In 1902, after a campaign by the Editor of the North Sydney and Manly News, bathing was allowed in daylight hours at Manly Beach.

A year later, the Manly Surf and Lifesaving Club was formed by fishermen from Shelley Beach and Fairy Bower who modified 35-foot boats to rescue distressed swimmers.

In 1911, a schism, and the club split into the Manly Lifesaving Club and Manly Surf Club. Both exist today.

And in 2022 – indeed last Sunday, 24 July – Manly LSC announced that they had elected a woman as President for the first time in the club’s 111 years.

Victoria Sweetman O’Halloran is that woman. She told the Beaches Champion that she is equal parts, “privileged, excited, delighted and slightly terrified”.

“I have big shoes [of outgoing President Chris Bell] to fill and there’s a lot ahead for the club, particularly as we navigate the redevelopment that we’re hoping for.

“We’re also trying to rebuild our membership base and move ahead post Covid-19. It’s been a tough couple of years for the club and there’s quite a lot to do to restore Manly to where we want to be,” Sweetman O’Halloran said.

Making waves: Manly LSC’s new President, Victoria O’Halloran Sweetman. Pic: Urban Ripples.

Asked why it had taken so long for a woman to preside over the South Steyne institution – even to be nominated – Sweetman O’Halloran said: “There are lots of reasons”.

“Women have only been involved in Surf Lifesaving for forty years. So for 70 of those [111] years we weren’t even at the table.

“And yes, it’s taken time. There’s no stepping away from it – I think it should have most definitely happened sooner.

“But Manly is an organisation where credibility is very important. And longevity as well.

“And so I think that’s a part of why it’s taken a bit longer for women to come through,” she said.

The Manly LSC female Rescue Resuscitation team in 1911. Pic: NSW State Library.

Sweetman O’Halloran, who was elected unopposed, appears to tick several boxes. Indeed it’s hard to imagine anyone more qualified to preside over the iconic Manly club.

She’s a third-generation surf lifesaver who did her Bronze medallion in 1988. Her daughter, Zara, makes a fourth generation with surf lifesaving skills.

She’s a patrol captain. She’s a surf lifesaving Trainer and Assessor. She’s competed for the club in the past and today competes with the Manly Masters.

She’s been the Club’s honorary secretary for the past three years.

She’s been a member of Manly LSC for 20 years and was awarded the Surf Life Saving Australia 30 Year Long Service Award last November.

Away from the club she’s a corporate lawyer with executive-level management experience.

In May of 2021, Manly LSC celebrated 40 years of participation by women. A year later they had a female President. Pic: Facebook.

Sweetman O’Halloran said that she loves getting down to the club in the mornings and having a swim before work, though joked with the inclement weather her “gills have closed up”.

O’Halloran Sweetnam said that she loves getting down to the club in the mornings and having a swim before work, though joked with the inclement weather her “gills have closed up”.

In the evenings she likes to train new people who want to join Manly as lifesavers. She said everyone is welcome at the club. She has plans to retain teenagers.

And she has big plans from a clean slate. Priority one: the clubhouse.

“Securing state government funding for the redevelopment of the club is a real priority,” Sweetman O’Halloran said.

“The Northern Beaches Council have been excellent in supporting us in terms of trying to get this project off the ground.

“It’s going to be a real focus in terms of developing a club that reflects our status in the community and the needs of our volunteer members.

“The poor place, if you’ve been in there lately, it’s just falling apart. It’s pretty decrepit, the women’s change rooms particularly. It needs more than love and attention – it needs a complete real rebuild.

“And that’s what we’re hoping to achieve.”

It won’t take 111 years, we’re thinking.

Memberships are open ahead of Manly’s 22/23 season. Pic: Manly LSC.