In 19th-century Melbourne, swimming developed as a recreational pursuit in sea baths at South Melbourne and along the beaches that stretched around Port Phillip Bay. Such recreation, however, carried a degree of danger. Swimming instruction had been part of physical education within the Victorian Education Department since 1898, and in 1903 the Royal Humane Society introduced the award of the bronze medallion to encourage the gaining of lifesaving skills. The Royal Life Saving Society of Victoria was established in December 1904, and surf-lifesaving developed under its auspices.
By the end of World War I, lifesaving clubs had been formed at South Melbourne, Hampton, Elwood, Black Rock, Middle Park, St Kilda, Port Melbourne, Chelsea Longbeach, Half Moon Bay and Brighton. From 1919 to 1927 lifesaving clubs appeared at the rest of the bayside beaches, from Altona on the west to Frankston on the east.
There was, however, rivalry within surf-lifesaving. In 1923 the New South Wales Surf Life Saving Association became the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia, directed more to a sporting image. In Melbourne surf-lifesaving remained under the auspices of the Royal Life Saving Society until 1947, when the Surf Life Saving Association of Victoria was established.
Surf Life Saving Victoria organise a program of carnivals over the summer, send a representative team to the Australian Surf Life Saving Championship, established in 1947, and operate Nippers and Junior programs to educate children in surf safety, beach awareness and rescue techniques.