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Andrew Archibald Flakelar (1946–1967)

by D. M. Schreuder

This article was published:

Andrew Archibald Flakelar (1946-1967), surf lifesaver and electrician, was born on 22 October 1946 at Coledale, near Wollongong, New South Wales, only son and youngest of three children of native-born parents Archibald Charles Daniel Flakelar, railway fettler, and his wife Vera Louisa Florence, née Thompson. Andrew belonged to a family which had originally come from Germany, and grew up in a modest home on the poorer side of the railway-line. He enjoyed the simple childhood of a small community on the Pacific Ocean coast, played sport with some skill, and was a cub and a boy scout. After attending Coledale Public and Bulli High schools, he took up an artisan apprenticeship in the signals' branch of the New South Wales Government Railways; his training partly involved travel to major workshops in Sydney. He became a keen fisherman, sometimes line-fishing from his long, wooden surfboard, well out to sea.

An ardent member of Coledale Surf Life Saving Club from the age of 14, Flakelar made many friends there, developed a strong sense of mateship and formed a responsible attitude towards family and society. His parents knew him as a loving and supportive son, while his elder sisters relied on him as a cheerful brother and baby-sitter. He had a casual friendship with a girl in Sydney. Genial and serious minded, he was an outstanding member of his club and an excellent swimmer, fearless in the surf, with a professional attitude towards safety equipment and procedures.

Flakelar was patrol captain at Coledale Beach on Boxing Day, 1967. Although the swell ran high, he decided to open the beach. Flags were erected in the middle section of the beach, away from an obvious rip at the northern end. Seven club members began swimming in the ocean. A big swell drove the majority back to shore, but Charlie Trivett appeared to be in difficulty. Flakelar quickly put on the surf-belt and plunged into the waves, with his comrades feeding out the surf-line. Having reached the area where Trivett was struggling, Flakelar raised his hand, and his good mate Jim Spence pulled on the rope to draw him closer to Trivett. Spence told the police: 'I saw Trivett get out on the rocks and I saw Jim McRombie dive in to assist him. I saw them both get out . . . Eddie Patmore came over and said, ''Andrew has disappeared, pull him in quickly". We started hauling in pretty fast . . . When we [were] about waist high in the water we picked up Andrew. He had no movement'.

Although Flakelar was given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until an ambulance arrived, he never regained consciousness. A coronial inquiry concluded that he 'was accidentally drowned while attempting a rescue under difficult conditions'. Most probably, the surf-line had snagged on an underwater shelf of rock and Andrew was drowned while being reeled back to the beach.

Amid the tragedies which come to a small community, Flakelar's death was particularly noticed and felt. He appeared to symbolize a generation of young Australians who served in the beach corps. In the happy phrase of the coroner, he was 'a shining example' of 'this group of dedicated men'. Members of the Coledale Surf Club still recall Andrew, and his photographs hang proudly in the clubhouse.

A small monument at Coledale Beach commemorates his sacrifice. The Surf Life Saving Association of Australia posthumously awarded Flakelar its highest honour, a silver medallion 'for rare feats of bravery in the surf'.

Select Bibliography

  • Illawarra Mercury, 27-29 Dec 1967, 12 Jan 1968
  • Coroner's report and depositions, police report and post-mortem documents (copies held by author)
  • Coledale Surf Life Saving Club, records
  • Surf Life Saving Association of Australia, Annual Report (1967-68)
  • private information.

Citation details

D. M. Schreuder, 'Flakelar, Andrew Archibald (1946–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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