A Golden Age

The photographs of John Witzig


11-23 September, 2018

10am to 5pm daily

Brad Mayes, Bondi Beach

Brad Mayes, Bondi Beach, 1970. Photo: John Witzig.



Frank and Albert

Frank and Albert “Bung” Coulson (both with heads down, left of centre), James Burke (far right), Victor Coppleson and others. South Bondi, ca. 1910. Photographer: Mortimer C. “Crit” Stevenson.


I am the grandson of Frank Coulson (Bondi born and bred), one of the bodysurfers in the picture above. You may have seen the image before, as it has appeared a couple of times on the net, but always as a small image that does not do it justice. I know I am biased due to the family connection but I really believe this is a great shot, considering that it was taken over a hundred years ago, and am hoping that you can find a spot for it on your images page. You have a great site and more Bondi people are likely to see it and possibly fill in some blanks.

The photographer “Crit” Stevenson, was Frank’s brother-in-law, and according to the “family story”, he waded out into the surf with a camera on a pole to keep it above the waves, took the shot and then went over to the nearby rocks and passed the camera to a woman waiting there. The only way I can see him doing this would be to lower the camera, set up the shot, take it and then raise it above the waves again. No Go-Pros on poles in those days!! The image appeared in one of the Sydney papers (possibly the S. M. H.), apparently with attention focusing on the quality of the image, rightly so. We know, as we can clearly see his face, that the man on the far right is James Burke, a great mate of Frank and Albert. The family also say that the two men just left of centre, with their heads down already on the wave, are Frank and Albert but we don’t now who is who. Frank, Albert (“Bung”) and other brother Edward (“Tibby”) were all Life Members of the Bondi Amateur Swimming Club.

Hoping that this might be the earliest photo of bodysurfers in Australia led me to searching the internet, where I soon came across the site surfresearch.com.au which quickly dashed my hopes with an image of bodysurfing from 1905. You most likely know of the site as it has a great deal of data on surf and Bondi. Geoff, who runs the site is also very helpful and a good researcher. This image is also on his site with the information that Dr Victor Coppleson (later Sir Victor) is also one of the swimmers and that the photo was taken in 1912. Victor Coppleson was a very significant figure in the history of Bondi Lifesaving and in Medicine. A large framed print of the image that hangs on my wall has been handed down to me from my grandparents with some data on the back that includes the date of 1908 so there is a little bit of doubt over the date. After Geoff rightly pointed out that family memories are not always reliable, I have been searching archives on the net such as Fairfax, etc., but have had no luck and we have lost contact with Crit Stevenson’s branch of the family a long time ago. I would really love to see the newspaper article featuring this shot.

Like Frank, I also was born in Bondi but moved away at a very young age and am now up here at Brunswick Heads, closer to 70 than to 60. I got my first taste of the ocean down at the Bogey Hole and am still surfing.

Again, excellent site. Great stories, enjoyed the interview with Robert Conneeley.


Denis Riek

Don’t mess with Jack

By Terry Jenkings

Built in the 1920s, The Balconies faced north, toward Ben Buckler, perched above the south end of the beach, where it was cooled by the nor-east, sea breeze. Had it been built at the north end of the beach, exposed to southerlies, it would not have lasted long. By the 1950s, the place had become seedy and run down.

The rooms overlooking the beach housed society’s outcasts. It was locally known that many of the occupants were newly released from gaol. They would spend their days drinking long necks and abusing passers-by or making lewd comments to attractive women. This didn’t seem to bother the locals, who would just walk to the other side of Notts Avenue and let the clowns have their fun, dressed in their uniform of work pants and chesty bond singlets.

Above the derelict rooms was a tea house, which later became The Java Indonesian restaurant. This glassed café seemed to be lopsided, but was popular for its spicy delights, which were foreign to many locals. The views were also spectacular, but not really appreciated, as the windows were covered in salt spray.

Standing next to The Java, facing Campbell Parade, was an insignificant and not all that inviting milk-bar. It serviced people waiting for trams and, later, buses, which were housed at North Bondi. The milk-bar was typical of the times, in that it sold drinks, ice-creams, lollies and the like. The floors were lino and a long counter separated the owner from the customer.

The proprietor in the 1950s was known simply as Jack. His last name was too difficult to pronounce, as was the case with many of the shop keepers who moved into Bondi at that time. Jack was tall with black hair brushed back and held in place with Brylcreem. He always smiled to those waiting for transport and stood erect behind his counter in his white shirt and, in winter, grey cardigan. His constant smile revealed some gold fillings and his greeting was in broken English, but always pleasant. There was something different about Jack because, on close inspection, it was obvious he had been well built in his youth and had the shoulders of a rugby league player, who had perhaps retired a decade earlier. It was said that Jack lived in Francis Street with his wife and daughter, having moved to Australia after the war. His pride and joy was his business and his attractive young daughter, who was originally named Bella, but changed her name to Betty so as to be more Aussie.

One lazy afternoon, two of the outcasts from The Balconies thought they could supplement their financial position by going into Jack’s shop and affecting an old fashion “stand over”. They walked through the entrance and demanded Jack empty his till and give them the cash, or else they would give him a mother of a hiding. The story goes that the smile went off Jack’s face when he understood what they were up to and he suddenly became mean. Jack hurdled his counter and kicked the first guy in the groin, which dropped him. The second guy felt Jack’s massive hand around his throat as Jack lifted him off the ground and above his head. Jack then proceeded to kick the idiot on the ground, holding his groin, along the lino floor to the shop entrance and out onto the footpath. The choking fool was then thrown on top of his crying mate as Jack let out some words of advice. “Come back to my shop and I will kill you.”. They fumbled their way down Campbell Parade, never to be seen again. Jack then turned to the onlookers, smiled and adjusted his cardigan, then returned to his place behind the counter. Not a hair on his head was messed up.

Word spread like wild fire and it became local knowledge that Jack was in fact a war hero. He had been a leader in the European Resistance and operated behind Nazi lines for some years before migrating to Australia with his family.

It is not known what happened to Jack and his family following the demolition of The Balconies, but there was never another attempted “standover“. Passers-by would always return his cheery wave and everyone just pitied any bloke in the future that did the wrong thing by Jack’s daughter.

Movie night at The Rat House

By Shane Wilson
Not sure what the date was or what even the month was but I do know for sure that the year was 1994. I was sitting on the stair way that led up to the projectionists booth at the Rat House, and I as did everyone else in the Rat House held there breath as John Travolta held that massive syringe that contained adrenaline that was about to be plunged into Uma Thurman’s chest as she overdosed on heroin. The Rat House that night was packed! Monday night at the Rats was an institution. I first started going there at about age 14 to watch movies but only on the promise to mum that all my homework was done and if she had spare change she would give me enough for a schooner of Coke or lemonade but as we got older and left school (or maybe while we were still at school) those schooners of Coke turned into schooners of VB to wash down the chicken schnitzel and chips and gravy from the bistro before the movie started. The first movie I saw there was in 1985, Nat Young’s History of Australian Surfing, I was 12 but my neighbour and hero Brett Foster took me over to watch it. The hoots and screams were deafening when the bit with Cheyne Horan winning at Bells Beach came on. Before the pokies went in you could play pool on the big full sized snooker table in the back room. Towards the end of its run the movie night got so popular that the only place to get a seat was on the stairs that led up to the projectionist booth. But like most other fun things in Bondi it has gone, made way for the “beautiful people” who love to take photos of themselves drinking boutique beers with Bondi in the background.

magoo, never the rascal


Mick Marlin took this shot of three of the worst desperadoes ever to paddle out at Rocky Point, pinch all the waves off the Hawaiians, then drop in all over each other.

Bluey, Magoo, Scotty.

Mayes, McGuigan, Dillon.

Scott is still around the mid-north coast somewhere with the best stash of surfboards anybody has ever collected. The other two lads are gone. Magoo last night.

He’s in the middle here; balanced up, bringing it around, full of speed, and squirting a gob full of spray at Mayes who was so help me the noisiest surfer in the southern hemisphere. And as soon as Magoo’s stopped admiring himself in the mirror he taped up on the deck he’ll snake Dillon.

Stick a bunch of mates in good waves and this is what you get.

Rest in Peace Barry.

drop in

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big G samios, our bondi

Some real pearlers here. Thanks Pete!


George Samios holds the world’s best cache of old Bondi pics – he runs them past a crew of no-hopers who make up the Old School Bondi Crew Facebook site, that’s only the men mind, the ladies are all the same age they were when they were driving us no-hopers crazy.

I’ve pinched his pics, and collected them here.

All in the one spot.

George, that’s him on the wrong side of the motor vehicle down there, I’m told, will keep them coming.

Nobody needs captions, not when we all walked the same streets.

bigG samios

old south head and o'brien streets 1930'snorth bondi 1959hoyts six ways 1932channel 9's first outside broadcastfletcher street near cutting 1954campbell pde 1974north bondi rsl 1954F.C. Nichols, Butchers Shop, 129 Bondi Road next to Post Officenorth bondi tram terminus 1954top part of the promenade 40 yrs ago

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Bondi Stories – Memories of my home town

bondi girl meets...


The Balconies Story: link

As a child growing up in Bondi, we often swam at Bondi Baths located in Notts Avenue. We would have to pass this building where we would dare each other to run up the stairs through the building to exit on Campbell Parade.

It was dark and scary, a few unsavoury men lived in the building who would throw their brown beer bottles on the footpath in Notts Avenue.

Time move on and this site now boasts a magnificent apartment block with breathtaking view over Bondi Beach selling in the millions!  Oh if only we have a crystal ball back then!

notts avenue


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