One of Australia’s oldest surf clubs is rediscovered, along with lifesaver Sgt Bert Tuck, Gallipoli hero
An essay by Bob Wurth:
A research exercise spanning more than fifty years has established the existence of one of Australia’s oldest previously unrecognised original surf clubs in 1907, making the club, South Maroubra, one of the oldest surf clubs in Australia along with Manly, Bondi, Bronte, Coogee, Maroubra and others. The research also discovered that one of the original members in 1907, Bert Tuck, a coimmitteeman and competitor, was killed at Gallipoli on 26 April, 1915.
The current thriving South Maroubra Surf Club, with one of the most modern clubhouses, was thought to have been established in 1959, but in 1963 as the club’s then junior captain I found limited evidence of an earlier South Maroubra surf club dating back to the early 1900s.
In 2014 I decided to resume research on the earlier South Maroubra surf club and discovered the minutes of the club’s meetings in 1907-1908 in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, which places the club’s much earlier existence beyond doubt. The evidence is in the E.S. Marks Sporting Collection archives.
Back in 1963 as the club’s the management committee at the time said there was insufficient evidence, with one official in 1963 saying of the early founders: ‘They were probably just a bunch of drunks’. I knew he was wrong. But it has taken me over fifty years to discover the proof beyond doubt.
The minutes of 1907 and 1908 and other reports of the era reveal that South Maroubra’s founders indeed were among the cream of Sydney society from medicine, business and sport, including gynaecologist Dr Cedric Bowker; his brother honorary surgeon at Sydney Hospital for over thirty years, Dr Robert Steer Bowker; senior surgeon and obstetrician Dr (later Professor) Jack Windeyer, head and neck specialist, Dr Herbert Maitland, later Sir, and many others.
“One of the key movers and shakers was club minute-taker, the woolbuyer and amateur sports administrator, E.S. Marks, a one-time Lord Mayor of Sydney, after whom Sydney’s E.S. Marks Field is named.
The research showed that this group of surfers and fishermen gathered at what they called the Pioneer camp at the southern end of Maroubra beach and after taking part in some hazardous rescues, they purchased a lifeline and reel and formed themselves into a lifeline brigade which in late 1907 was renamed South Maroubra Surf Club, making it one of the oldest surf clubs in Australia, along with clubs like Bondi, Coogee and Maroubra.
To be fair, the Maroubra Surf Club was established just months prior to South Maroubra.
The founders of South Maroubra Surf Club in 1907
These are some of the founding members of South Maroubra Surf Club, circa 1906-1907. They include some distinguished citizens of Sydney. Increasing rescues at the southern end of Maroubra beach led them to establish the South Maroubra club in late 1907, making South Maroubra Surf Club one of Australia’s oldest surf clubs, along with Manly, Bondi, Coogee and Maroubra. Their initial interests were surf bathing and fishing. They established the ‘Pioneer camp’ of huts and tents in the warmer months as a base. It became known as the ‘Doctors’ camp’, because of the number of medical men who were members.
Gynaecologist Dr Cedric Bowker, a key instigator in establishing South Maroubra Surf Club, and its president in 1908, is pictured middle back row. The fellow standing far left is thought to be Dr, later Sir, Herbert Maitland. Dr, later Professor, Jack Windeyer, is standing alongside him, second from left. The young man standing second from right back row is thought to be Harold Baker, South Maroubra Surf Club captain in 1908 and, later, Maroubra Surf Club captain when the two clubs were pressured to amalgamate.
Legendary Harold Baker, began as a South Maroubra lifesaver
Harold Baker was seventeen in 1907 and already a keen, strong surfer. The fellow sitting on the far right in the group photo with a hat is Ernest Samuel Marks, champion athlete, amateur sports administrator and later Lord Mayor of Sydney. Alongside Marks appears to be surgeon Dr Robert Steer Bowker, brother of Cedric, who chaired a beach meeting of 80 to raise money to purchase a life line. Alongside him in the dark Rugby jumper is thought to be the Rugby referee, Norman Martin, first captain of South Maroubra Life Line Brigade, which soon became South Maroubra Surf Club.
Photo: South Maroubra founder members, courtesy Ms Deirdre Goninon, Wharparilla, Victoria.
Photos: Above, Harold Baker as Rugby player later in life. Above right, Surf Club minutes of 1 December 1907. Perhaps one of the most intresting discoveries in the research was that the legendary surf lifesaver who performed hundreds of rescues, Harold Baker (pictured), long immortalised as a member of Maroubra Surf Club, indeed began his lifesaving career in South Maroubra Surf Club. In the first annual report of the South Maroubra club, Harold Baker was listed as captain of South Maroubra Surf Club.
In the previous year Harold Baker’s younger brother Ernest had been elected as South Maroubra’s vice-captain. South Maroubra and Maroubra surf clubs were forced to amalgamate in 1908 as the newly formed Surf Bathers’ Association initially would allow only one surf club at each beach.
Minutes of South Maroubra Surf Club 15 Fewbruary 1908. E.S. Marks sporting collection, Mitchell library, Sydney.
Bert Tuck, South Maroubra lifesaver, killed at Gallipoli
The research also discovered that a founding member of the South Maroubra club, Sergeant Albert Victor Tuck, of the 4th battalion AIF, better known as Bert, a club competitor and a committeeman, was killed at Gallipoli on April 26, 1915, the day after the first landing. Albert Victor Tuck, of Darlinghurst, had been nominated as a South Maroubra competitor in the Bondi surf gymkhana at Tamarama’s Wonderland City in February 1908 and had been a committee member.
Sergeant Bert Tuck and his two lance corporals were mentioned in despatches for ‘conspicuous gallantry and valuable service’ while ‘leading and instructing their men in the attack and the construction of trenches under fire’. Subsequent newspaper reports said Tuck was shot during a bayonet charge on a Turkish position.
His cousin, Private Percy Tuck, also of the 4th Battalion, aged 24, of Avoca, buried Bert on a steep cliff-face and erected a cross over it, which included the inscription ‘Erected by his loving cousin.’ Private Percy Tuck was shot and killed just five days later. Bert’s brother, Sergeant Frederick Grant Tuck, 45, of Hobart, was killed in action in France on 31 January 1917.
Bob Wurth’s research has been reproduced in a 56-page illustrated booklet ‘Origins of a surf club’ about the early South Maroubra days.
Photos: Sgt Bert Tuck's first cliff-side grave at Gallipoli 1915.
Albert Victor Tuck, better known as Bert, was a competitor and a committeeman with the South Maroubra club in 1908 who was killed in the Dardanelles campaign. In February of 1908, Bert Tuck attended inaugural meetings of the club at the Pioneer campsite at South Maroubra and soon after at the NSW Sports Club in Hunter Street. He was selected, along with friends Dr Cedric Bowker, Frank Underwood and Norman Martin among others, to represent the club at a Bondi surf gymkhana, or carnival, at Wonderland City, Tamarama beach, in April 1908.
Bert Tuck was born in Sydney in 1882 and was educated at Darlinghurst Public School in the suburb where he lived with his parents Thomas and Emma Tuck. They later moved to Randwick. Bert became a printer at the Government Printing Office. Bert had a dark complexion, blue eyes and black hair. He was single. He enlisted at Kensington on 17 August 1914. Charles Bean wrote in Australia’s official war history, Volume 1, The Story of Anzac: “When on the night of the 4th of August 1914 Britain declared was on Germany, the whole of the Australian people was behind its government in offering unreserved help.”
Bert Tuck was one of the first volunteers, stationed with his regiment at Randwick. He had been a member of the part-time Sydney Scottish Rifles since 1899 as a sergeant. One of his duties was with the Scottish Rifles was as a ‘coastal guard’. Newspapers of the day show that the Scottish Rifles regiment was involved in manoeuvres around Long Bay, overlooking Maroubra, in April 1908. Soon after enlistment in August 1914, Tuck’s rank of sergeant was transferred from the Scottish Rifles to the 25th Regiment and then to D company, 4th Battalion, AIF. After being farewelled at his camp by his father and brothers, Sergeant Tuck embarked on the transport Euripides for the Gulf of Suez on 20 October 1914.
Photo: Sgt Bert Tuck on the eve of his departure in October 1914 for Gallipoli in a Sydney camp with his father Thomas (centre back) and his brothers (L-R) Fred, Frank, and Harry. . Fred (top left) and Bert were both killed in the war.
The 4th battalion took part in the Anzac landing on 25 April 1915 as part of the second and third waves. Albert Victor Tuck and his two lance corporals were mentioned in despatches for ‘conspicuous gallantry and valuable service’ while ‘leading and instructing their men in the attack and the construction of trenches under fire’.
Subsequent newspaper reports said Tuck was shot during a bayonet charge on a Turkish position. His cousin, Private Percy Tuck, also of the 4th Battalion, aged 24, of Avoca, buried Bert on a steep cliff-face and erected a cross over it, which included the inscription ‘Erected by his loving cousin.’ Private Percy Tuck was shot and killed just five days later.
Bert’s brother, Sergeant Frederick Grant Tuck, 45, of Hobart, was killed in action in France on 31 January 1917. According to family and newspaper reports, the small cross erected over Bert’s grave was found floating in the sea off Suvla five months after the ANZAC evacuation of Gallipoli. It was rescued by a ship’s master and returned to Australia, but now is lost. Bert is buried on Gallipoli Peninsula (below right).
Thanks to Australian War Memorial; State Library of NSW; Kim Phillips, editor, The Spirits of Gallipoli Project; Chris Rush and members of the Tuck family who have assisted.
[Contact Bob Wurth via this website. ]
Dr Cedric Bowker, president 1908.
Sir Herbert Maitland.
Dr Robert Bowker.
Professor John Windeyer.
Ernest Samual Marks.
South Maroubra clubhouse built in 1959.
South Maroubra clubhouse 2014.
Clubhouse from the southern end.
Wild surf at South Maroubra 2014.