Tragedy at Aussies - R.I.P Matthew Barclay
As President & Surf Sports Manager of Bulli Surf Life Saving Club each year I give a summary of the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships and how our athletes go in their events. Only 2 years ago Saxon Bird from Queenscliff SLSC lost his life whilst competing in the Kurrawa surf, a tragedy that affected everybody concerned, including some of our members who were very close to Saxon. Now it seems quite sombre to experience another drowning at a major surf sports event. As most would already know young Matthew Barclay from Maroochydore SLSC lost his life whilst competing in an U15 male board event.
A majority of our members were on the beach on the Wednesday when the alarm was raised that an U15 competitor was missing. We had U15 male & female competitors in the area when the incident occurred & the search took place. Hundreds searched for the rest of the day without result. Our management team made sure that everybody was trying to cope with the sad news of Matthew Barclay, firstly missing and then located when his body was pulled from the water the following morning. He had suffered major trauma to his head, most likely hit by his own board, or that of another competitor. Tears were shed on the sand by young competitors, mums, dads, officials and emergency personnel over the days of the championships.
The greater lifesaving family helped each other through this sad ordeal, with professional counselling offered by SLSA over the course of the championships which after much discussion re-commenced at North Kirra on the Friday. To our members please let it be known that counselling is still available from our State Centre Surf Life Saving New South Wales. This has been a very stressful time for all concerned, please look out for your friends & fellow club members for signs of post traumatic stress and don’t hesitate to contact myself or my wife Maria if you need help and we can point you in the right direction. We need to ensure our surf lifesaving family assists each other at this difficult time.
A lot has been said about the incident & I am sure most would have read newspapers or listened to television stories about surf life saving in general. Some of the information reported has personally disgusted me concerning the continued bagging of a great organization. Surf Life Saving is the Australian way of life, getting our kids to grow up wanting to do patrols and maybe race in surf sports events, it’s about mate-ship that lasts a life time. It's a tragedy and surf lifesavers are grieving as one alongside the family of young Matthew. There is no denying the surf movement has battled in dealing with the aftermath of Saxon's death - its previously untarnished reputation has taken a battering. I personally would like to see the championships moved away from Kurrawa Beach, but that is my thoughts as an individual. I also spoke with members of the Organising Committee & Competition Committee including Surf Sports General Manager (Dave Thompson) & Surf Life Saving President (Graham Ford) plus Surf Life Saving’s Legal Counsel about issues leading up to the incident. The decision was made by the Competition Committee to keep the carnival running, a decision not made lightly and made by people with hundreds of years experience in the movement. I personally made sure it was known to each of our area managers & competitors that if they wished not to compete on any given day due to the surf conditions, it was not a problem, the club would stand by their decision.
We say it each year, “what is Kurrawa going to throw at us?” But teams travel there with members from U15 (including U13-U14’s with awards) through to Masters keen to challenge themselves in the testing conditions, including parents as coaches, managers & even as masters athletes.
Conditions were rough, especially on the low tide, with the competition committee meeting every hour to discuss what events could go ahead. Big sets of waves were rolling through every few minutes, some breaking hundreds of metres out. But that's normal at a big, open beach like Kurrawa, where 15 of the past 19 national titles have been held. Conditions were variable across the many competition areas stretching almost a kilometre along the beach, depending on the position of sandbanks and wave zones. Surf boat races had been suspended a few hundred metres up the beach after a spate of injuries amid the dumping waves and heavy, cumbersome boats. Similarly, the two-person women's double ski event had been postponed due to the size of the craft and the tidal conditions. But for smaller, individual craft like skis and boards, it was business as usual. Surf conditions on Tuesday were not as big or as bad as those terrible, cyclone-driven days. Challenging, yes, but many on the beach saw it as nothing more than another testing day at the "Aussies", the sport's highest arena of competition.
Just to let people know that after Saxon Bird’s death in 2010 & subsequent Coroners Inquiry, what cannot be questioned is that there was a very definite response to the recommendations following his death in 2010. Apart from inflatable life vests, of which 16 versions are being considered and tested, every recommendation made by the coroner had been implemented. 3 tragedies have occurred in an ocean environment (all at Kurrawa....Robert Gatenby 1996 - boat, Saxon Bird 2010 - ski & Matthew Barclay 2012 - board) that can be as unforgiving as it is awe-inspiring. Sadly, none of that good work will bring back Matthew, Saxon or Robert. It's perhaps worth remembering that the very reason lifesavers exist is to protect swimmers from the extreme dangers of the surf and as it has been mentioned sometimes, tragically, the surf is too strong for even lifesavers.
The actions of Matthew's parents (Stephen & Donna) in encouraging his Maroochydore club mates to stay and compete in the 14-year-old's honour at the remainder of the national titles is a moving tribute to their young son. Some competed...some didn’t. For most of us it would be hard to understand the incredible loss and grief suffered by all those close to Matthew. The strength of Matthew’s family especially his mother & father had to be seen to be believed. They were on the beach at North Kirra on the Friday dealing with their grief in their own way, many a tears flowed when the U15 Maroochydore girls won gold in 2 team events. Some of our members attended the Memorial Service at Kurrawa Beach on the Sunday morning prior to competition starting with Matthew’s dad (Steve) speaking to everybody that attended the service ......how hard it was.....a very important part of the grieving process!
I hope that we don’t lose any of our current or future members from our great movement, volunteers who keep our beach safe, but I can understand if it does happen. We do this because we love teaching our younger members how to handle the surf. As everybody knows volunteers are already stretched protecting our beaches, catering to the expectation of Australians that the red-and-yellow flags are there and we will look out for everybody whilst at the beach.
So in closing I will send through another email after the Easter Break with our club results.
I am sure everybody would join with me & offer our condolences, thoughts & prayers to the Barclay family. Matthew was laid to rest last Thursday in a very moving ceremony on the Sunshine Coast.
Life can be short, make sure you enjoy life to the fullest!
Rest in Peace Matthew Barclay....a champion young kid gone too early in life!
Yours In Surfing