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on the fingers of one hand


WayneY led me down Dover Height’s highest cliffs then into the booming Bondi surf, daring me to quit. I did once, couldn’t get out and gave up. He was disgusted.

RusselJ lived close by, Wayne’s best mate. Big Russell last heard butchering in America. His neighbour’s son chipped a hole into the wall separating his side of the semi-detached house from Russ and his brother’s bedroom one day and piped his car’s exhaust in through a long hose that night, late. Nobody died.

Brent McL fluked a board made so sweet I borrowed it for five years and if it hadn’t been pinched when I was living with AlgaeR in Byron I’d have it hanging in the shed today next to the two MickD built for me.

MickD and I shared a playground when he was ten and I was seven. Later we shared another playground at South Bondi. We meet regularly and although we love each other we don’t hug.

Not done.

Not like TonyF. A Kiwi nugget. He sits across from me at smoko, eating sushi and remembering long lines of ever-building Indonesian waves. Flashing, ever-peeling concaves.

Like DaveR, who bought a board shaped by Midget with a deeply crimson paint job. Dave thereafter named the Flashing Crimson Wizard. We surfed through acres of brown water at Warriewood  …

PeteF, and thanks to him I always associate a kombi’s growl with the promise of fine hooch. Pete always showed up late and stayed long.

JacobB taught me how to play a game of chess and lose in five minutes, he was born wrong with two legs and two arms that forever did what they wanted to do. Chess notwithstanding.

AlgaeR was the first man ever to work the Broken Head barrels the way they were intended. Like a possum under an eave.

That almost changed when he married ElaineR and almost became respectable.

MickT had an unbroken voice that sounded high and soft like a nightingale, and every girl we met just wanted to be hanging off his arm. Even the delectable Denise. A graceful goofy-foot. Gave away more waves that he took.

BillyB. School chum. Seen travelling to the airport with some friends looking for a late night drink at 2 am one Monday morning in 1959. As if.

Monk mopped up my leaking blood one night outside a pub in Chelsea when a couple of the local lads took offence … good hitters, those poms. Admirable the damage they inflicted. Unlike Australians, they help you up after they knock you down. Must be the Rugby.

KerryD. We took a boat from Spain to New York and nobody aboard had ever met an Australian like him. Hands like dinner plates, eyes like the deep green sea. Curly hair, infectious giggle. Pulled a Ford Falcon’s underbelly apart on the road to Miami because he didn’t like the whine coming out of the diff.

DaveR has more nicknames than fingers, and each one earned after a physical disaster. Not a natural surfer. To be avoided in the water.

BobK was proof that someone can like a bloke from Pymble, even one who drives a Volvo. Loved food did Bob, anyones, no refrigerator was safe. Also never fixed the dings on his board.

DonN. Lent me a camera and suggested I take photos of the Avalon mafia at play up at Point Joe then stick them up on the internet. I obliged and not everybody up there was in love with me from that day on.

TerryT. Both of us eight years old and out of the boarding school window after dinner and off, anywhere. His dad had a farm out west, my mob a hundred miles the other way. Five hours later we wandered back and scored a welcome home peanut butter on toast from SisterP.

SisterP was a Sacred Heart nun of great understanding and endless patience with the hundred boys under her care, especially ^ us two. Promised her we would never do it again.

DougK’s sister was an airline stewardess. That’s why he’s here.

RusselH. H for hunger. Russ hungered for waves, woke up at two in the morning to be first out and when you showed up at dawn four hours later he was still out there, gorging himself. Chuckling and muttering with his best mate ..

.. Adrian, Age. Went out once with a miner’s light strapped onto his head, maybe he should have eaten fifty carrots a day like his best mate. Last seen leaving town after giving away all his boards.

EdR. A man straight out of the Boys’ Own Manual. Mountains high, ice thick and snow soft. He sailed the south seas and walked the Antarctic wildernesses and here’s me stuck in a tent with him in the Upper Hawkesbury trying not to burn the toast while waiting for the rain to stop and the patrol to get in after four days in the bush.

RodneyF. Pud. Another big eater, although only thirteen when we descended onto the Dover Height’s home sites after the Blacktown builders went home. There was some damage done.

TerryC spent fifteen years flying over fighting zones for the RAAF and taking pictures .. he would climb a vertical 300 foot cliff for a rare seabird’s egg, but that didn’t matter when he tried to surf at Pam Beach because all he got was nipple rash. He won’t thank me for saying this.

IanJ found room for me in his black Simca only because I was taking out his lovely sister. Add to that he had a reserved spot at the Pass. Susceptible to a snake, old Ian, almost feel bad about it now.

ShaneF. Shank has the soul of a writer and the thirst of a dragon.

KeithP. Knew some extremely painful pressure points under the ears of the friend who might have been professing a view other than the one he held dear. Grew a beard to hide his lips.

JimmyG. School chum. Wrote me from Hawaii the year he travelled over with Bob Evans, the day after he had his hair blown off by the Sunset offshore as he tried for a big one. Scary shit wrote Jim, maybe I’ll go better tomorrow.

BasilD. School chum. Asked me once what it was like having a father  .. I was too young to understand.

WayneP. Pickles had an old bread van that fitted four sleeping bodies. The only time I got inside was when he was parked outside the Florida at Terrigal after a day at the Haven and an afternoon in the beer garden. All the windows were rolled up and everyone was emitting coarse words and noxious odours.

JohnnyG. School chum. Greek parentage. Had to biff him once after he made an unexplainable and public grab for that part of a nude male ballet dancer that isn’t supposed to swing when all else suddenly remains still.

BillM. The Black Prince owned a room with shelves that supported bottles of green substances he collected and insisted everyone sample before taking erratic late night drives through the city and suburbs with all the headlights turned off. Which made sense at the time.

PeteMcL. Proof that Canadians are the equal to Australians in all walks of life, sober or otherwise, this country or that, at ease or in haste. Liked to wear my shirts when his wore out. He left his girl in Lisbon and a month later we found him in Tangier.

Benny delivered. Dark and lithe, knowledgeable. Some mornings there would be a couple of tightly wrapped numbers lying on the hall floor after Benny had come by late at night and poked them through the window above the front door.

Cuz. A Japanese working at Doma who thought listening to an Australian speak was almost too funny to hear.

DaveK. I’ll take you, he said, and after a long hike under the cliff base he showed us the best white-water snapper hole in the country. But a king tide was on the rise, a low pressure onion was fast developing off Ulladulla and the sea was becoming untrustworthy. The cliffs too vertical for us to climb out.

JimB. Meet the new CEO the foreign suit said, and handshakes all around. Nice to meet you Jim. Welcome to Australia Jim. Settled in nicely, have you Jim?  Meanwhile, one of the lesser executives was wondering what might be the background of an Englishman from Manchester who would spit polish his shoes without being ordered to do so.

JerryH. Accountant to the bone and happy with it. The man couldn’t get angry at any mistakes made by the lower clerical order, incapable of it. Just as well.

MikeA liked to natter on after the boatshed had signed off and everyone gone home. A sly old dog climbing a shaky corporate ladder but wanting to talk about an earlier life and being chased through the Lismore railway yards by an aroused engine fitter.

WayneO helped a neighbour with water problems once by digging an eight hundred metre trench to the main supply. Money wasn’t repayment enough and two days later his widowed mother was surprised to be given a bunch of flowers when she was out watering her garden.

TonyB. School chum. Never known to be without a smile, even when ten feet deep in poker machine losses. Last seen in a wheelchair surrounded by his old friends. Some chipper, some ragged.

Nothing holds right with Les. His vision and understanding fractured into too many pieces to count. Sometimes he drinks and bellows all night long, knowing his enemies are listening, noting, recording and remembering. He has a daughter he says after meeting mine. There is some doubt.

Tim is another shadow on the street. Likes to talk about the snooker comps he enters at the hotel down the road. Five bucks a throw. Sometimes he nearly wins, he says. Tim doesn’t take a drink, smokes butts and lives in fear of the Lord. Amen to that.

OwenP defied breakfast logic by spreading peanut butter over his cornflakes. When it was his turn to make sandwiches nobody ate them.

GilesB’s mother came out from the Old Dart to visit him and on the second day insisted on being taken up in a small plane and thrown out. She was seventy-eight. A parachute was involved.

MikeO’F, The Phantom. Just when you thought you were the first one out he would appear out of the mist and sit ten feet deeper. His was a disturbing emergence in the dark of dawn, as was his unearthly cackle when the sets came a’looming.

MikeH, just when you didn’t want to see another wave-ski riding Pom out the back Mike arrived, Charlie Chuckles, nobody told him surfing was supposed to be a serious business.

Johnno aka Deadly would paddle up to you and softly croon a Frank Sinatra number in your ear. Too much part-time cappella singing can do that to a man. But it did tend to put a fellow off his game.

Rod was able to quell a table full of young drunks in seconds by punching the loudest one quite hard on the nose. That usually did the trick and he went back to collecting money at the front door until his services were called upon again.

MikeS. Traded the Mona Vale desperates for five idyllic acres of brown snakes behind Byron. Suspect move that. Lovely fellow, but being a lovely fellow meant little in the scheme of surfing when you rode a kneelo. Everyone took a piece of you, just like brown snakes.

How’s the irony?

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Wayne Yates #

    What a memory you have Pete
    Particularly the episode with Russ and his neighbour which I had completely forgotten.
    Was I really disgusted with you ? LOL.
    Hope all is well.
    Wayne Y

    May 21, 2020
    • You were a challenge of the best sort. And not the last.

      May 21, 2020

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