how by 1985 the number of members was 20.

"We worked from headquarters at the Munna Point building, which was just like it is now," she said.

"Radio operators like me were trained by Jean Salta, a fisherman's wife who from 1974 with her husband, George, had virtually kept the place running single-handed, sometimes running the radios from their home."

Ms Stapp, 73, is still doing shifts twice a week.

She said being a radio operator was "very interesting. There are people always needing help. People are always grateful, especially when you have a dicey rescue."

Today the flotilla is a 124-strong group of 100 men and 24 women and ages range from 20 to 88 led by Commander Andrew Leak, 70, of Doonan.

It costs $200,000 a year to keep the flotilla afloat. Included in that is about $40,000 from the State Government, with the proviso that $10,000 must be used for refurbishing or replacing vessels. The rest of the money is raised by the volunteer members through sponsorships, sausage sizzles and raffle tickets sold at Eumundi Markets.

In June 2015 the flotilla introduced a new method of creating additional funding with its Memorial Wall at Munna Point, to allow people who have scattered their loved ones' ashes at sea or elsewhere to remember them with memorial plaques.

It is 44 years since Coast Guard Noosa put its first boat in the water, launching a tradition of service and excellence that has grown greatly through the years.

The flotilla has shown its capability in the most difficult and dangerous situations as well as an admirable enthusiasm.

Its 45th year is just a ripple in time away and the months and years ahead are awash with opportunity. It is time to build on the tradition.