PORT Macquarie lifeguard supervisor James Turnham has earned a prestigious title – the NSW Lifeguard of the Year.
Not just a lifeguard, but an educator and mentor, Mr Turnham has shown an unrivaled commitment to a job he has been doing for 15 years.
“I know I’ve put in a lot of work and I love my job so much, but I never expected to get an award because of it,” he said.
“Obviously I don’t do it for that. But it was a big shock and a huge honour. Sure it has its ups and downs (but) I’m just doing my job and trying to keep everyone safe.”
Rapid growth in the area ensures James remains diligent, and along with his team, are always up-skilling, ahead of what is always a chaotic summer patrol season.
He said it is tough to declare Port Macquarie beaches are 100 per cent safe for tourists, but remains committed to educating and raising awareness about the dangers of the surf to minimise the possibility of a tragedy.
“Port Macquarie changes all the time. Last year was a rough one, with a few drownings at non-patrolled beaches,” he said.
“A drowning could occur at a lake for example, and it’s hard for lifeguards to be everywhere at every time, so it’s hard to say (if Port Macquarie is a safe swimming spot).
“But I can ensure we are always keeping on top of our skills. Port is growing, especially down Lake Cathie way, and we have a lot of extra people moving here and holidaying here.
“We are certainly aware of that and are always improving our responses and operations to keep everyone safe.”
As for the job itself, he would not trade it for the world despite the hard work and mentally-challenging circumstances he often faces.
“It’s a good lifestyle. Who wouldn’t want to be at the beach? There are a range of skills involved in doing this job ... lots behind the scenes stuff,” he said.
“Doing surf education at schools is something I love and something that is pretty important. It’s not just being on the beach.
“I also love the opportunities I’ve been given to travel and further my career.”
There are about 26 lifeguards on the job each year and Charles Sturt University has now enhanced the team’s expertise with many paramedic students on-hand.
James is now in contention for the Australian Lifeguard of the Year Award which will be announced at the Surf Life Saving Australia Awards of Excellence later this year.