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a lost life

The last turn as you come off the downward bend and into Palm beach proper is unremarkable.

There is a white linen restaurant on the right, a vacant block on the left. The golf course straight ahead.

Next to the vacant block is an overgrown garage that has not had its green roller door lifted in over thirty years. The building sits quiet today, almost hidden by wisteria and star jasmine vines – like a covered bunker, a mound.

Fenced off from the neighbours and alone on an almost forested block the small brick building sits subsumed by time and jungle. The roof is weighed down heavy by flowering vines as thick as tree branches. Two mature lilipily trees guard the roller door and the exterior walls are deeply mossed and damp ridden. A long dark pond of stillwater stands black and deep along one wall by the shaded southern side and frogs burp at each other from amongst the reed beds there. Rare orchids blink their colours from the shade, yellow-jacket wasp nests ring the walls.

Two men and one woman are standing in a knot of indecision on the roadside as they discuss the implications of forcing open the the green door and going inside the old building. They are the Public Trustees, this is now a deceased estate. They are here on a preliminary inspection.

Jessica Adams once owned the land and the garage that sits there, and decades ago she went by the name of Gidget. Gidge.

She was a small and beautiful girl, a capricious and effervescent youngster whose light shone bright at Bondi – and the younger of us gazed at her with a mysterious longing, she could undo a young man’s moorings, loose as they were  – as evidenced here – fifty years on.

– but how that innocence inflamed darker passions may be something a few old men may now regret.

A month before she disappeared she threw herself down onto the wet roadway of Campbell Parade and almost under a buses’ wheels. A sudden movement from the crowded pathway and there she lay between the tyres. The other girls retrieved her, took her away.

Perhaps she tripped.

With a rasping squeal the garage door opened and her dowry was exposed to the light.

A lost life.

Three dinged up balsa boards were stacked shoulder to shoulder along a mildewed wall, behind them a couple of surfing posters – 1961 showings of Slippery When Wet, Spinning Boards. A mossy bunk mattress was shoved up against its base, all fouled and peppered with mice rubble. Generations of them living inside. They scattered underfoot and into all the corners when sunlight displaced the decades of gloom.


A gas ring and blackened coffee mug sat by an ancient porcelain sink.

No signs of food anywhere, no fridge. A child’s sock under the bed.

One small window clear of vines, a box of Bob Evans’ Surfing World magazines lay by a wall, rotted out with damp. The top issue showed all the Wind ‘an Sea lads, their twenty young faces unlined and smiling.

We all knew her.

No carpet here, one bare bulb screwed into a wall socket by the bed.

In a wardrobe a rack of dresses was welded together with damp and rot and all of them without colour. Shoes placed beneath them were now just furred lumps, a small make-up mirror was glued to the inside of the wardrobe door and under it were pencilled three six-digit phone numbers.

An old dresser had cotton and silk wedded together in a pastry of funnel web spiders’ dens in one drawer and nothing in the other. Both were lined with pages from the Woman’s Weekly, 1956.

No diary, no letters.

They expected bones.

One day Jessica and I and Harry rode to Circular Quay in the front seat of his big Yank Dodge – away to see the first Australian surfers off on their trip to Hawaii, and every time Harry took a wrong turn up Bondi Road and through the Junction Gidge slid all the way over the benchseat and into my side.

Softly into me she slid, everytime.

– and we laughed, every time.

This is why she is here, now. That touch.

The First to Hawaii. 1961.

Jim (Geddes) wrote me from Oahu a month later and he tried to describe the massive forces of offshore wind and deepwater waves he was trying to deal with at Sunset beach – not at all like North Narrabeen he said, almost too much to survive – he managed to come back, Gidge though had disappeared forever.

From left: Owen Pilon, David Jackman, Mick McMahon, Bob Evans, lan Wallis, Ken Bate, Graeme Treloar, Jim Geddes, and Graham Henry.

16 Comments Post a comment
  1. This is as beautiful as it is elegiac.

    August 11, 2011
  2. Very beautiful Pete. As it turns out, your women are as lost and tragic as your men.

    My sincere hope for myself – and I say this in the most flattering way – is that I can live a life that you would never write a story about.

    Despite the seductive beauty and self-indulgence of sadness and introspection, I hope that I can always find the light and continue to head towards it. Like most of the the women I surf with, I draw on the light, water, joy, physicality and sensuality of the ocean, rather than only the depths and darkness. Happiness and love don’t make for beautiful stories unfortunately, but they certainly make for a wonderful life.

    August 11, 2011
    • ” self-indugence of sadness ”

      Everybody sees things differently Rebecca, and for their own reasons – as there is no self-indulgence in preferring night to day, each one has it’s own equal share of our time.

      Some might prefer the difficulty of bringing introspection into public words.

      The ocean has darker depths, you would prefer to skip on the sunny surface, I’m for deeper water.

      ps: not a lot of tragedy and sadness about the male models in those post were there? – or the ballet dancers, or surf-pro newlooks, or the girls on bondi – maybe I should lighten up

      August 11, 2011
  3. No, no, it was in no way a critique of your writing! What’s not self-indulgent about happiness, really? But I do find sadness self-indulgent, for me anyway, as it takes me away to my room, to my bed, to the river, to the beach, always alone…

    I think there isn’t a person alive who hasn’t plumbed oceanic depth – me included – but perhaps my own relationship with that is too fragile to delve into again and again? I don’t know.

    I just think that the most touching words are usually sad. Reflections on joy rarely translate so beautifully to the page, but they live much more easily. That’s all.

    What I would like to know is what kind of surfer Jessica was? And do you reckon women who surf are forever doomed to be nick-named Gidget? I get called that sometimes, and it usually makes me want to punch the person in the nose! Haha!

    August 11, 2011
    • I’ve got a picture of her here, taken in about ’61, she looks elfin and no I won’t share it – The pic was taken at North Narrabeen, she was the ‘ Girl of the Issue ‘ of Surfing World that month.
      She was a bit of a flounderer in the water, the boards were very heavy then – sodden balsa.

      August 11, 2011
      • They must have been difficult for someone small to carry. Modern boards are so light. I’m not very big, yet when I’m fit I can get down the hill with a 9′ longboard under each arm. These days (with my current levels of ‘writing fitness’) I struggle to cope with managing one! Ha.

        She must have been quite determined! Did she get a hard time from the guys because of/as well as floundering with the heavy boards?

        August 11, 2011
  4. She did as she was told – wear a bikini carry the board, smile for the pic – nothing has changed

    August 11, 2011
    • Oh. We’re there are we. Okay then, bye….

      I was just asking.

      August 12, 2011
      • she was used up ‘bec – Bondi was not for her

        August 12, 2011
  5. Clif #


    A thought: Just because it is dark and introspective doesnt mean its got depth. Ever walked into a wall in the dark? Ever been locked in a closet? Ever simply sat in the summer night and enjoyed the wistfulness? Joy can equal depth too, sometimes it reaches into your very core. It isn’t simply a shimmering surface, always.

    August 11, 2011
    • Maybe we’re using ‘depth’ differently. I did not mean significance. I meant murkiness and compression and isolation.

      Joy is super fucking significant – it makes my heart feel as though it is going to burst. Woohoo. I’ll take the shimmering surface too, every time.

      August 12, 2011
    • howarya clif

      Here’s another thought – you have about 30,000 people at a football match and whenever each side scores about half the crowd erupt with joy and happiness, you know the drill – we’ve all been there – but in the crowd there’s one person with autism and he sits still throughout the entire game. He doesn’t, cannot join in because it makes no sense to him.

      I’d rather write about him than the other 29,000 –

      August 12, 2011
      • Hey Pete,

        You found me at the the football match!

        Some people reach a peak and free-fall right over the top . . .

        August 17, 2011
  6. Oh Pete – what an amazing array of people has touched down along your life’s journey. Each one bringing their own story, which thankfully you are able to frame for us so that the art of their lives will remain hanging. A gallery of the intriguing, the introspective, the brash gatherers, the intrepid. She sounds as if she had many levels, and at least one of those touched one of yours – what a wonderful exchange. 🙂

    August 12, 2011
  7. Appropos of nothing I suppose. But you did mention ballgames Pete.

    Baseball games here bring out the best in schmucks. I recall sitting behind some annoying turd who was berating the opposing team with retarted banter at the top of his lungs. Now, these were fairly decent field level seats, but there was no way the players on the field were actually hearing this joker amongst the other background noise.

    After a couple of innings, the right fielder came to the plate, and this moron starts in with his weak schtick again. The batter grounds out weakly, and this clown turns to his fairly attractive date all proud-like and starts telling her, “I’m so in that guy’s head. Last night, I was sitting in the right field bleachers yelling at that guy all game. He heard me again and just wanted to get that at-bat over.”

    Seriously. He was taking credit for the guy grounding out. Not because he broke this guy’s concentration, mind you. Just because the guy wanted to get back to the bench to avoid the douchebag’s awesome heckling powers.

    I just sat there, quietly surmising how deep a ball-peen hammer would penetrate a temporal lobe.


    Oh yeah, and good luck with the thing about the thing this coming Sunday evening.

    August 13, 2011
    • all done here mate, after about three false starts – ended up completely off-course – (anyone reading this should know that me and ^ him have challenged each other to write something coherent about a random image picked a couple of days ago – the winner gets to feel good for about ten minutes – )

      – about that heckler, down here those blokes usually end up with a fat lip, or a beer bottle connection.

      August 13, 2011

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