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our surfing heritage: the uncomfortable truth

This is us.

This is how we once saw ourselves, especially on Oahu, a place where we Busted Down the Doors because we were The Riders Of The Storm, better known as The Golden Breed, forever on The Search where We Rode Giants and Stepped into Liquid, we rode Blazing Boards, hit The Beach Party and Chased Mavericks. We Rode the Wild Surf and Ripped the Curl.

Our early heroes were Duke Kahanamoku and George Downing Snr, Greg Noll and Ricky Grigg, Linda Benson. Gidget and Troy Donohue. Now we have Slats, MF, Parko and all those macho Brazilians.

But this ^ was us. We were The Bronzed Aussies.

So true to our heritage. Because Only a Surfer Knows the Feeling.


When was the last time, the first time someone admitted to enjoying an Agatha Christie novel on a ‘What are you reading‘  topic on surfing website forum. I’ve looked. There isn’t. 

Swellnet’s readers can’t get past Witzig and Jarratt and the Realsurf bunch are hooked on everything Nick Carroll writes in books or online, excepting the occasional odd-bod who pretends he reads and understands Socrates.


This is us, striving to identify with our ancient Hawaiian heritage.

But what a heritage !

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There you have it, or them, our illustrious surfing forbears. Our true heritage, and all of them bloody Poms.

The shame of it.


mike doyle – why we liked him


Being a yank and surfing in Australia fifty plus years ago was all sorts of problems for us – we weren’t ready for them. Blame Hollywood, blame Gidget, James Darin and Troy Donahue. American surfers had blown-dry hair and pancake make-up. In the movies they paddled out on a lake (Take 1) then dropped into oversize Waimea inside Pat Curren (Take 2).

This faulty interpretation of all things American was because this ^ was us – a bunch of impressionable, gawky looking kids out in the waves all day, and we believed everything the Yank actors playing surfers did on the big screen. Copied them, adopted their nicknames, their speech. James Darin fired up a newspaper to melt wax – so did we – and fractured the fibre-glass from nose to tail. But we resisted taking a guitar to the beach to win babes like Troy Donahue did – and nobody put oil on their hair, ever. Some things we got right. This I know.

I was there.

But that all changed in 1964 when Mike Doyle decided to come west to see how we were doing. The year they ran the first Open World Surfboard Championship contest at Manly, and in the doing emptied every classroom of impressionable boys for a thousand miles around.

Mike didn’t win that comp, he came second to Midget, and although the waves were pretty ordinary that day I can summon up enough survivors of the time who will swear Doyle smiled all day – in and out of the water. Winning or losing.

The big man was just happy to be here, Down Under, and rip into a few waves at the same time. It showed. And we appreciated it. Still do.

Not that Doyle didn’t know how to carve out a solid track as time went by.

pic by I dunno

So, just in case nobody over here has thought about it yet – I’d like to wish the old lad Aloha. And thanks for the attitude.

We appreciate it.

Mike Doyle, Midget and the Gazelle – pic by Jack Eden

what bondi called you

Hey Joe. Gary Johnson. He could yodel it.

Bonza Bob. Rob Conneely. Champion.

Gull. Dave Spencer. Mohair lover. Had all the moves.

The Bloater. Max Bowman. Something must have happened to him mid-life, the bloke I remember was built slim and moved fast.

Red Ted. John Sullivan. The Ted I don’t know. The Red could be political.

Long Play. Andy Cochran. Sure you can come out the back with us, Andy, the older men said, as long as you keep quiet when we get there.

Wheels. John Williams.

Zulu. You want to know why? He looked like one.

Toad. No chin. Ditto guts.

Wally the Walker. Wally Newell. The first to unglue his feet from the back of the board.

Bluey. Jack Mayes. Redhead. Blew hard.

The Head. Kevin Brennan. Had a big one.

Specs. Phil Norris. Had 4 eyes.

Frank’nWarren. Frank Pickford and Warren Cornish. Two young blokes joined at the hip.

The Canadian Kook. Mike Bennett. Fell off badly one day in front of everyone.

Pickles. That’s what you get with a name like (Wayne) Pilkington.

Harry Hungry Hair. Used a bucket of Brylcreem every week. Never saw him in the water.

Magoo. Barry McGuigan, a royal lineage.

The Carney Kid. Read Long Play. How they flocked.

The Silent Partner.

The White Russian.

Wavey Davey. He hung out with the 2nd ramp to get named that.

The Rat. Vic Hogan: a bit long in the front teeth I’ve been told.

Tshirt. Terry Falson. Somebody ask him. I never saw him wear one.

The Rodge. Bruce Rodgers. He was a big unit, hence the The.

Joe the Goose. Peroxide blonde. Sold good threads up at the Royal on Saturdays.

Gidget. Only if you saw the movie and knew the girl.

The Ripple Rider. Brian Morris. Snapped fashion on land and provided it on the water.



There has to be more … late fifties to early sixties.

warren cornish – after the funeral

He sometimes came by Mrs Browns in the morning and stopped down at the bottom of the road early. Blat .. Blat on his car horn, his Holden station wagon. Warren was the only one with a station wagon and the blat blat was for get your arse to the Pass. Sometimes it was for Broken Head and he was always the first to know, and here’s me and Algae with an old rusted black VW to get there.

We never got a ride in Warren’s car, and not many got a ride in his life. He was a personal man.

A fellow named Pete Green told me that Warren had died yesterday, we were outside the Lennox paper shop and I’d just jibed him because he was my age and looking ok in a Jacobs Tshirt. So two old surfers got talking and he told me. Pete Green knew Warren well, they had worked together for many years.

Prostate C, that bastard cancer.

Later that afternoon I walked past another no-name old man watching Lennox sweeping by, and said to him  – ‘Can’t wait to get out there can you?’ –

That was Curtis, first name forgotten and we’d never met before today.

He was from Bondi. He used to live in the flat above Tshirt TerryF, and we got to talking. The names sped off the list, Cochran, Bluey, Scott, Magoo, Head – and here he said, ‘Who was Head’s best mate?

‘Did he surf?’

‘Yeah, I can’t think of his name.’

‘Gary Johnson ..!  Gary hey joe Johnson.’

Well that was him, and there were more. You don’t ask if anyone was still alive, comes the time in life when the answer is always melancholy. But we talked about Warren today.

When we left each other we didn’t just shake hands, we clasped them.

That’s where Warren Cornish came from, those early Bondi days when boys rode balsa.

frank and warren, never apart

After the funeral:

Somebody walked up to Bob McTavish and interrupted him as he was having a conversation with three people, he excused the interruption and took McTavish aside – said this to him:

‘I was told many years ago, Bob, that when you were young and extravagantly vain you were heard to say that nobody knew how good you really were because they couldn’t see what your feet were doing in the white-water.’

McTavish nearly blushed, and declaimed the quote as hardly being true. ‘Too bad mate,’ he was told, ‘you’ve been credited with it.’

A man cornered an old gent being wheeled away in his chair, a friend of Cornish – the old boy couldn’t speak but the lady assisting him said he could hear ok, and he was from Cronulla, and he was ok for a chat. So he was told of the Bulli tomato fight, and how it was a car full of Cronulla surfers who got hit instead of Maroubra. And that Cornish, aged 15, was one of the tomato tossers.

Then there was the Sydney girl, the one who told of Cornish wanting to drive a car so bad he changed the birth date on his birth certificate and got a licence at age 15. Then he bought the car. She was 14 at the time and she had the seat beside him. Today she was sitting beside me, and there was something familiar about her.

I mentioned gidget, and she smiled. Like women do.

Warren’s sister gave his eulogy, she said his faith was practiced in the Church of the Sky. She spoke of his hidden generosities, his good works. His steadfastness. She also read a few excerpts from one of his early diaries, where he showed the spirit of the times.

No shirt, no collar, no city. He would have none of them.

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.

old ghosts

ABDAMAN (Ab, da man) / Acid Al / Adge / Ahab / Animal / Ant /Asthma / BABBA / Bean / Bhudda  /Bikehead (wears glasses) / Billy Bullshit / Blister (only shows up when the hard work’s been done)Bluey / Bobalouie / Bombie / Bonzer / Boof / Boofhead / Bobangar Bob / Boomer / Boy Wonder / Box / Bozo/ Brew / Bruce Willis / Bud / Buddy / Bugs / Bumper / Bush Ted / Buster / Buttons / CALYPSO / Chalky / Chappy / Chez / Chewy / Choko / Chops / Chook /  Chuck a Luck / Chunk / Claw / Clubbie / Collnarra / Compo / Crackers/  Crimso / Croaky/ DAPPER / Da Cat/  Dark Bones/  Deadly / Doc  / Dog / Doink (fell from the womb onto concrete)  / Dooma / Dutchy/  FANGA (big on the tooth)  / FBI (fkn big idiot) / FISH / Fishtank / Fluff / Foggy (last name Hayes) / Fox / Frenchie / Froggy / Furburger  / Fucknuckle / Fugly (fucken ugly) / G’DAY / Geezer / Gerber / Gidget (the Manly one) / GI Joe /  Giveashit (couldn’t) / Globite (bloke’s a case) / Gobbo / Gopher / Gofer / Grouse / Grub / Gutter Rat / Gutzer  / HAPPY / Hangten / Harry Hungry Hair/  Harry the Hat / Havachat / Hawk / Head / Headcase/ Hippy / Hoppy /  Horny / Houso Bob / Hugh Jarse  /IPOD (always in your ear)/ Inside Bill / JUMBO / Jughead / KANGA / Kero Lantern (he’s a little dim) / Kong / Larpa (he’s from La Perouse / LARRY (the lip launcher) /Laz /  Little Dooley  / Longplay (talks too much)Loose Leaf /Lovedog /Rene%20Magritte
MAD John / Maggot / Magoo  /Marino  /Marsupial / Marylin (he so pretty) / Midget / Mister X / Monk / Moose / Mousey / Mr Wolf /MudGuts / Munga / Muscles / NAPPER / Ned (last name Kelly) / Nightlight (he’s as dim as Kero lantern) / Nipper/ Noidsy (bloke’s paranoid) / Noodles / Not Very (last name Bright)/ Nude Nut /  Nugget / One-legged Jack / OPIUM (slow working dope) / Oroton Bob / Oscar  / Ox Head / PANCHO / Pasqual / Penguin (real name Ben Gwynne) / Pete the Pom / Phantom /Pickles /  Plank (as thick as) / Popout / Pommie Pete/ Ponch /  Pottz / Prince Valiant / Punk /Puppydog /Pygmy  /RABBIT / Ratso / Ravesy / Rartz /Red Dog (the dickhead)/ Richo / Rick the Rooter / Risky / Roger the Rooter / Roger the Dodger / Rotten / Roughnut / Roy  / SAMSONITE (a hard case) / Saxon / Schvartz /Scruff / Seadog / Seppo / Sharky / Shep /Silvertooth / Sid (a bit vicious / Slab /Smiley / Smooth Pierre / Snowy / Specks/ Speedbump /Spike / Spot / Spotter / Sput / Squirrel / Sticky Rooter (real name Ricky Stewart) / Sticks/ Stitch / Stumpy / Surfshop / T Shirt/ TANK / Taubmans / Tex /The Animal / The Flashing Crimson Wizard /  The Biscuit / The Big Stomper (sorry Max. I know she’s the Missus) /The Body / The Boy Bastard  /The Bull /  The Canadian Kook / The Carny Kid / The Crust / The Duke / The Fish / The Floater (he’s shit in the water) / The Ghost who Walks / The Goat / The Good Doctor / The Throwback (Ben Campbell .. BC) / The Jolly Green Giant / The Little Man on Wheels / The Mexican / The Missile  / MX (the missile again) / The Pope (always goes right) / The Professor (clif) / The Ripple Rider (Brian Morris) / The Rodge / The Silent Partner / The White Russian / Tin Head / Toad / Tonguer/  TowTruck (heading for a breakdown) / Tubesteak / Tunga / UNCLE / Ugh  /WALLY the Walker  / Watego’s Wendy / Wavey Davey  /Wheels / Whitey / Wingnut / Wombat (eats roots and leaves) / YANCY /  Yob / Yogi /  ZOOB / Zoomer / Zulu /
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