Bodysurfers

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.

Hello,

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.

Regards,

Denis Riek

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