Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Frank Osmond Venning (1876–1968)

by Ted Turner

This article was published:

Frank Osmond Venning (1876-1968), organizer of lifesaving, was born on 29 July 1876 at Shoreditch, London, son of Frank Venning, cigar-dealer, and his wife Frances Ann, née Strawson. Educated locally, Frank won numerous swimming and diving competitions. He and a friend rescued a couple from a boating accident on the River Lea, a tributary of the Thames. After meeting William Henry, founder of the (Royal) Life Saving Society, Frank joined his squad of six which toured England in 1894 giving displays of diving, lifesaving and scientific swimming. He worked in a government office for six months, then resigned to go to sea; in 1895 he reputedly saved a sailor who had fallen overboard.

On 24 April 1899 at St Bartholomew's Church of England, Dalston, London, Venning married Henrietta Smith. They travelled to Western Australia, arriving at Albany in the Orient on 2 June that year. After a failed business venture they returned to England, and Venning was employed as a gas-fitter. He was persuaded by Frank Springfield of Queensland and (Sir) Frank Beaurepaire, whom he met at the London Olympic Games in 1908, to migrate again to Australia. The Vennings and their three children reached Brisbane in the Orotava on 31 December 1908; three more children were born in Queensland. Manager (1909-15) of the Booroodabin baths, Fortitude Valley, he introduced water polo, diving and lifesaving.

In 1910 Venning helped to reorganize the defunct Queensland head centre of the Royal Life Saving Society; he was to serve (1910-15, 1920-47) as secretary. In 1912 he obtained his R.L.S.S. bronze medal, instructor's certificate and award of merit. After three young men drowned at Southport that year, a reel, line and belt were installed on the beach; Venning arranged a demonstration of the equipment and helped to train teams in its use. He tried cane-farming (1915-17) on the Maroochy River, and established (1915) a branch of the R.L.S.S. at Maroochydore. By the early 1920s he was lessee of the Ithaca baths, Brisbane. He and others launched lifesaving branches at Mooloolaba (1923) and Alexandra Headland (1924); with Joe Betts he formed clubs from the south coast to Cairns.

In 1930 Venning was a founder of the Queensland State centre of the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia; the new group and the R.L.S.S. agreed that year that the S.L.S.A.A. would supervise the patrolling of surf beaches and the R.L.S.S. would control lifesaving activities in inland waters, bays and estuaries. Venning served as Queensland secretary (1930-34), chief examiner (1930-31) and vice-president (1934-46, 1953-55) of the S.L.S.A.A. As an instructor he introduced lifesaving into state primary and secondary schools. He convened meetings, prepared demonstrations, arranged examinations, allocated instructors for classes and judges for competitions, reviewed and investigated new methods of resuscitation, and selected teams for interstate competitions. In World War II he trained service personnel in swimming and lifesaving, and lectured part time in the department of physical education, University of Queensland.

Venning retired as manager of the Ithaca baths, and by 1947 had moved to Mooloolaba. President (1954-57) of the Mooloolaba Surf Life Saving Club, he was awarded (1961) life membership of the S.L.S.A.A., and was appointed M.B.E. in 1963. During his lifetime he had received all the awards of the R.L.S.S. including the distinguished service medal with bronze and silver bars. He was a life governor of its London and Queensland head centres. Survived by his wife, their three daughters and two of their three sons, he died on 26 July 1968 in Brisbane and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. R. Winders, Surf Life Saving in Queensland (Brisb, 1970)
  • J. Downes, Royal Life (Syd, 1993)
  • R. Longhurst, Mooloolaba Surf Lifesaving Club (Mooloolaba, Qld, 1997)
  • R. Longhurst, Preserving Lives, Preserving Values (Brisb, 2000)
  • Surf Life Saving Association of Australia (Queensland), Annual Report, 1979-80
  • State Government Insurance Office, Insurance Lines, 63, no 2, Dec 1981, p 17
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 27 Oct, 14 Dec 1910.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ted Turner, 'Venning, Frank Osmond (1876–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


29 July, 1876
London, Middlesex, England


26 July, 1968 (aged 91)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.