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A Special Tribute to the Wilkes Family

The Wilkes Family has been involved with the Alexandra Headland SLSC since it was formed at a public meeting held in Woombye on 24 July 1924. The 32 Foundation Members included Benjamin Wilkes the first member of the Wilkes Family to become a member of the Club.

 

Since that time his Daughters Patricia (Patsy) and Francie (Kid) along with Sons Fred, Jack, Ray, Joe and Steve joined the Club. The two Daughters gained their Bronze Medallion with the Royal Life Saving Society as did Fred and Jack. The women were not allowed to be active members of the Club after 1930 due to Surf Life Saving policy at the time.  The policy did not officially change until 1980. 

Three of the Sons served in the Australian Defence Force during WWII. Fred was not allowed to enlist due to his occupation as a farmer even though he tried on several occasions.


Joe and Ray fought in the Battle of Milne Bay which was the first defeat for the Japanese land Army. Steve was in the Engineers in the war zones. Jack ended up serving on a US warship and was in the second wave of the invasion and liberation of the Philippines.


During the war Joe and Ray won a number of ocean relay races against teams from the USA. Steve once competed in a race around the warships in Port Moresby Harbour. He came second but was not too upset as the winner was a United States Olympian.

 

The five Sons leave 15 Grandchildren and many Great Grandchildren. Several of the Grand Children have been involved with “Nippers” at Alex and other Clubs. Grandson of Steve, Dan McIntyre, gained his Bronze Medallion in 1998 at Alex and went on to become a Patrol Captain.  Essentially the Wilkes Family has been involved in the Club for over 80 years.

 

Recently the Alexandra Headland SLSC paid a special tribute to the exceptional contribution this family has made to the Alex Club and surf lifesaving generally since 1924.

 

Patricia and Francie

 

Patsy and Kid did their still water bronze and the surf component with Royal Lifesaving after the Club was formed, as the Club did not become affiliated with surf lifesaving formally until 1930.  They were actively involved in R&R teams that competed against other Clubs and carried out patrols on Alex beach. SLSQ was formed in 1930 and decided female members were not allowed to be active surf lifesavers.  Despite this discrimination they continued their involvement after this period along with their Mother and helped with cooking and sewing for the Woombye street carnival which was the Club’s main source of income at the time.

 

Benjamin B F (Fred) Wilkes
Awarded Life Member number 8, 1954
Bronze awarded 1928 (second recorded by the Club)

 

Fred Wilkes was awarded Life Membership of the Club in 1954 for his sustained and conspicuous service. He was awarded Life Membership of the Sunshine Coast Branch in 1977.  

He was also one of a few Club members to receive SLSA Life Membership and was also a Life Member of SLSQ.  Fred was Chief Instructor of the Club from 1954 to 1976 and was one of the most outstanding R&R coaches the Club has had in its entire history instructing three successful Australian Championship R&R teams in 1960-61 1961-62 and 1964-65. He was also Clubhouse Director for many years and held many other positions in the Club.

Fred was also involved with the planting of the Norfolk Pine trees in the 1930’s some of which are still around the Clubhouse today.

 

Stephen S Wilkes
Awarded LM number 11, 1959
Awarded BM 1940

 

Steve Wilkes was Club Captain from 1949 to 1953.  He gained his Bronze Medallion in 1940 and became one of the most outstanding competitors in the history of the Club.  He was the first Queenslander to win more than one Gold Medal at an Australian Surf Life Saving Championship and went on to become one of the most outstanding surf swimmers in the history of surf lifesaving in Australia.  

 

Steve won 10 medals over a five-year period in the Australian Championships and was named the Queensland Sportsman of the Year in the 1950’s.  He won six consecutive State Belt Titles and six Surf Race titles in seven years. He held every Queensland still-water record from 200 metres to 1500 metres concurrently. He was also a member, along with Brother Ray of the 1950-51 R&R team that won Bronze at the Australian Championships.

 

The Club won 9 gold medals in the Queensland Championships Surf Race from 1950 to 1959. Steve won 6 and Hayden Kenny the other 3.  SLSQ struck the Steve Wilkes State Championships Trophy to acknowledge his outstanding surf sports achievements.  He was awarded Life Membership of the Club in 1959 for his services and was also made Life Governor for his outstanding contribution.  He was inducted into the SLSA Hall of Fame in 2007.

 

Raymond F Wilkes
Awarded LM number 11, 1961
Awarded BM1936

 

Ray Wilkes gained his Bronze Medallion with the Club in 1936 and went on to be awarded Life Membership in 1961. He was a member of the successful R&R team that won bronze at the 1950-51 Australian Championships.

 

He was also a very successful still water swimmer holding Queensland records for several distances.  Ray used to train in Paynters Creek, sometimes towing a bucket behind him.

 

John (Jack) O Wilkes
Awarded LM number 38, 2002
Awarded Bronze 1934 (third bronze recorded by the Club)

 

Jack Wilkes joined the Club in 1929 and went on to gain his Bronze Medallion in 1934. Jack was an active member up until the Second World War, following which time he joined the Australian Navy and was drafted into the United States Navy.  

 

He was also very actively involved in the Club as a competitor in the 1930’s.

 

Jack’s service to the Club resumed after 1949 and he was a great supporter of the Club.  He was awarded Life Membership of the Club in 2002 for his conspicuous service over almost 70 years. 

 

Joe Wilkes
Awarded Bronze Medallion 1937

 

Joe joined the Club in 1936 and went on to become an active member. He was also actively involved in competition for many years especially during the 1930’s. He served in the Army during WWII and was bayoneted during the war and recognized for his bravery.  He came back to the Club after the war and remained actively involved until 1955. 

 

Joe was a fitness fanatic and for exercise he would ride his pushbike from Woombye to the Club on weekends. He married the grand-daughter of the Club’s first and longest serving President, E E McNall.

 

Footnote

 

As the Alex Club approaches its centenary in 2024 it will reflect with pride on the wonderful contribution made by the Wilkes Family and for their outstanding individual achievements over eight decades and several generations.

 

A family originating from Woombye, with which the Club has so much history, helped shape the beginning of this great Club, which is today such a successful and essential service to the Australian community and our members.

 

Imagine the difficulty in those early years for members like the Wilkes Family, travelling from Woombye on almost non-existent roads and camping under the trees before a Clubhouse was built.  Difficult for us to imagine now, but this showed the determination of all our founding members. The first Club shed was built by the Woombye members at a total cost of 10 pounds and no doubt the Wilkes Family was involved with that too.

 

Although a very conservative family never seeking recognition, we are sure that Father Benjamin Wilkes and his two Daughters and Five Sons would be very proud of this tribute, a tribute to them and a legacy to be proud of for their descendants and the Alex Club.

 

In 1924 the Club was established with 32 Foundation Members and today the Active Club has almost 2000 members including Nippers and several thousand members in the Supporters Club. 
 

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