Every Sunday morning during the season, Jo gets up early to drive kids to their Nippers class.

Read on to hear why it’s worth every moment.

The Holly Days Program was started at Tamarama Surf Life Saving Club in 2006 in the name of one of its club members Holly Robinson who had worked with Indigenous children and had sadly passed away.

Its goal was to encourage La Perouse and surrounding area children to be involved in group and community activities outside their local area. The program ran until 2010 when the pool of volunteers dried up.

My family started at Tamarama in 2010 when my son started Nippers and I put my hand up to be an Age Manager. The Holly Days program folded our first year.

I have worked in the First Nations space for over 20 years with various organisations and could see the value in resurrecting the program – not only for the kids in the program, but also for our Club members.

I offered to help start up the program again if the Club was ever interested.

I was approached by the Club to look at starting it up again in 2016/17. We held a meeting with Kate, Lucy and Beau to discuss partnering with Weave. It was decided that we start with the Kool Kids program in Maroubra first, as they had their swim/surf program already in place.

Lucy spoke to a number of families, and I went over to the Maroubra Weave office to have a meeting with them and answer any questions. When the children were chosen, I went around to each of their homes to introduce myself properly. I figured that I would never let my kids get on a bus with someone I didn’t know and didn’t expect anyone else to either.

Once all the logistics were worked out we had a two week trial at the end of the 2016/17 season. Things went well, the kids were excited to come back and we secured a grant to run the program for a year. As with all volunteer organisations, we hit a snag coming into the start of the program when others who had said they were available were not. But I had already promised all the families that we would run the program so we went ahead regardless. Holly Days officially started back up for the 2017/18 Season.

I leave home at around 6.30am on a Sunday, and go and pick up the bus from the Kool Kids office. Then I drive around to Maroubra, Soldiers, La Perouse, Botany, and more to grab all the kids. We have breakfast on the bus or at the Club when we get there at around 8.30am.

The Nippers program runs between 9am and 10am, however, if it’s a good day at Tama it might be an hour or two before I can get the kids out of the water. Then I get them showered, dressed (it’s a bit like herding cats!), and home we go. We usually get home between 1-2pm. Every Sunday between October and April.

For the first couple of seasons, I kept all the kids in my age group so I could make sure they were settling in. But the last couple of seasons, we have kids from U6’s to U14’s. They learn everything from water safety and surf rescue to first aid, resuscitation and CPR. The kids participate at inter-club events and competitions at a high level and quite a few have been chosen for the U11s and U13s development camps over the years.

All the kids are deadly, as are their families. Some excel at the physical/sports side of surf life saving and others in the theory/first aid side. I love watching them as they realise the things they can achieve and the day when it dawns on them that they could actually save someone’s life!

One of the best days ever, was at the end of 2020, when three of my original kids (three very talented young ladies) passed their SRC with the rest of their team and are now active patrolling members of Tamarama SLSC, eager to do their Bronze Medallion once they’re old enough.

We had 10 kids the first season and have varied between nine and eleven (the capacity of the bus) ever since. We seek out funding each year to run the program and manage to scrape through. We have had a few kids drop out over the years, however, they are quickly replaced by eager new Nippers. Every season I go around to the new families homes to introduce myself prior to the season starting. We would LOVE to expand the program and I have already had enough enquiries to fill a second bus, however, our only hurdle is finding another driver.

The staff at Kool Kids have been amazing. Lucy and Regina were so lovely to work with and very accommodating and I look forward to working with Tate in the future. We would also be interested in partnering with Community to set up a SLSC out at La Perouse or Yarra Bay, utilising lifesavers that come through Tama. But that’s only a pipe dream at the moment.

The effect the kids have had on the Club has been amazing. In addition to the Holly Days program, Tama has set up Indigenous Scholarships for adults wanting to become lifesavers and now celebrate Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week. We have had the Warada Dancers perform at the opening of seasons and a lot of engagement and assistance from the Holly Day kids’ families. I have been to the past few Weave Christmas parties and always go and see the kids if they dance in the Sunset Ceremony at La Perouse. They are also surprised when I get to see them at Yarn-Up or the Koori Art exhibitions.

My experience with kids prior to this, besides being one and having some (three if you include my husband) was that I used to teach the free learn to swim for children back in the 80s, was a kids tennis coach for 10 years in the 80s and 90s. I also tutor at my children’s old primary school three mornings a week and have run a student art, writing and song competition for the past 13 years for students across north-west NSW, Qld, and ACT through the Friends of Myall Creek Memorial committee. For the past 10 years I have also been an Age Manager at Tama and the 21/22 season will be my fifth season of running the Holly Days program.

Even though my kids are now lifesavers and finished with Nippers, hopefully I will be there with my Holly Days kids for many years to come.

I really hope that Tamarama SLSC has made all the Holly Days kids and their families feel as included and supported as Weave, Kool Kids and their families have made me feel. They are an awesome bunch…it has been/is such a privilege meeting them all. I have had a ball!