Protecting our beaches: Surf Life Saving and the legacy of Muriel Brown

Friday, August 15, 2014
Photo by Dave Young, 2010

As New Zealanders, we’re lucky to live in a country with so many beaches. But we also need to be aware of how dangerous our waters can be. Surf Life Saving New Zealand watches over our busiest beaches every summer to keep us safe in the sea - their red and yellow flags are a familiar and comforting sight.

Surf Life Saving started in Australia in 1906, and the first New Zealand clubs were established in 1910. Competitions between clubs brought public attention to the members’ skills and strength, and by the 1930s surf life saving was recognised and celebrated as heroic and necessary. The number of clubs and life savers increased and today there are 73 clubs with around 15,000 members.

The Maritime Museum’s surf life saving collection includes photographs and memorabilia belonging to Muriel Brown, the first woman to become a life member of the New Zealand Surf Life Saving Association.

Milford Surf Life Saving Club was the first club established in the Auckland District in 1925, and the Milford Girls’ SLSC was formed in 1932, with Muriel Brown as captain. The 1935/36 Auckland annual report records nine active members in the Milford Girls’ club in 1935. They made one rescue and gave first aid seven times that year. 

Muriel Brown joined the surf life saving movement in 1932. She competed in events each year and even though the club only had a small membership, the team won several trophies and awards in the 1930s. After World War II Muriel served as an instructor and secretary of the Milford club. She also represented the Milford Ladies Surf Live Saving Club in the Auckland Association. 

When the Milford Girls’ Club closed in 1961, Muriel joined the Orewa Club and was elected to the role of President.

The Auckland Association awarded Muriel for her work on several occasions. In 1971 she was the first woman to be made a life member of the New Zealand Surf Life Saving Association. She became a Governor of World Life Saving and in 1992 was awarded an MBE for services to life saving. Muriel died in 1996 at the age of 82. 

Muriel Brown leading the Milford Girls’ Club in a  public display at Waihi Beach in 1937