Graham Carlisle OAM

Graham Alexander Carlisle OAM – Freshwater SLSC

Through a 50-year career Graham amassed an extraordinary record of 20 Australian March Past Gold medals – an Aussies total only bettered by the likes of Clint Robinson, Trevor Hendy, Ky Hurst, Shannon Eckstein, Pierce Leonard, Liz Pluimers and Naomi Flood. In what was a distinguished career Graham was inducted into the prestigious Australian Surf Life Saving Hall Of Fame, awarded an OAM for his services to Surf Life Saving, awarded Life Membership of Freshwater SLSC, Collaroy SLSC, Surf Life Saving Sydney Northern Beaches and Surf Life Saving New South Wales

Graham learnt from the best, Freshwater’s World War II “desert rat” Harry Knox who led Freshie to Australian March Past glory in 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1957 after hours of precision training with his squads of up to 20 (before being narrowed to 12) on the beach and in the clubhouse on wet nights.

It was this same disciplined approach adopted by Graham to carve his own niche in the sands of Surf Life Saving, having marched in all of those championship winning Freshwater teams with Harry.

Graham rubbed shoulders with stalwarts like Dick Cooper and Graeme Houston before being seconded to coach Collaroy by Dick Twight in 1962. SLSA historian, the late Barry Galton wrote in “Gladiators of the Surf” that it wasn’t an easy transition for Graham, Collaroy was suspended from competition at the time for the first half of the 1962-63 season but after competing in only eight carnivals, Collaroy (with Graham at the helm) went on to win the NSW State and Australian titles. Graham’s name became synonymous with March Past and he helped write the official (SLSA) handbook.

Up until 1972 Graham had left an indelible mark on the famous red caps of Collaroy, a popular Club at the southern end of the Narrabeen stretch of beaches along the peninsula’s Pittwater Road stretch. The Club won five Australian Championships, five NSW Titles, seven Metropolitan and nine Manly-Warringah (Sydney Northern Beaches) Branch Gold medals, which included a remarkable deduction of no points lost at the 1967 Australians at South Port (SA)

Between 1963 and 1980 Graham steered Collaroy to no fewer than 11 Australian Gold medals but no sooner had he retired from coaching than he returned to the sands of both Collaroy and Freshwater to coach both Clubs – earning the nickname ‘Mandrake’ from his team members.

It was success back at a rejuvenated Freshwater, alongside the presence of Harry Knox, and another March Past expert, Wally Edmonds  that saw the extraordinary Gold medal run continue with the maroon and whites featuring at the top of the Australian March Past podium on no fewer than seven occasions between 1986 and 2002.

It was a magical time for the famous Freshwater Club who were able to relive the past glories of the Knox era with the same disciplined approach that is required to master the precision art form once described by Knox as his “secrets of beach marching.” Graham was able to bottle those secrets and transform surf lifesavers from all facets of the Club “perfecting the team’s drill” with hours of training, preparing them for an event that had become famous in surf lifesaving circles as the Grand Parade and March Past, a colourful stream of Club banners and costumes from all around Australia.

The master coach recalled in Freshwater’s 100-year history how it all began, when he said: “I was a competent Club swimmer but I wasn’t a champion swimmer. Therefore in my day, unless you were a champion swimmer, you had no chance of cracking one of the top teams. Graham Carlisle devoted much of his life to the pursuit of March Past excellence – and is one of only three Freshwater members and the only competitive member, to be inducted in to the SLSA Hall of Fame.

Graham was awarded SNB Life Membership in 1990. 

Graham passed away on October 7th, 2013. He was aged 82.


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