John Mills OAM – Freshwater SLSC
John, Neville John and Jack as he became known within his family and broader friends grew up on the banks of Coffs Creek. One of 16 children born to Bill and Sarah Mills, he loved to swim, play football and fish with his brothers and sisters.
Millsy became one of Coffs greatest ever surf swimmers, winning many local championships and was chosen to represent Australia in 1950, and until today (3/2/22) was the oldest surviving member of that touring team to New Zealand.
When John moved to Balgowlah he ruled the waves at Freshwater Surf Club, carving out an extraordinary life and careers in surf lifesaving, swimming, rugby union and rugby league, leaving a life long legacy.
John and Marge returned to their beloved Coffs in 1980 where they continued to make a difference for the next 40 years with their tireless community work and in John’s life-long love of surf lifesaving which earned him an OAM in 1991.
Millsy as he was known up and down Australia’s vast coastline of surf clubs, will be remembered as one of the true legends of Australian Surf Life Saving, not only wearing the green and gold against the Kiwis but representing the NSW sky blues on three occasions, winning four prestigious Australian R&R Championships with Freshie and countless surf and belt championships at Branch, State and Australian Championships with Coffs and Freshwater.
A Life Member of both Coffs Harbour and Freshwater, SLSNSW, John was recently named the 308th Life Member of Surf Life Saving Australia.
A life-long surf and life coach of thousands of young Australians from the sands of Coffs Harbour Jetty Beach to his beloved Freshwater Beach on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. “The Big Fella” was a true man’s man who left an indelible mark on so many.
Johnny Mills – A lifesaver’s lifesaver
Johny Mills received his bronze medallion in Coffs Harbour in 1945 – a dedicated volunteer – serving his communities in Coffs Harbour and Freshwater on Sydney’s Northern Beaches with continuous Vigilance and Service.
John Mills was regarded by many as is a true unsung Aussie icon – a distinguished and humble champion volunteer – a man of extraordinary talent and dedication – a lifesaver’s lifesaver.
There has rarely been a more active, long serving, more decorated, dedicated and more knowledgeable lifesaver in Australian Surf Life Saving history.
A long standing patriarch of a surf lifesaving and sporting family dynasty, born on the banks of the Coffs Harbour Creek, where the family learnt to swim.
Until today Millsy remained the oldest surviving Australian Surf Team member – the team that toured New Zealand in 1950 – proudly displaying Australian Surf Team cap Number 30.
John also represented NSW in 1952, 1953 and 1955 at the National Inter-State Championships.
A man who has risked has life on numerous occasions and coached and instructed well over 3,500 young Australians to follow in his footsteps – teaching anyone who comes knocking on his door – to become a better lifesaver, better swimmer, board paddler, ski paddler and Ironman – but more importantly a better person.
In competition John dominated surf race, belt, surf teams, R and R and March Past events at Branch, State and National level with both Coffs Harbour and Freshwater.
Mastering huge waves and treacherous conditions long before surf powered rescue boats – a man at one with the ocean – who could match it with the Olympic champions of his day.
Hitching rides on the trains from Coffs Harbour to Port Macquarie and Kempsey to race on weekends – returning over night to work on the banana plantations on Monday morning.
Apart from his competitive prowess as one of the best surf men in the country, John was also a long-standing Committeeman at Coffs Harbour and Freshwater and the Manly-Warringah/Sydney/Sydney Northern Beaches – holding positions as Committeeman, Club Captain, Patrol Captain, Chief Instructor, Boat Captain, Delegate to the Branch, Club Coach, R&R coach, surf coach, board and ski coach and Ironman coach, also an active member of the Manly-Warringah/Sydney/Sydney Northern Beaches Board of Examiners – officiating at Branch, Metropolitan, NSW and Australian Championships.
Self-taught but matching it with the best in the business, Olympians included. Mills won “Aussies” gold on four occasions in the prestigious Premiership R&R as well as March Past and Surf Teams, also representing Australia and NSW.
He has not just been a member but some 75 years on, John continued his active membership, imparting his vast knowledge as he coaches the youngsters of Coffs Harbour in the skills of the surf, board and ski– with the same enthusiasm that he started out with, holding daily sessions, sometimes two, at Coffs Harbour Jetty and in the surf and also for swimming sessions in the pool for budding young champions from Coffs Harbour, Sawtell, Woolgoolga, Urunga and Hat Head.
Up until last 2021 he could still be found marshalling his troops at Jetty Beach, Coffs Harbour – coaching kids from 8 years of age to Masters at 50 years old.
Coaching has been his life, in surf lifesaving, swimming and rugby, Mills has never stopped coaching – it was his passion. Even as a competitor he was also a coach and has continued coaching, instructing and mentoring young Australian men and women over his lifetime – coaching countless Club, Branch, Regional, State and National Champions. It is estimated he has coached over 3,500 young lifesavers and swimmers from the surf, pools and creeks around the North Coast to the Freshwater Beach and rock pool in swimming, R&R, Lifesaving Certificate, Bronze Medallion, instructors certificate and on to board and ironman training – continuing to produce some great champions.
His family of 16 included his brother the late Keith Mills who also went on to represent Australia in 1954 and another brother George (competing for Yamba) who won the Australian Open Surf Race Championship in 1937 and boat rowing brother Les, himself a NSW and Australian rower.
The boy’s sister Iris Mills (Littler) took to the surf like her brothers during the War years, swimming in the belt like a true champion.
Her sons Robert and John Littler went on to win Australian R&R championships for Kirra with Robert captaining both Australia and Queensland. Their cousin Vic Arnall was also in the Australian Championship winning teams.
John’s grand daughter Jade Hanson and grandson Kurt Hanson have carried on the family’s highest surf lifesaving tradition, Jade winning the Australian U16 Surf Teams with Currumbin in 1999 and Kurt going on to win the coveted Australian Open Surf Belt championship with Freshwater in 2015 – the Club’s first ever National Open surf belt champion in its distinguished 110 year history.
Another grand-daughter Brooke, represented Australia at the 2004 Athens Olympics, winning individual Silver in the 100m breaststroke and teams Gold in the 4x100m medley relay before creating history with six gold medals at the 2004 Short Course World Championships in Indianapolis.
John was awarded SNB Life Membership in 1976.
John passed away on February 3rd, 2022. He was aged 94.