News - 01 November 2019

Winning words

Lifeguard, firefighter and author, Trent Maxwell, on winning the Environment Award for Children's Literature, bearing witness to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and the need to safeguard oceans for future generations. 

Some people like to keep busy; too busy, it appears, for those of us who have to make do with an average metabolic rate. You know the type: overachievers who you can’t help but feel a little envious of due to their uncanny ability to juggle several careers at once, all while maintaining an impossibly cool demeanor.

Bondi Lifesaver Trent Maxwell. Photo from Instagram @lifeguardmaxi

Meet Trent Maxwell who, not content with being a lifeguard and full-time firefighter, turned his hand to children’s literature and is now an award-winning author at that. He recently picked up the Wilderness Society’s 2019 Environment Award for Children’s Literature at a ceremony in Hobart, far from the golden stretch of Bondi Beach that he patrols. He even found the time to tell us about his inspiration for the winning title, the second book in his Maxi The Lifeguard series, The Stormy Protest.

“It was definitely a bit of a shock,” says Trent on finding out he’d won. “The book’s only been out for a year so I felt very fortunate to be recognised for the environmental aspect and to find myself collecting the award with my co-author David Lawrence.”

Charting the adventures of Maxi the Lifeguard, Trent’s novellas deliver beach and water safety advice, and now with The Stormy Protest the issue of ocean pollution and how activism can be a powerful force for change. It engages with a strong sense of humour and whimsical illustrations by Peter Baldwin. “He’s a very talented artist and when I saw his work for the first time I knew he was the man for the job; he brings the book to life,” says Trent.

Photo 1: Trent promoting water safety and "Maxi the Lifeguard" on the Today Show on Channel 9. Photo 2: Trent accepting the Environment Award for Children's Literature with co-author David Lawrence and manager Leigh Mason.

And who better to cut through on the importance of water and beach safety than the youngest ever lifeguard to have served on Bondi? “I started when I was just 16; you need to be 18, but I was lucky enough to be given a traineeship,” says Trent, who you may have seen on the international hit show Bondi Rescue; his colleagues call him Lifeguard Maxi.

The inspiration for his eponymous character is clear, but it’s perhaps the time he spent with his grandfather picking up litter on his local beach at Sans Souci on Botany Bay that has given a strong thread of environmentalism to the book. “I used to walk along the beach with my grandfather and pick up rubbish; I was probably six or seven,” he recalls. “It was a time when people just used to throw stuff out of their car. There’s a lot of truth in my books to my upbringing and how I saw things as a child.”

Working as a lifeguard on Bondi, one of the busiest beaches on the planet, Trent has witnessed the gradual worsening of pollution in the Pacific Ocean, but also that simple measures can turn things around. “When I first started as a lifeguard there were actually bins on the sand and they used to overflow,” he remembers. “But now we’re very active with our recycling and the local cafes are abolishing plastic straws and other single-use plastics. So I’ve definitely seen an improvement.

“But we all need to be aware of how much waste we’re creating. And if you’re going down the beach and have bought some food, make sure you use biodegradable utensils, which won’t last in the oceans for hundreds of years harming marine life.”

Trent picked up the Environment Award for Children’s Literature just as school children across the world were organising a day of strike action to raise awareness about climate change. The School Strike 4 Climate on 20 September saw hundreds of thousands of young people call for an end to fossil fuels. With the character Maxi marshalling a demonstration to stop pollution on his beach, The Stormy Protest seems prescient and particularly pertinent. “The younger generation are standing up and trying to do their part. I think the shift is coming,” says Trent.

Trent Maxwell and climate strike protestors in Adelaide.

Indeed, he has seen firsthand the damage that fossil fuels can also do to marine and coastal environments and the wildlife that depends on them. “I was working as a lifeguard in Destin, Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened. The consequences took perhaps a month to reach where we were.

“There were droplets of oil and slicks washed up on the beach; BP technicians were walking up and down in hazardous material suits trying to clean it up. It was just horrible and very sad to see,” Trent recalls.

A disaster of similarly epic proportions could unfold in our very own Great Australian Bight if oil giants like Norwegian firm Equinor are allowed to exploit its pristine waters. It’s a shocking outcome the Wilderness Society is fighting hard to prevent - research has found that an oil spill in the Bight would cause extensive damage, stretching as far as Trent’s home state of New South Wales.

Cliffs of the Great Australian Bight

“I’ve come to realise that what [Equinor] is trying to do in the Great Australian Bight could be devastating, not just for the environment, but for our beautiful beaches. It would be horrible to see a similar catastrophe.

“We don’t have to drill into the Earth’s crust and extract [fossil fuels]; the science is there, it’s just a shift we have to make. Hopefully in our lifetimes we will see a massive change.”

It’s stories like The Stormy Protest that foster an early appreciation and understanding for the natural world, something the Wilderness Society’s Environment Award for Children’s Literature continues to celebrate. “The Stormy Protest shows kids that they can stand up in their local community and do what’s right,” says Trent. “And hopefully they can protect our oceans for years to come.”

Maxi The Lifeguard: The Stormy Protest by Trent Maxwell and David Lawrence is published by Affirm Press, $12.95. For more info see