Christmas Eve at the little beachside village of Evans Head on the Northern Rivers of NSW in 1922 saw the influx of many tourists ready to enjoy the beach and cool off from the summer heat.
One young swimmer, however, wouldn’t make it out alive.
Shortly after lunch, the day before Christmas, 16-year-old Gladys Morrow, her father and sister, along with a party of friends had arrived at Evans Head ready to celebrate their holidays. Mrs Morrow and her younger children stayed behind at their home in Kyogle, with plans to join them in a couple of days.
The memorial to Gladys Morrow at the Evans Head-Casino Surf Club. Photo: Samantha Elley
The group who had arrived decided later in the afternoon to go for a swim, but unknowingly entered the surf at its most dangerous point. According to news reports of the day, the group had chosen to go swimming ‘opposite the big hole which extends from near the mouth up towards the recognised bathing place’.
Before long 15 to 20 swimmers were caught in a dangerous undertow with four of them carried out into deeper waters, including Miss Snitzer, Mrs Clifford, Gladys and her sister, all of Kyogle.
With no established or organised lifesaving group at the beach, bystanders did their best to rescue the flailing swimmers. It was reported that Roy Dolby managed to bring Gladys back to the spit of sand, leaving her there to get a motorboat to rescue the others.
However, poor Gladys was washed out again. This time, Mr J Jordan of Casino, only recently recovering from a severe illness, raced into the water fully dressed and seized her but a large wave dragged her out of his grip. When she was eventually brought in, her rescuers worked on her for three hours without success.
It is believed she had died in the water before she was brought back to land. All the other swimmers were rescued and survived.
Gladys Morrow's headstone at the Kyogle Cemetery. Photo: Samantha Elley
Kyogle went into mourning at the loss of such a young vibrant life. Gladys had been a diligent scholar in the Methodist Sunday School and had just become a teacher herself.
She had been gifted in music and showed great promise at becoming a finished pianist.
The minister found it difficult to read the service without breaking down and many joined him in weeping for a young woman gone far too soon.
It was agreed that some form of organised protection on Evans Head beach was needed, especially at holiday time. According to the memorial for Gladys at the Evans Head Surf Club, beach patrols were established on Boxing Day of 1922, instructions were given in life saving and reel drill to junior and senior teams and the Evans Head Surf Club was born.
‘Holiday fatality at Evans Head’, The Richmond River Heralnd and Northern Districts Advertiser, Friday 29 December, 1922, Page 8
‘Evans Head Surf Club’, Northern Star, Wednesday 1 October, 1924, Page 4