Tathra lifesaver Tony Rettke has been awarded an Emergency Services Medal as part of the Australia Day honours list.
Mr Rettke has spent more than 37 years as part of the lifesaving community and become a pivotal leader over that time.
Mr Rettke has been the Far South Coast Branch president for 11 or 12 years now, but said he and his family's involvement dated back to 1982 when he and his wife Judy got their bronze medallions.
Mr Rettke said he had incidentally missed the email alerting him to the award around a month ago and was doubly surprised when officials called him to confirm.
"When I first got the email I thought it was to do with something else and I had overlooked it so I was a bit shocked when they rang me," he said with a laugh.
"No one expects anything like this and it is lovely to receive."
Mr Rettke's medal has been recognised as a distinguished and highly respected member of the Far South Coast (FSC) Support Operations, where he has participated in numerous rescues and search operations.
He said surf lifesaving had given him lifelong skills, but it was also a group he felt a strong connection to and has been invested in - particularly his home club at Tathra.
"I've had a lot of people text me and congratulate me today, but It's a really family and club and branch effort - it takes a lot of time from everybody to be involved.
"But it's just a pleasure to be a part of because you can see it does so much for the community.
"It's good to get the kids involved and they're knocking around and mixing with some good older people to help their development."
He said surf lifesaving was a rare organisation where members were shoulder to shoulder with one interest from people aged five to 95.
Mr Rettke's strength in the surf, skills and knowledge are exemplary among lifesavers and he has the rare honour of receiving two high ranking nationally recognised meritorious awards - the SLSA Meritorious Award with Silver Medallion Insert for the 2008 Tathra Wharf Tragedy and the SLSA Meritorious Award with Bronze Medallion Insert for the 2017 rescue of a rock fisherman off Tathra's Kianinny Bay.
In 2009 the Tathra Surf Life Saving Club was presented a police award from the FSC Local Area Command praising the efforts of Mr Rettke and others.
"We believe that the Tathra Surf Lifesaving Club is well and truly upholding the best traditions of the Surf Lifesaving vocation and you should be very proud of what you and your members accomplished, the police command said at the time.
"We are very lucky to have you as part of the wider community and your efforts are very much appreciated."
In 2010 Mr Rettke and four others received a Group Bravery Citation for the Tathra Wharf Tragedy recognising "outstanding initiative, expertise and empathy towards their fellow human beings" by applying lifesaving skills in emergency situations and at risk to themselves.
Mr Rettke said while it was rewarding to be recognised for those rescues, he believed any member of the surf club could have been capable.
"I don't think the recognition needs to be for any of that, for me it's the involvement in the community, it could be anyone that performed those rescues - I just happened to be around the beach both of those times."
He said his wife and one of their sons had been involved in one rescue effort, while all life savers would take on the same challenges.
"There is a skillset that comes from being in the surf club, to be comfortable in an IRB or on a jetski in big seas, but you wouldn't have that without the club."
In his Australia Day ESM citation, Mr Rettke is said to be a consistent and powerful advocate for his branch and his leadership and emergency response skills were front and centre during the Black Summer bushfires, when he led the FSC branch through an extremely challenging situation, taking a hands-on role supporting evacuations on the ground.
"His commitment to Surf Life Saving, to the members of FSC and to the community has never been more evident. Mr Rettke is an exceptional role model and remarkable lifesaver who has consistently lived the motto 'service above self' over many years."
Mr Rettke said Australia Day had been a pleasant affair with family and friends, enjoying the usual 8am swim to the wharf before heading out for a coffee.
He said they had also been for a dip at the beach and a lunch out.
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