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September 11, 2000
Surf is up in SydneyPaul Majendie
The surf's up and the lifeguards are out in force.
With up to 500,000 visitors pouring into Sydney for the Olympics, lifeguards have taken to their posts a month early to keep a watchful eye on Sydney's beaches from Bondi to Bronte.
The beaches are beautiful and inviting but they can be deadly, claiming 12 lives last year.
So Operation Olympus has swung into action -- 2,000 voluntary lifesavers have joined the professional lifeguards and two large offshore boats to provide comprehensive cover of Sydney's beaches throughout the Games.
"We know we will be busy. We are expecting hundreds of thousands of tourists to come down here," said Paul Booth of the Bronte Surf Life Saving Club. "Our task is to be vigilant and to anticipate."
One of their biggest problems are foreigners unaware of the rips -- currents -- in the Sydney surf that can suck an unsuspecting swimmer out to sea in seconds.
The lifeguard's advice is to swim between the red and green flags and be careful not to get swept out of your depth.
If the current does get you, then don't panic. Go with the flow. Beyond the waves, the sea is calmer. Many drownings happen when swimmers panic in the initial moment.
Raise your hand in the air, the traditional SOS of the waves, and the lifeguard can then come to the rescue.
But what of the other deadly menace -- sharks?
There is good news and bad news.
There has been no shark attack in Sydney Harbour between May and November -- the city's coldest months -- for 208 years. The last fatal attack was in the summer of 1963.
But Sydney's harbour and beaches have been getting cleaner and cleaner as pollution from sewage outfalls is cleared. That means more fish and therefore more food for the sharks.
So Olympic triathletes, whose competition takes them into the waters of the harbour, are accompanied by a team of divers armed with electrical shark repellers.
But it would take more than killer sharks and deadly currents to stop Sydneysiders taking to the waves every weekend. For Australians have an outdoor culture, a lifelong love affair with surf, sand, sea and sun.
William Henry Gocher just wouldn't believe what he started way back in 1902.
For it was Gocher, editor of the Manly and North Sydney News, who defied the law that restricted bathing to either the early hours of the morning or after dark.
Inspectors patrolled the beaches to enforce the decency laws for fear that a wet, body-hugging outfit might stir improper thoughts.
Gocher broke the mould in spectacular fashion. At midday, he waded into the water in frock coat and striped trousers, an umbrella neatly tucked under his arm. He became an instant hero, the law was dropped and the beach culture was born.
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