Rod was born in Cliff St Fremantle in 1928 and started started swimming at the age of 9 among the fishing boats. Even at that young age he was a good swimmer beating the 14 year olds at the Fremantle School swimming carnival.
He left school at 14, but mum and dad insisted he went to night school where he met the Hopkins brothers who asked him to join the Scarborough Surf Life Saving Club in the 41/42 season. In those days, you couldn't get your Bronze until you were 16 and swimmers were assessed in groups of 6. One group of City Beach 16 year olds was short one person, so they sent the 14 year old Rod to fill in to allow the other five 16 year olds to get through.
When not on patrol duty, which wasn't often, Rod would swim in Swan River events including the 1945 Swim Thru Perth, which was the first race after World War 2. He came second to Peach Tait by only 3 seconds. In those days the events were handicapped with Rod always one of the back markers, which made winning pretty hard.
The first Fremantle race after WW2 was held from the Fish Markets Jetty to South Fremantle. Rod was lined up at his mark when he was spotted by a competitor who complained to the officials. By then Rod had gained a reputation as a good swimmer and as a result of the complaint was re-handicapped back two marks. He finished 2nd and certainly would have won if not for being re-handicapped. After the race, swimmers recovered with watermelon and a drink from a keg of Ginger Beer.
During his time at Scarborough SLSC, Rod met Pam at a Saturday night open air dance in Cottosloe and were married eighteen months later. They lived in a house in Grand Promenade at Scarborough that Rod fixed up himself including doing all the plumbing.
Rod performed Beach Patrols every weekend on Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning, or Sunday afternoon, eventually becoming the Club Vice-Captain. In 1951, Rod was given a week off work to recover from a tonsillitis operation, so he went to the beach. That day 6 to 8 people were swept out in a rip. Rod and Andrew Carmen hopped on to the Belt Reels and brought them in two at time. Back on the beach they thought they had rescued everyone, unfortunately one person drowned. For their courage and humanity, Rod and Andrew received the Royal Humane Societies Bronze Medal.
(L to R) Ted McQueen and Rod
At Rod's birthday party in 1953, he and 7 others decided to take the bold step to found the Trigg Island Surf Life Saving Club. Triggs were considered rebels because most had broken away from Scarborough. Some said the club wouldn't last! Rod was the Patrol Officer and would do all the beach patrols. They started training for club competitions. In their first year Triggs won the State blue ribbon R&R event, which qualified them for the National championships at Merryweather in Queensland, where to their credit they finished 3rd.
Rod first made the Western Australian State SLS team in 1947 and went on to represent WA in 51, 54, 56, and 58 and captained the 60, 61 and 62 teams. In 1960, Rod made the Australian SLS team that competed in the International Surf Carnival in New Zealand. Selection on the Australian team was based on your 400m qualifying time, R&R performance and overall life saving skills. Only one person was picked from WA. In May 2009, Rod's service to Surf Life Saving was formally recognised when he was inducted into the Surf Life Saving Western Australia Hall of Fame.
In 1955, during his last year at Triggs, Rod and Pam's first daughter Kerry was born and he was transferred for work to Bunbury. Shortly after arriving in Bunbury he was asked to join the Bunbury SLSC. Rod explains that "Bunbury has lots of talent, but weren't well organised". Rod became Club Captain and later President during their golden years when they trained and competed against the Perth clubs - giving them a run for their money!
Rod and Pam's second daughter Merrilee was born in Bunbury in 1958. In 1962, the new surf boat was christened the "Rod Baker' by Pam (see Photo). In 1963, Rod was elected as a Life Member of the Bunbury Surf Life Saving Club.
In 1963, Rod was transferred with work back to Perth. He joined Trigg for a short time before taking a break from patrols and competing by relaxing body surfing and skin diving. In 1981, he built a stone house on their Eagle Bay block. He and Pam also formed the Eagle Bay volunteer fire brigade. In 1996, Rod needed a heart bypass operation. He went in for three and came out with six by-passes.
In March 1998, Rod and Pam moved from Eagle Bay to Mandurah. Rod joined Mandurah Masters Swimming Club. He had previously been a member of the Osborne Park Masters (later to become Beatty Park Masters). During that year, he swum in the 1981 Nationals held in Perth and won the 50-54 year age group 400m FS in a time of 5:32.72.
In 2003, his outstanding Masters swimming record was recognised when he won the Peel Senior Male Sports Star of the Year.
In April 2008, Rod swam in the Fina Masters World Championships in Perth, where he broke the world records for 80-84 400m FS (LC) in a time of 6:33.71 and 800m FS (LC) in a time of 13:39.76. In fact Rod won all the races he entered (including, the LC 50m, 100m and 200m FS) and was rated in the Top 3 swimmers in the world in his age group in five Freestyle events, as well as 3rd and 4th in the World in the 50m and 200m Backstroke, respectively.
In April 2013, Rod swam again in the Fina Masters World Championships in Perth. The same year he broke the world records for 85-89 400m FS (LC) in a time of 7:02.33 and 400m FS (SC) in a time of 6:56.12. Click Here to see all of Rod's FINA World Records and Rankings.
When he was not swimming Rod's other passion was repitory theatre and drama with the Murray Music and Drama.
Rod passed away on 30 September 2018 at aged 90 years.