Since this blog is named "Postcards from Semaphore" and I notice
The Australian is critical of the lack of paid lifesavers at the beach
I should give people some background.
Semaphore Beach is about 2Km long, curving in a large S. The Surf
Lifesaving Club is to the south, the Semaphore Jetty is to the
north. The beach continues on to the south and north in the same
fashion, merely changing name to Tennyson and Largs. The shape of the
beach means that one end of the beach is not visible from the other
Inland there are sand dunes and beyond those are plentiful grassed
areas where people have BBQs, play games and ride bikes. There are
large wonderful playgrounds for the kids, adjacent to kiosks for the
adults. Inland again are huge car parks, with occassional public
conveniences. The boundary of the beach is marked by The
On hot evenings in Adelaide many thousands of people come to
Semaphore Beach, as the Beach is the nearest surf for about a third of
Adelaide's population. The Esplanade becomes congested with
traffic. Locals walk or pushbike to the supermarket on the main street
as there is no hope of a car park. The Jetty, being at the end of the
main street, is very popular. A walk out to the end of the Jetty and
back is popular with old and new lovers. Many people wade through the
water next to the Jetty to cool their legs, without any thought of
Despite the high usage, Semaphore has the least state government
investment of the metropolitan beaches. This inattention is partly to
do with the lack of available land for further housing development, as
nothing attracts this state goverment like a billion dollar housing
development such those at as West Beach and Glenelg. On an operational
level, treating the Beach as vacant is useful for the government as it
allows it to mine the Beach for sand to use on the other beaches
(Adelaide's beaches lost their sand due to seaweed dying from
pollution runoff, the increased northerly current dropping the eroded
sand at Semaphore).
The beach itself is usually shallow, which accounts for the long
length of the jetty (which is only one-third of its original length,
in the days when sailing ships docked there). There are a number,
usually two, large sandbars only some of which are exposed at low
Somewhere between 20m and 50m out to sea the sandbars end and
the deep water suddenly starts within a single step.
There are a number of deep channels through the sandbars. These are
created by the currents rushing through to fill or empty the pools of
water between the exposed sandbars. A strong northerly current tends
to push those unaware along the beach and into the channels.
At the south of the beach is a groine. This attractive nuisance is a
island created from geotextile bags. By design, high tide washes
across the top of the island. It was placed there by the state
government to prevent the current from carrying the sand away from
under some housing built too close to the beach in a 1980s housing
Roughly one person dies on the beach each year. About half are
drownings, the others being drug overdoses and nasty people choosing
the the wintertime solitude of the sanddunes to do their evil work and
the like. The drownings are usually of poor swimmers, caught by
unexpectedly deep waters.
One occured on the groine, the summer it was installed. A non-swimmer
girl was caught out by the high tide leaving her nowhere to go. The
state government foolishly then added signs rather than also building
a refuge which would give others time to save those in danger.
The most recent occurred near the Jetty. A non-swimmer was walking
along a submerged sandbar and either walked off the edge or walked
into a channel. A little dog paddle along with the current is all
that is needed for self-rescue, but sadly the person must have flailed
about with no purpose.
Today's article in The Australian complains that there
are no paid lifesavers at the Beach. I'm not sure they would have
helped and this sounds like a complaint from someone unfamiliar with
our Beach. The Surf Lifesaving Club can't be seen from the base of the
I've no idea how or why the SLSC moved from alongside the Jetty to way
down south. Photos from the 1930s show it alongside the Jetty. Maybe
it is time to move it back, although that just reverses the problem.
The Club itself seems an odd beast from the outside. At the recent
local council elections it supported the a particular candidate for
Mayor of Port Adelaide. I've no idea why the Semaphore SLSC sought a
role in partisan local politics. It seemed at the time to be highly
inappropiate. It certainly limits support for the Club, both in
participation and in donations.
In summary, Semaphore Beach is safer than many beaches. It is shallow,
the waves are broken far out to sea by the sandbars, there are no huge
rips. The risk is simply that of the suddenness of deep water if you
I have small kids. I drop my bags in a spot away from a channel. Then
I keep fetching the kids back to the spot marked by the bags. I don't
pick up the bags and follow the kids, as they will inevitably be
pushed northwards by the current and end up in the channel just south
of the Jetty. The kids get about 10m of scope, which isn't enough to
fall into the deep water off the ends of the sandbars. I usually go
into the water with the kids.
I wouldn't play on the groine. If one of those bags splits or shifts
and grabs a limb then nothing will save you. Swimming through the
current on the inside of the groine is a bitch. Swimming around the
outside is no better, as the surge tends to push you inwards onto the
groine whilst the current is simultaneously pushing you outwards, so
it takes a lot of work to keep on track.