Tom the Lifeguard

Interview by
Zac Bayly
Photography by
Luke Austin


An attentive and well-trained lifeguard (known as 'lifesavers' Down Under) can mean the difference between life and death. When that lifeguard happens to be as cute as 28-year-old Tom Bunting of Sydney, you almost want to fake your own drowning just so he'll drag you from the surf and perform mouth-to-mouth. In between posing for snap-happy tourists and keeping a watchful eye over popular Bondi beach, Tom talked me through shark attacks, jellyfish stings, and how he ends up with half the beach in his bed each summer.

Zac: Where do you live?
Tom: Woolloomooloo. It sounds like the outback, but it’s actually smack bang in the centre of Sydney.
What beach do you patrol?
North Bondi.
Are there many gay lifesavers?
There are. I’m actually a member of Lifesavers With Pride, a group of gay and lesbian lifesavers from all around Australia.
What song is running through your head when you are patrolling the beach?
Maybe the Baywatch theme song. The song that they teach us, and that I teach all my students as well during lifesaving classes, is ‘Staying Alive’ by the Bee Gees because it actually gives you the beat for when you are doing compressions during resuscitation.
That’s so gay! Do all the male lifesavers have to practice CPR on one another?
No, we don’t really practice on one another.
Who is the hottest guy you’ve given CPR too?
I’ve never given CPR in a life-and-death situation, but the hottest guy I’ve done is an ex-student of mine during a demonstration.
Do you like the freedom of wearing speedos?
Yeah, they feel fantastic. When I went through my training, my instructor said to us that we should be training in speedos over shorts because it’s easier to swim. Maybe he was just trying to get us to take our clothes off.
Does the sand annoy you?
No, I love the sand. It does get into your speedos. It gets everywhere. You always know it’s summer when there’s half of Bondi beach in your bed.
What do you do to keep in shape?
I do a lot of swimming and soft sand runs. It really works your legs. I go to the gym three to four times a week, and I cycle too.
Describe a typical day for you.
Well, if it’s a morning shift, I’ll get down there at 8:30 in the morning. My patrol captain and I oversee the setting up of the tents, and then we get everything else set up. We’ve got all the first aid kits to bring down, then we’ve got to get the flags out, and get a few rescue boards out plus the flotation devices. When everything’s set up, we call Surfcon, the helicopter people — they’re the people that listen to the radios and get ambulances ready for us.
If you work all day, do you take a two-hour lunch break so your food can settle before you go back in the water?
Not really… We’re sponsored by Bondi Beach Burritos, by the way.
A nice light meal before you run into the surf. How often are there shark sightings?
Do you know what? There are sharks on every beach in the world. There are the ones that get seen and the ones that don’t.
Have you ever seen a shark?
I’ve swum with sharks. I lived on an island North of Australia for about three months with my dad and my brother. During the day we would go fishing. Quite often, you would be swimming, and you’d see a giant whitetip reef shark swim past you. But they don’t really go for you. The only reason that they’d ever go for you is if you’re really tanned. When you’re walking in the water, the only part that’s not tanned is the soles of your feet. So, as you walk, your soles are like flashes of white in the water, and sharks have been known to go for ankles because fish swimming in the water also look like flashes of light.


If you had to compare your approach to relationships with the behavior of any species of marine life, what would you pick?
The dolphin, of course. It’s the gay shark!
Have you ever been stung by a jellyfish?
Dozens of times… Kids get stung all the time, and they come running up the beach squealing. Last year, we actually had a swarm of two hundred bluebottles that came up onto the beach. We had to run around distributing ice packs.
Does it help if you pee on the sting?
I’ve heard that theory, but it’s not what I’ve been taught. I’ve been taught to put ice on the affected area, and if it’s still stinging, pop the person in a hot shower.
Right. Are there different levels of lifesaving in the same way that there are different levels for martial arts?
Yes. You start with your bronze medallion, then silver, then gold.
What’s your medallion?
My medallion is bronze, but I’m actually in the process of doing my silver.
How often do you get hit on while you’re working?
We say that lifesaving at Bondi beach is, you know, ten percent lifesaving, ninety percent knowing how to pose in your speedos for tourists. I have been hit on a few times, usually around the time of Mardi Gras, when the beach is packed. I patrolled on Christmas Day this year, and all the British backpackers wanted a photo with a Bondi lifesaver in their speedos.
Has anyone ever copped a feel?
Has anyone ever copped a feel? Hmm… I can’t say that they have. Although you do have the occasional perve, the day is usually about, you know, making sure that the beach is safe.
Have you ever been approached by someone with a lifesaver fantasy?
Have I ever been approached by someone with a lifesaver fantasy?
Are you going to repeat all of my questions?
No… I actually have never been approached by someone with a lifesaver fantasy.
Would you like to be?
Umm, sure… I mean, I’ve had guys that are really into the speedos thing.
Have you ever had sex on the beach?
I have. I went with a few of my friends to a beach down south. We were camping, we had a bonfire on the beach, and a few drinks later, you know, one thing led to another…
Do all the lifesavers shower together?
We do.
That must be enjoyable.
Um…yes. It’s a club though, so there’s never anything sexual about it. After sitting on the beach all day, it’s just nice to have a shower and get clean.
What’s the highlight of your day?
Getting down to the beach before everyone else, when it’s still really quiet.
Do you ever see the sun rise?
Not quite. But it’s nice to get there that early and have the first swim before anyone else is there. I love my job, and if I get to save a life one day, that’d be a great feeling too.

Published on 09 September 2011