Local surf lifesaver Neville Warwick awarded OAM in Queen’s Birthday Honours

Nev on duty at Bellinger Valley North Beach Surf Life Saving Club a few years ago.

“NEV Warwick, OAM – we salute you!” was the message that rang loud and clear through Bellingen, Urunga, Repton, Raleigh, Mylestom and surf clubs all along the coast.

Neville Warwick, Life Member of Bellinger Valley North Beach Surf Life Saving Club and the North Coast Branch, was awarded an OAM in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in recognition of his many contributions to surf lifesaving and to the community over a number of years.

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Neville’s father was the first president of the Bellinger Valley North Beach Surf Life Saving Club and Neville joined in 1951 at the age of 21.

Last year he celebrated 70 years of service to Surf Life Saving, accumulating 26 awards during his long period of active service, which saw him saving lives and educating and training others.

Neville retired from active service at the age of 83, but remained a valued member of the Club until recently, continuing to attend regular meetings and providing insights and advice based on his many years of experience.

Club treasurer Bob Smith says, “Neville is immensely respected and has made a difference to both our Club and the community.”

When told he’d been nominated for the award, and that the nomination had been successful, Nev said to his daughter Dianne, ”Your mother deserves one as well”, and, in many ways, for the family and the local community at Mylestom where the couple lived for 71 years, the award will be regarded as a ‘Nev and Thel’ achievement.

Neville was 21 and in his first year with the Surf Club when he married Thelma, and they’ve been a strong partnership through the years since, raising their family and welcoming grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all the while involved in the club that brought the community together.

Over the years, Neville took great pleasure in running the surf boats and was sweep for years, and he also instructed and acted as the examiner at surf carnivals.

Nev encouraged women to join and was instrumental in introducing the Women’s Bronze medallion.

For years he ran the nippers while Thelma ran the mermaids, and Nev was also instrumental in starting the 5-13 age group.

He taught the youngsters to enjoy the beach while remaining aware of the risks.

While the Surf Club and Surf Life Saving was Neville’s priority, he was always available to coach the cricket club, give a few tennis lessons or do a bit of fishing.

When he retired after working for 47 years at Bellingen Shire Council, Neville found himself in great demand for a variety of other community activities, including manning the barbecue for the seniors’ sausage sizzles.

Everyone in the area has a Neville Warwick story, or an Uncle Nev and Aunty Thel story, and they all express the respect and admiration they feel for this inspiring and dedicated man.

Nick Young, who still remembers training under Neville for his Bronze medallion, says Neville saved hundreds of lives and trained hundreds of surf lifesavers.

When asked about her old friend, Maureen Heelis put into words what many feel about Neville.

“What can I say about our Neville, my second father, always at hand and ready to help with whatever he could.

“Years of cooking our barbecues at the hall on seniors’ sausage-sizzle days.

“At times, we would have starved if he wasn’t there to cook.

“Neville certainly deserves an OAM for all he has done for the whole community. Congratulations Neville.”

By Susan KONTIC

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