an assault in 3 stages – bondi baths
The boy was alone.
In 1956 Bondi Baths had a small handball court in the southern corner, a walled off enclosure open to the sun where men played the game and boys watched. There was always the rich punctuation of oaths about the game – wild swearing to some of the lads watching, boys who never heard such words anywhere else.
We’ll call him Alex. He was about fourteen and at this time of summer, midway through, was the colour of mahogany and as skinny as a snake. Alex was on his way out of the courts and as he passed three other boys on their way in one of them collided hard into his shoulder. A deliberate charge, one which bounced Alex back into a wall. Two for the price of one.
The bigger boy who had shouldered him aside laughed, then all three boys laughed together as Alex quickly slipped past them and away down to the pool. None of them knew him but that is always the way with those who have strong arms and weak minds – and thus Alex was marked for the day.
On the northern end of the pool there were old stone steps that enabled swimmers to exit the baths and traverse a barely covered reef in order to gain the ocean – larger waves washed through here with some force and two stanchions had been cemented into the rocks at the base of the cliff and a rope was strung between them. This served to assist anybody being swept towards the cliff base by such waves and it was a popular place for boys to gather and ride out the white water.
Here boys hung off the rope and let the waves wash past and over them – the cliff towered to a height of about forty feet and there was a roadway up there; Notts Avenue, a fine vantage point for people to gather and watch the sea and all the movement that was about the Bondi cove.
Alex was one of four boys on the rope when the boulder landed an arm’s length away. A head sized stone, heaved over from the walkway above, where three boys were gathered. The larger of them called out something and pointed down, at Alex.
An hour later Alex left the pool and walked out onto Notts Avenue where he saw the three boys waiting for him and without any hesitation the largest of them placed his arm around Alex’s neck and crushed him down into a headlock. No words had been spoken, until now.
Both Alexs’ arms were free, and with the last of his breath he asked the bigger boy to let him go, he said he would count to five – and amidst the laughter he did just that.
The boy maintained his hold, and despite his position Alex managed to throw up a right fist that caught his assailant a solid and sudden blow on his ear. The boy immediately released the headlock and stepped back, and stepped back again as Alex straightened himself up and walked a pace towards him. For a moment all four boys looked at each other.
All their blood cooled.
The three boys turned and walked away, and when they had reached the safety of fifty feet between them and Alex they turned back and catcalled and swore, they threatened, then they disappeared into the crowds.
The bigger lad – the rock thrower – had a missing finger, that I remember too – and ten years later we shared this tale of inexplicable conflict in the public bar of the Bondi Hotel – as you do – though I let him buy me the first two beers. We got on just fine, we called it square.
His name was Brian. He died fighting in Vietnam a couple of years later.