Life-saving re-build for iconic surf club

Portsea Surf Life Saving Club describes its location as “one of the most unforgiving environments in Australia” and the Mt Levy Beach it overlooks as “challenging”. People may recall it was from nearby Cheviot Beach that Prime Minister Harold Holt never returned after his regular morning swim in 1967.

Fri 06 Jan 23


By Responsible Wood

Since 1949, Portsea SLSC members have been responsible for saving over 4,500 lives on the beach and have assisted over 1,500 young men and women to gain Surf Life Saving Australia’s coveted Bronze Medallion.

Since 1965 the Club has maintained a patrol of “Portsea Back Beach” as it is better known, to protect local and visiting swimmers. It also provides a range of educational and junior development programmes for children designed to inform them of the dangers that exist, not only in the notoriously unpredictable swells of Bass Strait, but in all aquatic environments.

It was hoped that the programmes would also nurture the life savers of the future; however, all the activities of the club were becoming increasingly difficult due to the limitations of the existing clubhouse.  Originally constructed in 1960 from a shipping container and upgraded in 1972, it could no longer meet the needs of the club, let alone provide additional services for community and school groups and capitalise on its spectacular location as a venue for events. 

Perched on a very exposed cliff-top, the site posed many challenges and it took two years to demolish the old clubhouse. In a postcode where the average house price sits above $2 million, the local community was able to raise $7 million of the $9 million construction cost which is testament to their support and commitment of the club and its activities. The Herald Sun newspaper described the project as a “once in a generation” re-build of the clubhouse and access road.

Built by Ireland Brown Constructions, timber is the real feature of this building. However, not just any timber would have withstood the constant wind, sand and water this exposed location delivers. The specifications of the design and extreme weather conditions called for large, commercial grade Blackbutt timber, renowned for its durability and modern look. The colours and textures of natural timber also sit comfortably in this coastal location, blending seamlessly into the beach-scape.

Boral Timber was selected as equal to the task of supplying the enormous hand-cut Blackbutt battens which wrap around the entire façade, calling to mind the old bunkers that protected the coastlines in the past. They are also used in the pergola, which features laminated Blackbutt beams overhead, as well as in the expansive decking. The beams are made from Class 1 durable timber compliable with the bushfire BAL- 29 requirement and also have Chain of Custody certification through Responsible Wood which ensures the timber has been sustainably sourced and managed right through to the end user.

 Leon Travis, General Manager for Sales & Distribution at Boral Timber explains the advantage of certification, saying, “Boral Timber has implemented Responsible Wood Chain of Custody certification to support responsible and sustainable forest management in Australia. This includes ensuring that all Boral Timber manufacturing sites are Chain of Custody certified, meaning that all certified products from these sites can be traced from processing through to distribution. It’s becoming increasingly important for builders, designers and residents to know that the structural timber, decking or flooring used on a project is from certified, legal and sustainably managed sources. This was especially pertinent to the Portsea Surf Lifesaving Club build, as Boral Timber seeks to help build renewable and sustainable community facilities.”

The dramatic location wasn’t without its challenges for Boral either, as access to the cliff was limited and uneasy. There was only a single and extremely steep ramp leading to the site. Mike Bullows, Site Manager from Ireland Brown Constructions, commented, “Deliveries to site were tough. We had very limited access down to the beach so we had to coordinate different-sized trucks just to be able to fit down the road.”

The striking new two-storey building was completed and opened in April this year. To celebrate its opening, the clubhouse hosted a Gala event attended by local dignitaries and celebrities.

The new Portsea Surf Lifesaving Clubhouse has become a vital piece of community infrastructure and will allow members and the wider community to safely enjoy Portsea Back Beach for generations to come.


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