the bondi astra, barry, and the death cut
The barmaids in the public bar would pin a bed-sheet up between the cash registers and just throw the money in as the bar filled with men coming up from the beach.
Men of all sizes and weights, some bare-chested and blackened like old charred wood from a long season in the sunshine. All of them just wandering up from the southern end of Bondi – local lads – liking it for a little afternoon uproar.
11 am and the public bar was four deep. Broadcast races from a radio on a shelf above the door, SP bookies at their tables, only two phones in the pub, everybody smoking, drinkers spilling out onto the road, tip-toeing up when a set reared up out there across the grassy verge because we all were all surfers of some kind and what a bloody yahoo it was if half a dozen men tumbled down the face of a big wave –
Barry would sit by the tables in the narrow part of the outside bar just beyond the side door, a schooner in one hand and the follow up in the shade beneath his seat. He sat there like Buddha on a bar stool, indefatigable and without emotion as he ran down his litany of complaints about us, the new school, the hotdoggers.
Barry surfed the year round in an almost transparent pair of skirted Speedos and the only hold winter had on him was an old South Sydney jumper. Deep scars ribbed the insides of both his arms, legacies of paddling a board with ragged dings down both the inside rails.
He told tales of balsa boards that logpiled into the shore with the whitewater, sometimes a dozen to a wave in those days when there were no restrictions as to where a man surfed, and how they scythed their way through the women and children bathing between the flags.
The loose boards made a solid crunching sound as they bumped and crashed and split their edges against eachother, and the swimmers, handicapped by the thigh-deep water fled in a slow motion panic from the fast approaching logjam.
– and we learnt from this to mow them all down, deliberately, in a manoeuvre called The Death Cut.
Here was supremacy.
– here was a solid wall of water seconds before impacting a shallow sandbank, and as it reared up to double height a youngster caught it on his board and rather than ride straight down to the bottom he turned and ran it along the wave length until the whole thing collapsed on top of him.
Nobody did barrels then, we were learning about lateral speed.
This was the Death Cut. The bungee jump of the late fifties with hoped for collateral damage and the magnificent and eternal wrath of Aub Laidlaw if he gathered in the lost board before the youth managed to grab it and head back out.
The Death Cut was, arguably, the reason for registration of boards and segregation of beaches into surfing and non-surfing zones.
Back to the Astra – where the oval bar was still two deep in bare chests and bare feet and a young man with two midday schooners aboard could look through the noisy mob over the bar and out there beyond the open doors was Bondi at its magnificent best with its horizon of endless swell.
Everybody was represented here on weekends.
Bookies, shirt-lifters, crims, queers, bums, drunks, boys, firemen, detectives, cabbies, bludgers, WW2 Vets, men with no legs, girls with men’s voices, fighters and stand-over men, mugs and pugs, con-men and maintenance dodgers, alkies and perverts, punters and runners, organizers and distance men. Pickpockets, receivers, petty thieves, housebreakers, coppers, fixers, jackeroos, nonces, jockeys, Catholics and Prods. Magistrates and Clerks of Court, lawyers and accountants, vagrants and vassals. The saved and unsaved, salvos and remittance men, orphans and arseholes, priests and politicians.
Nobody minded. This was the Bondi Mob.
There was so much sand on the floor of the public bar at closing time that the tiles were covered, and after twenty years all the colours had been rubbed away, sandpapered off by the bare feet of a generation of shoeless drinkers.
Barry died of a heart attack about fifteen years ago getting off a plane in Bangkok; he was on his way to the boy brothels in Khlong Toei and he died in the customs queue.
We never knew.