Keith Sturgess is proud of the Coast Guard heritage his father, uncle and mates built
Keith Sturgess is proud of the Coast Guard heritage his father, uncle and mates built

’Tread carefully’: Concerned resident’s Coast Guard message

One of Keith Sturgess' earliest memories was helping his parents fundraise for the Coast Guard at the 'lucky number' stall on Yeppoon's Main Street on Saturday mornings.

His father, John, and uncle, Neil Jones were among the founding members of the Q11 flotilla, in the days before the fledgling organisation had its own vessels.

Mr Sturgess joined other Central Queensland boaties in expressing his concern that the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services was poised to dismantle the Coast Guard in favour of a State Government entity.

"It sounds as if there are a lot of unanswered questions and people need more time to provide their feedback," he said.

"Invariably, when government at any level gets involved in a volunteer organisation, it ends up top heavy and bottom light in terms of boots on the ground."

Mr Sturgess fears the community will lose pride in the organisation if the government rides roughshod over the input made by volunteers over the decades.

He remembers his father's mate meeting at the old timber sailing club in Yeppoon to discuss joining the fledgling Coast Guard.

"The rule of the sea is you don't go past anybody who needs a hand and, in those days, they put their own boats - and sometimes their own lives - at risk to lend a hand," he said.

"It's self preservation, really; if you don't give help, then you're not going to get it when you need it."

He also remembers them driving back from the Gold Coast with the Q11's first rescue catamaran.

"There was an ­earthmoving mob - Wiggintons, I think - that let them keep it in a shed when it was just a basic hull and they had to fit it out," he said.

"Then it was put in a shed behind the first radio shack behind the service station at Rosslyn Bay which was little more than a tin shack."

Mr Sturgess' father, who was born in Mt Morgan and worked as a guard at the railway, loved nothing better than to be out on the water with his three kids.

"He used to say, "if we catch something that's a bonus; if not, it's still a good day out"," Mr Sturgess said.

Regardless he sometimes worked night shifts and weekends, Mr Sturgess Sr also assumed crew leader responsibilities according to a six-weekly roster.

"There was a lady at Cooee Bay who used to monitor the radios and she would contact whoever was on duty," his son said.

"Sometimes Dad would just be home from work and turn back around to go out and answer a call for help, even it was 10 o'clock on a Tuesday night."

The Barcoola trawler tragedy still haunts Yeppoon's Coast Guard community
The Barcoola trawler tragedy still haunts Yeppoon's Coast Guard community

Mr Sturgess worked tirelessly for the organisation right up until he passed away about 30 years ago, even under the most heartbreaking circumstances.

"We lost one of his good friends to the Barcoola trawler tragedy in 1982," he said.

"John Howes, who was also the Rosslyn Bay harbour master, went out to rescue the crew off a yacht and didn't make it back. It nearly broke a lot of people."

Mr Sturgess said the State Government owed it to the Coast Guard volunteers through the ages to tread carefully when it came to its Blue Water Review recommendations.

"It was a matter of pride for people like my father that, when they reached an age it was physically hard to keep crewing the boats, they'd step into the radio rooms," he said.

"They established good relations with the local community who supported them in turn.

"Unless QFES lets the public know what's going on now, I fear a lot of people will step back from taking part in and being proud of the Coast Guard."



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