Whitsunday Air Sea Rescue Squad (as it was then) was formed in 1964 in Proserpine. Airlie (as it was known then) was a few beach shacks owned by cane growers and the management of the Proserpine Sugar Mill. A group of boat owners organized a roster when members would take turns with their own boats to standby to help out boats in trouble.
The photo above is of a boat a group of Whitsunday residents owned during the 1960’s. The photo taken about 1965 give or take a year or two. The photo was taken close to the current VMR site. It shows the boat being wound up into the boatshed, which was in a cutting in the mangroves, just south of the existing rock wall around the VMR carpark. In those days there were a number of “boatshed leases” around the various foreshores from Cannonvale, Airlie to Shute.
In the 70’s a rival organization, Cannonvale Coast Guard was formed and the two bodies competed for some years until common sense prevailed and eventually merged their operations into Whitsunday Air Sea Rescue Squad.
Airlie became popular in the late 80’s when an Ansett subsidiary held the land area now occupied by Peninsula, Marina Shores, Mirage and Whitsunday Marine Club. Air Sea Rescue obtained a lease on land that is now between the police station and Whisper Bay and a demountable office was set up as a radio base.
Ansett wanted to develop the land and the battle began to save some of the land for community use and move Shute Harbour Road to its current Airlie Hill location. VMR President and Life Member, John Harper, with his cool head and persuasive approach succeeded in preserving the boat ramp and VMR Base area for the community’s benefit.
John was also instrumental in bringing the Air Sea Rescue dreams to reality when he led the ambition for VMR to share a permanent place to operate and in 1993 John Harper and Jack Hickmott signed the agreement to form an alliance with Whitsunday Game Fish Club and Whitsunday Power Boat Club to develop the current site. The Whitsunday Air Sea Rescue Operations Room was opened in June 1994.
In 1995, part of the amalgamation and regeneration was to change the name of Air Sea Rescue to Volunteer Marine Rescue and this name was then adopted by Air Sea Rescue Queensland headquarters and all Queensland squadrons in 1996. VMR Whitsunday was the first VMR in Queensland and we are proud of the VMR1 call sign, that we have maintained for all of our rescue vessels since.
In 2005, a new Kevlacat rescue vessel with twin outboard motors was purchased, and it served VMR well until replacement in July 2017 by a new purpose built Noosacat rescue vessel, fitted with full Furuno electronics, FLIR camera, Forward Looking Sonar, VHF Radio Direction Finder, designed for Medivacs and driven by twin Cummins straight shaft diesel engines.
In 2017 Cyclone Debbie destroyed VHF radio repeater stations on Hayman and Whitsunday Islands, damaged the Kevlacat (which was in process of sale) and significant damage incurred to the Whitsunday Marine Club. With the assistance and generosity of the Whitsunday community, financial assistance from large corporations and government grants, the repeater stations were upgraded with more powerful and more resilient solar and wind generation and the Marine Club building was repaired and upgraded with new flooring, roof and ceiling and complete paint make-over by Dulux. New access stairs were installed to the radio base and training room upgraded.
In 2019, a second rescue vessel, a 6.7 metre Naiad RHIB, called Whale Song VMR2 was purchased to cope with rapid growth in activations and provide inshore assistance in shallow areas. It will relieve the workload of Coral Sea Marina VMR1, operates at a lower cost and will extend the operating life of VMR1. It will also provide a second vessel to participate in Emergency Search and Rescues, SAREX (Search And Rescue Exercises) and community events whilst retaining VMR1 on location to cover Whitsundays activations.