Bondi Stories – Issue #2

Bondi Stories Vol.2

This issue of Bondi Stories presents a range of perspectives, writing styles and historic contexts similar to the first issue. The basic themes concern personal integrity, moral responsibility and the value of community, highlighted by the realisation that Bondi’s commercial value over-rides these harmonious aspects of human nature. Some contributors denounce the New Bondi, while others are more circumspect, relying on the reader to read between the lines. Of course, some of the stories were written long before the New Bondi evolved. But, even these seem pertinent to the conversation.

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Scum ValleyFirst and foremost, we proudly acknowledge the many novels written by the popular author and Bondi bred, Robert G. Barrett, whose passing has saddened the Bondi community and an extensive fan base of generally unsophisticated Aussie readers. A sample of Bob’s writing is presented here under the poignant title: Leaving Bondi, from the book of that name. A similar style of writing, by Bondi surfer, Matthew Ellks, is hilarious and disturbing in equal measure. Ellksy’s first novel, entitled Scum Valley, overflows with raucous stories from the 1980s, of which Hiddy is a classic.

Another emerging author, whose own journey through the underworld is the subject of an upcoming book, is the infamous Adam Tolmie. He gives an account of a horrible situation from his early childhood, when his older brother went missing at the beach. No doubt this story will resonate with anyone who has experienced the dread and confusion of losing a child in a public place.

Adam and his cohort used to drive about, throwing eggs from the open door of a van. Everybody feared him—except Donald, who could call his menacing brother to heel. His infamy reached a crescendo, some years back, when A Current Affair ran a sensational report on Adam being a hit man for his uncle, a former mayor of Waverley. Tolmie’s book gives a glimpse of the Sydney underworld of the 80s.

The excitement of deviant behaviour is entertained in One Late Skate—an amusing story, neatly crafted by my brother, Will Webber. Certain expressions used in this story are considered deeply offensive by today’s standards. But, racist slurrs were rarely denounced back then. Bondi: Poems by Adam GibsonOver the years, Will has explored various forms of self-expression, venting his torment through music, art, short stories and cartoons. He currently hosts a weekly radio program, called Doppelfaust, which has spawned a music festival: Doppelfest. One of his cartoons appears in this issue, alongside a poem by fellow musician and writer, Adam Gibson. Gibson is the lyricist for The Aerial Maps—a class act devoted to the essence of Australian story telling. What do they know of Bondi? is from his 3rd book, entitled Bondi: poems by Adam Gibson.

Bloodlines on KindlePeter BowesErin also deals with aberrant behaviour, though in a more reflective mood. Pete is a master of the short sentence, which can be a dangerous tool in the wrong hands. He has written many stories about Bondi, some of them published under the title: Bloodlines.

Another tribal elder, John Sullivan, has once again chipped in, sharing an amusing yarn from the 1960s. Tales of Hypochondriasis and Pediculosis Pubis recalls some highly creative pranks from a time before Medicare, the Internet and phone cameras. For what it’s worth, the story has been verified. But, I still find it hard to believe.

On Bondi BeachThree stories relate to childhood more generally. In Southerly Buster, Murray Cox recalls the tremendous power of the weather and how dramatically the place would change; often triggering a mass evacuation of the beach, before the onslaught of drenching rain and gale force wind. Murray Cox continues to frequent the beach and is actively involved in the community, most notably through long distance running and swimming. His story was poached from a collection of 54 interviews, entitled On Bondi Beach.

The other two stories about childhoods spent in Bondi were written by fellers who only lived there during their younger years. In The War Years, Sandy Mack recalls a time when our fear of Japanese invasion was so acute, the beach had to be fenced off with barbed wire. Born into a predominantly British society, Sandy’s generation has witnessed wave after wave of migrants transform Australia’s population, effectively forcing most of the original invaders to the outskirts, just as they had done to the Aborigines. In Cowboys and Indians, Brendan Horgan reminisces about a post-war Bondi, where his father was instrumental in the formation and management of The Rat House RSL Club, before it moved to its glorious location overlooking the north end of the beach. Brendan Horgan has contributed enormously to heritage research, documenting the history of television and radio in Australia. While they both admit to being a little unsure of certain details, their recollections will nonetheless resonate with anyone familiar with the period spanning the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

In Cave Woman, John Webber (another brother) describes the child-like nature of a mildly brain-damaged, middle-aged woman living at the south end of Bondi in the late 80s. John left Bondi twenty-plus years ago, moving to Angourie, where he maintains, in original condition, his very own part of surfing history—a shack built by John Witzig; whose classic photos from the 60s and 70s have become iconic of the counter-culture period of surfing history. His photo of Brad Mayes, in this issue, is certain to strike a chord. The accompanying text is from an early Tracks article, which can be read in the previous issue of Bondi Stories.

The pastel on the cover was drawn by our aunty, Victoria Peel, who still lives in the Eastern Suburbs. Our ancestors settled in Sydney in the early nineteenth century, each generation shifting east along the harbour, until our parents bought a semi at North Bondi in the late 50s. One of the most notable members of this family—a 2nd cousin to our great grandfather—was for many years President of the North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club. A hero of the Great War, his story will be told in the next issue, commemorating the many servicemen from Bondi who fought at Gallipoli. I urge anyone with a story to get in touch.

A couple of stories come from the Sydney Morning Herald, including two news briefs from the 1920s. Newsboy killed and Man chased by shark set the scene for a beaut little story entitled: Waves dyed red with blood, by June Ashley. I am indebted to the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation for these pearls, which were accessed through Trove—the National Library’s online archive of newspapers.

The last piece in this volume was written by an 18-year-old journalist, who pursued a career in politics, eventually becoming Premier of New South Wales. Sir James Martin was born in Ireland, but arrived in Australia at the age of one. Leaving school at 16, he became a reporter at The Australian—the Colony’s first independent newspaper, owned by William Wentworth. Published in 1838, Bondi Bay is probably the first work of literature about Bondi. The young man speaks passionately of the scenery, advocating its natural beauty as a tonic for the soul. Ironically, the essay first came to my attention in an early real estate advertisement, quoting James Martin’s evocative description of Bondi, as “the disinterested and impartial testimony” of “a native author”;

“… “England, Ireland, America, and many other countries, can justly boast of their lakes, their mountains, their rivers, and their bays, but there is not one amongst them but would feel proud of the possession of a spot so picturesque and enchanting as Bondi.”—Australian Sketchbook, p.180.
The above disinterested and impartial testimony in favour of the many beauties surrounding the property now offered to the public, will at once convince our enterprising citizens, that an eligible opportunity for securing a healthy suburban spot to reside on is now placed within their grasp.”

It is not surprising he entered politics! How better to deal with the paradoxical demands of human endeavour. It is said that he balanced his affection for the bushland with a measured respect for the British lifestyle. Sir James and Lady Martin are buried at Waverley Cemetery. Martin Place is named after him and Lady Martins Beach at Point Piper after her.

Finally, it gives me great pleasure to introduce two works, which set the stage for this diverse range of perspectives—a poem by Henry Kendall and a sketch by Samuel Thomas Gill. Henry Kendall was the first of our bush poets to be published overseas. Most Australians would recall Bell-Birds from primary school. However, Kendall’s Bondi Bay is not listed among his many works, because a later version was published under the title Coogee. The earlier version was found in a family scrapbook donated to the State Library by Richard Rogers—a descendant of the Rogers family who compiled the scrapbook. The pencil sketch of Bondi, which accompanies Kendall’s poem, is the work of Samuel Thomas Gill, best known for his paintings of the Victorian Gold Fields.

It is an honour to be able to bring all these memorable moments together under the banner of Bondi Stories.

Dan Webber

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Bondi Stories Vol.2

eulogy for warren cornish

He sometimes came by Mrs Browns in the morning and stopped down at the bottom of the road early. Blat .. Blaton 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…

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Author unknown (1859), Bungaree: King of the Blacks, All the Year Round, Dickens (Ed.), Volume I, No. 4.

BungareeThere are few old Australian colonists to whom the name of Bungaree is not familiar; but I conceive it right that the whole world should know something of this departed monarch, and of his habits and peculiarities. Honoured, as I was, by his favour, politely greeted, as I always was whenever I met his Majesty in the streets of Sydney, flattered, as I was, when he invited me occasionally to accompany him in his boat to “go kedge fiss”, I considered myself as well qualified to become his biographer as was Mr. Boswell to write the life of Doctor Johnson, or Lord John Russell that of Thomas Moore.

King Bungaree and myself were contemporaries; but there was a vast difference between our ages. When I first knew him, he was an old man, over sixty and I a boy of twelve. It would be false to say that I cannot account for the great liking the king always had for me: for, the truth is, I was in the habit of lending him small sums of money, bread and meat, and not unfrequently a glass of rum. Many a time have I, slyly, visited the larder, and the decanters on the sideboard, to minister to the wants of the monarch. I used the word “lend”, because the king never said “give”. It was invariably “len’ it half a dump” (7½d.), “len’ it glass o’ grog”, “len’ it loaf o’ bread”, “len’ it ole shirt”. It is needless, perhaps, to state that, although in some respects the memory of King Bungaree was as extraordinary as that of the late King George the Third, he was utterly oblivious to the extent of his obligations, so far as repayment was concerned.

In person King Bungaree was about five feet eight inches high, not very stout and not very thin, except as to his legs, which were mere spindles. His countenance was benignant to the last degree, and there was a kind and humorous sparkle in his eye (especially when it was lighted up by liquor) which was, to say the least of it, very cheerful to behold.

King Bungaree’s dress consisted of the cocked hat and full dress-coat of a general officer or colonel, an old shirt, and that was all. I never saw him in pantaloons, or shoes, or stockings. Once, I remember he wore a worsted sock on his left foot; but that was in consequence of having wounded himself by treading on a broken bottle.

As the king was a person of irregular habits, he generally slept as well as fished in his clothes, and his tailor’s bill would have been enormous, even if he had had a tailor; but, as he “borrowed” his uniform, as well as his money, bread and rum, his finances were in no way embarrassed. Every new Governor, from Governor Macquarie down to Governor Gipps (during whose administration Bungaree died), supplied him with an old cocked-hat and full dress-coat; and almost every colonel commanding a regiment instantly complied when his Majesty pronounced these words: “Len’ it cock-‘at—len’ it coat—len’ it ole shirt”. Around his neck was suspended, by a brass chain, a brass plate. On this plate, which was shaped like a half-moon, were engraven, in large letters, the
words :


On the plate there was also engraven the arms of the colony of New South Wales—an emu and a kangaroo.

In point of intelligence and natural ability, King Bungaree was far from deficient. He was, in truth, a clever man; and not only did he understand all that was said to him in English, but he spoke the language so as to be completely understood, except when his articulation was impaired by the too copious use of ardent spirits, or other fermented liquors.

His Majesty changed his manners every five years; or rather, they were changed with every administration. Bungaree, like many of the aborigines of New South Wales, was an amazing mimic. The action, the voice, the bearing, the attitude, the walk, of any man, he could personate with astonishing minuteness. It mattered not whether it was the attorney-general stating a case to a jury, the chief justice sentencing a culprit to be hanged, a colonel drilling a regiment in the barrack-square, a Jew bargaining for old clothes, a drunken sailor resisting the efforts of the police to quiet him—King Bungaree could, in mere dumb show, act the scene in such a way as to give you a perfect idea of it. Now, as the governor, for the time being, was the first and most important person in the colony, it was from that functionary that King Bungaree took his cue; and, after having seen the governor several times and talked to him, Bungaree would adopt his excellency’s manner of speech and bearing to the full extent of his wonderful power. When I first knew Bungaree, General Darling was governor of New South Wales. Bungaree then walked the streets with his arms folded across his breast, his body erect, his pace slow and measured, with something of a military swagger in it, and the only salute he vouchsafed was a dignified, but very slight, inclination of his head. Even when his Majesty was so intoxicated that he could not walk straight, it was impossible not to recognise the faithfulness of the copy to the original. His mode of speech, too, was curt and somewhat abrupt. Even the words “Len it glass o’ grog”, came forth, rather in the tone of a command than of a request. But when General Darling left, and General Bourke became his successor, how very different was the demeanour and the deportment of King Bungaree! He walked briskly up George-street, with his left hand on his hip and his right arm moving to and fro, took off his cocked-hat periodically in recognition of salutes (most of them imaginary), and, when he neared the guard-house at the bottom of Church-hill, he would raise his right hand in the air and shake it, as a signal to the sentry not to turn out the guard to present arms at him.

The reader will have gleaned that King Bungaree was not temperate in his habits. Candour compels me to say that he was by no means particular as to the nature of his beverage. The only liquid to which he had, seemingly, any aversion, was pure water. Rum, gin, brandy, wine, beer, chili vinegar, mushroom catsup, or “bull” (coarse brown sugar, dissolved in water. It intoxicates the aborigines as effectually as alcohol), he would take in any quantity, from any person who could be prevailed upon to “lend” it to him; and, unfortunately, in order to get rid of his Majesty, the supply, in many instances, immediately followed the demand, and the king was too often to be seen, stretched, at full length, on a dust-heap near the wharves, fast asleep, and covered by myriads of flies, his cocked-hat doing the duty of a pillow: except when some little boy tore out the crown, and then pulled it over the king’s ankles: putting him, in fact, in felt stocks. So strong was this monarch’s passion for drink that I am perfectly satisfied that he would, at any moment, have abdicated his sovereignty for an old sugar mat, wherewith to make “bull”, although he would never have renounced his right to the title of “King of the Blacks”, or that brass plate, which he regarded as his “patent”.

With the cares of state Bungaree never troubled himself. His sovereignty, to all intents and purposes was a matter of sound and of mere form. His subjects never treated him with respect or obedience. His tyranny, in the strictly classical acceptation of the term, was confined simply to his Queens, five in number. These ladies were all much younger than the king, and were named respectively “Onion”, “Boatman”, “Broomstick”, “Askabout” and “Pincher”. These names, of course, were not given to them in their baptism (whatever may have been the aboriginal character of that rite), but were dictated, most probably, by the caprice of some of King Bungaree’s European advisers, on the various occasions of his consulting them on the point, and “borrowing” something of which he fancied he stood in need. Whether the Queens were much attached to the monarch, or the monarch to them, I cannot venture to say, nor can I form an opinion whether they bore the king company in his inebriation, out of courtesy, or from a natural desire to drink; but this I can state, with the positiveness of a biographer who derives his sources of information from personal knowledge, that I never saw their majesties (the Queens) sober when his majesty King Bungaree was drunk. The dress of these royal ladies was exceedingly grotesque. With the exception of a faded satin slip, an old bedgown, or a flannel petticoat, whatever beauty King Bungaree’s Queens possessed was, in every sense of the word, in its unadornment “adorned the most”. The only “foreign aid of ornament” that even Onion, the most fastidious of them as regarded personal appearance, ever resorted to, was a short clay pipe, intertwined with her hair; which, in point of colour and fineness, bore a strong resemblence to the tail or mane of an unbroken, unhandled, bay colt.

I have mentioned that I sometimes, when a boy, accepted the invitations of King Bungaree to go out with him in his boat to “kedge fiss”. His was a very old boat, a “loan” from Governor Macquarie, who cultivated Bungaree’s acquaintance, if not Bungaree himself; and upon all these occasions the Queens used to pull the rickety craft, while the king sat in the stern-sheets, and steered. The Queens, by turns, not only pulled the oars (only two) of the boat; but when the anchor—a large piece of stone tied to an old rope—was let go they baited the hooks, threw over the lines, and caught the bream and yellowtails, with which the harbour abounded in those days. Bungaree, meanwhile, sat still, smoked his pipe, and occasionally gave an approving nod or a kind word to the wife who hooked the fish fastest. When out in his boat—during Sir Richard Bourke’s administration—King Bungaree bore a stronger resemblance to Charles the Second than to any other monarch of whom I have read in history. He was cheerful, merry, facetious, gallant (except as to pulling and fishing), and amorous, without anything like coarseness in his outbreaks of affection. Fish constituted King Bungaree’s coin. The harbour of Port Jackson was his treasure-chest. When a sufficient quantity had been caught to purchase a loaf or two, and enough brown sugar to make a bucketful of “bull”, the anchor was weighed, and the boat rowed to shore. Fresh fish for tea were always marketable, and the Queens had never any difficulty in disposing of them at the public or private houses; receiving in return whatever articles they required to supply their own and the king’s immediate wants.

I must here record a little anecdote of King Bungaree. When his Majesty’s ships the Warspite, the Success frigate, and some smaller craft anchored in Sydney, Bungaree went on board all these vessels to welcome to his dominions the various commanders. The commodore, Sir James Brisbane, having heard of King Bungaree, and being informed of his approach, gave the order that he should be received with all the honours and formality accorded to persons of royal blood, save the firing a salute and manning the yards. The officers, who entered into the joke, were all assembled on the quarter-deck: the first lieutenant stood at the gangway, the commodore in his full-dress coat and cocked hat took his place at the capstan, the boatswain piped the side in the shrillest ear-piercing tones, and the drums and fifes made music to the air of “God save the King!” The moment King Bungaree placed his foot on the Warspite’s well-holystoned planks, the commodore uncovered his venerable head, and, placing his cocked hat beneath his left arm, with admirably acted humility, advanced, and offered King Bungaree his right hand. The king, who was then wearing his coat buttoned up to the neck, à la Sir Ralph Darling, received the homage which was paid him by the commodore, with just the amount of formal empressment that the governor himself would have exhibited under the circumstance of being similarly greeted. Having bowed, rather stiffly, to each of the officers on the quarter-deck, and having cast an approving, though cold glance at the guns, the hammock nettings, and the rigging, King Bungaree condescended to inquire the commodore’s name. “My name is Brisbane”, said the commodore, meekly. Bungaree, for at least two minutes, surveyed the commodore from head to foot, with a contemptuous expression of countenance. He had known one Brisbane (Sir Thomas) who had only left the colony, which he had governed for five years. That there could be two Brisbanes—that the world was big enough to hold two—King Bungaree could not believe. At length, his Majesty spoke as follows: “What you mean, sa? You Brisbane, sa? What for you, capping of big ship like this, sa, tell King Bungaree one big lie, sa? I know Brisbane, sa. He great frien’-o’-mine, sa. He len’ me this cock-hat, sa—this coat, sa—this shirt, sa. No, sa; not this shirt, sa. King Bungaree never tell a lie, sa. Capping Crotty, of 3rd Buffs, sa, len’ me this shirt, sa.” Captain Crotty was not a very tall man, and the garment to which Bungaree last alluded scarcely reached the monarch’s knees. “No, sa; you are not Governor Brisbane, sa. I show these gennelmen Governor Brisbane, sa.” Divesting himself, for the nonce, of the airs and manners of Sir Ralph Darling, Bungaree put on those of Sir Thomas Brisbane, walked the deck, spoke to several of the officers, and, taking a telescope from the hand of the signal-mid-shipman of the day, looked through it, into the heavens, and exclaimed “Ah!” Sir Thomas Brisbane was a great astronomer, and while in New South Wales had been constantly star-gazing. The commodore was so struck with King Bungaree’s imitation of his own first cousin, that he stood aghast; while the officers, unable any longer to preserve their gravity, indulged in a hearty peal of laughter.

“No, sa,” resumed Bungaree, addressing the commodore, and again acting General Darling, “you not Brisbane. But you very good man, I des-say. Never mind. I forgive you. I now feel very thirsty. Len’ it, glass o’ grog.” Several glasses of the ship’s rum, well diluted with water, were “lent” to his Majesty, and several pipes of tobacco. After remaining about an hour on board the Warspite, Bungaree was piped over the side, taking with him “loans” to the extent of five old shirts, a handkerchief full of biscuit, and a cold leg of mutton. A marine officer offered to “lend” him an old coat; but, after examining the loan, and discovering that it did not belong to an officer entitled to two epaulettes, Bungaree shook his head, and remarked that it “would not do.” But, going to the gangway, he threw the garment down into his boat, in which his Queens were sitting. Onion picked up, the old red coat, and, as the day was rather cold, put it on, and wore it in the streets of Sydney habitually.


Having had the misfortune (if misfortune it were), when I was in my sixteenth year, to be transported from my native land, Botany Bay, to the penal settlement of Great Britain, I lost sight of King Bungaree for a long time. I was tried in my mother’s drawing-room, on a charge of having a great aptitude for learning, but a want of perseverance in my studies. The sentence passed upon me, was, “Seven years to England,” the first four to be kept at hard labour with a private tutor, and the remaining three to be spent in one of the penitentiaries of Oxford or Cambridge. I was informed that every indulgence (compatible with reason, and with reference to my position as one of “the lords of Botany Bay”) would be allowed me; but upon no account would I be permitted to return, until the full period of seven years had “expired.”.

As I am an Australian, writing a biographical memoir of my aboriginal sovereign, I may be permitted to say a few words concerning myself, and my feelings during the term of my banishment. At first I felt supremely miserable, and I believe I drooped, like any other exotic when removed from its own congenial clime to a colder one. There were two other youths, the sons of a colonial magnate, transported in my company. They were sharers of my unhappiness. On the first day that we put foot on the land of our exile we were terrified almost out of our wits. We were coming up from Weymouth to London, on the top of a mail coach, and were overtaken, near Salisbury, by a heavy snow-storm. Snow we had heard of; but we had never before seen and felt it. The other passengers laughed and were very merry; but this did not prevent me putting (with livid lips, I fancy) this serious question, “Is there any chance of it burying us? It will do so if it continue for some hours like this.” Then, on the day which followed our arrival in town, I experienced another awful fright. We all three left our hotel in Covent-garden, and had the temerity to penetrate into the Strand. Here, while gazing with open mouth at the shop windows and the dense crowd of people, hurying to and fro, I was separated from my companions; and, as I had forgotten the (then to me) outlandish name of the hotel—the Tavistock—I knew not how I should get back to it. Fortunately, after taxing my memory to the utmost, I did remember Covent-garden; and, thus, by many inquiries, I at last found the hotel and my friends, who, like myself, had lost themselves for a while. They were much concerned for my safety, until they saw me; and one of them rather rationally inquired, “Why the deuce didn’t you cooey, when you missed us?” Had I thought of it, I should have done so, though the act would certainly have astonished the weak minds of the English natives, and have had the effect of bringing a mob around me. I know that the cooey that I gave one night from the top of Queen Anne’s tower in Trinity, Cambridge, created such a sensation, that not only the whole of the college, but half the entire university, turned out to ascertain “What is it? what can it mean?” The cooey was heard in Downing, in St. Peter’s, at Barnewell, and at Chesterton. One of my co-exiles, who happened to be returning from the last-named village, heard it, and answered it. I remember that one of the public tutors of the college, Dr. Whistle, was very angry with me, and said that I ought to have left that savage yell (it was thus he spoke of that wonderful and valuable call of my native land) behind me when I came to a civilised quarter of the world. Soon afterwards I wished from the bottom of my heart that I had done so; for the call had become catching, and nightly from every college came forth cooeys, some of them very fair, but, generally speaking, very feeble imitations of that “voice-throwing” so peculiar to the natives of New Holland and those Australians who have used it from boyhood. I beg to state that I was not mischievously inclined when I cooeyed, like a “black fellow,” from Queen Anne’s tower. I was merely giving a party of friends, whom I had been entertaining at supper, some idea of what we Australians did when we lost our way in the bush, little dreaming that—just as when one jackawl in India strikes up a howl, all the pack must join in it—the sound would become infectious, and eventually a tremendous nuisance.

The sports of England had not the slightest charm for me. They were not sufficiently exciting. What was fox hunting to us? To see an animal, rather like a dingo, or native dog, pursued and run down by an enormous pack of hounds, the field mounted on swift blood horses, and the ground a cultivated country, intersected by miserable hedges and ditches with here and there a five-barred gate or a brook! We had been accustomed to hunt the kangaroo, with only five or six dogs, upon stock horses, over a perfectly wild country, intersected by gullies or deep ravines and patches of dense brushwood; or to ride down the emu at full gallop (without the assistance of dogs), and kill him by flogging his neck with the thong of a cattle whip. Then, the fishing of England. What was that to us? Flipping at a stream like the Thames at Richmond, with a rod and line, the hook baited with a fly, a worm, and, after a day’s work, returning with a little basket half full of tiny creatures, scarcely worth the trouble of catching! We had been accustomed to hire a whaleboat, every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon, sail down to Watson’s Bay, near the Sydney Heads, drop anchor, and fish with large hooks and strong lines for Schnapper-fish weighing from seven to twenty-five pounds; and frequently would we hook an enormous black shark ten feet long, play him, get him alongside, and there destroy him with the boat hook. In a couple of hours, we could take as many large fish as would fill a cart—fish quite equal in every respect to the turbot, so highly prized in England. That had been our fishing. As for pheasant and partridge shooting, we agreed that it was like the destruction, in cold blood (and with the assistance of dogs), of a parcel of barn-door fowls. “Sporting!” we would sometimes say to our friends who breathed that word, “what do you know about sporting in this old, worn-out country? Sporting! You have never seen sporting, and you have no idea what it is.”

It was the same with the aspect of England itself. We wanted to see deep and dark-blue salt water, laving the milk-white sands of semicircular bays of a mile or two in extent, grotesquely formed rocks, and the land wooded to high-water mark with evergreen trees of luxuriant foliage, and heaths of every hue and dye. Nor did the watering-places in England satisfy us. We once went down to Brighton. It was rather boisterous weather, and a boatman remarked to us that it was “seldom they saw a surf like that”, pointing to the billows. “Surf!” we ejaculated. “Surf! Do you call that surf? Bah! Make a fourth with us, and we will pull out against it in a cockle-shell. Surf! If you want to see surf, go to Bondi Bay, about five or six miles from Sydney. That’s the place to see surf. Every crested wave—giant waves, not pigmies like these—weighs millions of tons of water, and when it breaks upon the beach, in stormy weather, the sound may be heard twelve or thirteen miles off—nay, more than that, it has often been heard at Parramatta, which is eighteen miles distant, as the crow flies.”

It was the same with the forests in England: Windsor Forest, for instance. If any one said to us; “There is a noble tree—what do you think of that?” “Tree!” we would reply—”tree! Do you call that a tree? Why it is not taller than a blue gum sapling. In our country you may ride through a forest and see trees which would, at the butt, measure, on the average, ten feet in diameter; and we have seen some trees twenty yards in circumference. Those are trees if you like; always in leaf, and with the outer bark the colour of cream and the inner bark the colour of a rose—not like these old grey dwarfs, which have the appearance of being dead for six months in the year.”

However, before the expiration of our sentence of seven years, we all became not only reconciled to Old England, its sports, its institutions, and sensible of its manifold advantages over those of any other portion of the earth; but when we had taken our degrees, and had been (in consideration, seemingly, of abjuring the Pope) invested with black gowns and white horsehair wigs, we left her shores and our friends with something like regret. After a passage of one hundred and nine days I again placed my foot on the land of my birth. But, oh! what a change was everywhere observable! A change, according to my idea, very much for the worse. The ships in the harbour, instead of numbering only ten or eleven, numbered upwards of forty or fifty. The streets were crowded with emigrants of both sexes, and of the lowest order of the people, who, under the “bounty system”, had been swept out of the streets of London, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and minor cities or towns. Old buildings, many of them weather-boarded houses, which had been familiar to my sight from childhood, had been pulled down, and on their sites were erected rows of shops or merchants’ warehouses. So vast had been the tide of emigration to Australia, so busy had been the population during the term of my exile, that I scarcely recognised my native land.

I had not been in Sydney more than three days, when, to my great joy, I espied at a distance the cocked-hat and old red coat of poor old King Bungaree. He was coming up George-street. His gait was very shaky, but it was still Bungaree’s gait. When I met him, I took off my hat and saluted him. He peered into my face a few seconds, and, then, recollecting me, offered me his hand, shook mine rather coldly, and said rapidly, “Oh! well, what can I do for you? I very busy now; no time to spare; talk to you some other day; yes, yes, good morning”. This change in Bungaree, which I could not at the moment account for, pained me. I thought that amidst all the changes, observable in every direction, Bungaree at least would have remained himself. However, notwithstanding his Majesty’s remark that he wished to get rid of me, he entered into conversation, and presently, in his old confidential way, said, “Len’ it a sisspence”. I complied, and requesting him to call upon me soon, at my mother’s house, bade him “good-day”. He was then alone. None of his Queens were with him; but I had no time to ask him many questions, for I was on my way to Government House, to pay my respect to Sir George Gipps, and deliver a packet which had been entrusted to my care. Whether his Excellency had not looked at my card, or whether he had mistaken me for some one else, I don’t know; but I had scarcely made my bow, when I was greeted with, “Oh! well? what I can do for you? I am very busy just now, have not a single moment to spare; talk to you some other day. Yes, yes, I am now off to the Council. Good morning.”

I had never seen Sir George before, but I instantly recognised my altered King Bungaree. This anecdote, a few weeks afterwards, reached Sir George’s ears through a lady, and he was not a little amused by it.

On the following day, at ten am., his Majesty King Bungaree was announced. I received him in the back yard; for my mother would never allow him to come into the house. He was, on this occasion, accompanied by two of his Queens, “Broomstick” and “Pincher”. Having “lent” the king and each of the queens a “glass o’ rum”, I proceeded to interrogate him.

“Well, King Bungaree,” I said, “where’s ‘Onion’ and the other Queens, ‘Boatman,’ and ‘Ask-about?'”

“Onion’s dead.” he replied. “Two emigrant mans get drunk and kill her with brickbat on top o’ rocks. Boatman’s got leg broke and can’t walk, and Ask-about stop along with her on North Shore, to len’ it bread and drink o’ water”.

“Who lent you that coat?” “One Colonel up in Barrack-square”.

“Has not the Governor lent you a coat?”

“Not yet; but he len’ it by-and-by. At present he only len’ it ‘Very busy now; yes, yes; good morning.'”

“What do you think of Sir George Gipps?”

“When that my frien’ Doctor Lang write a book about all the gubbernors, he one day met it in Domain, and len’ it half a dump. He then laugh and say, ‘King Bungaree, what you think of Gubbernor Bourke!’ and I say to him, ‘Stop a bit. He no yet leave the colney. When he go, then I tell you, master.’ Gubbernor Gipps only just come. Stop till he go, then I speak.”

Doctor Lang, in his admirable work, the History of New South Wales, relates this in his preface or concluding chapter, observing that he took King Bungaree’s hint, and reserved Sir Richard Bourke’s administration for some future edition.

When I was a boy, Bungaree had been a matter of mere amusement to me. Now I was a man, he was an object of interest; able as he was, to remember the first big ships that entered Sydney harbour, when the penal settlement was founded; the sensations of the tribe to which he then a boy, belonged, when they beheld them; and the terror, which prevailed when the savage, for the first time, saw the face and clothed form of the white man. He had often talked to me of these and other such matters; but I was then too young to take any interest in his discourse further than what related to the best bays to fish in, or the localities in which “five corners”, “ground berries”, and “gollions” (native fruits), were most plentiful. As for fish, even if I had had now any desire to catch them, I could not have done it any of the bays of Sydney harbour. Like the kangaroo and the emu, they had retreated beyond the bounds of civilised and busy life. They were now only to be caught in the bays outside “the Head.” As to the native fruits I have mentioned, I doubt whether I could have obtained a quart within five miles of Sydney had I offered five guineas for it.

King Bungaree (after swallowing another “loan”), in reply to my questions, said that when the tribe to which he belonged first beheld the big ships, some thought they were sea monsters; others that they were gigantic birds, and the sails were their wings; while many declared that they were a mixture of gigantic fish and gigantic bird, and that the boats which were towed astern, were their young ones. He heightened his description, by acting the consternation of the tribe on that occasion. He told me they were too much terrified to offer any hostile demonstrations, mid that when they first heard the report of a musket, and of a ship’s gun, they fancied those weapons were living agents of the white man; that, where the town of Sydney was situated, kangaroos formerly abounded, and that these animals were seldom speared or interfered with; that fish and oysters, and the native fruits, were their chief articles of food, and that animals—the kangaroo and opossum—were killed only to supply the little amount of clothing then required amongst them; that the use of the hook and line was unknown until the establishment of the colony; and that a spear constructed for the especial purpose was the only means they had of taking fish in the shallow waters of the bays. The deep sea fish—the “schnapper”, the “king fish”, the “grounder” and the rock cod—were beyond their reach. Mullet, whiting, and mackerel, which came in large shoals within range of the spear, were the only species they had tasted. Sometimes a shark, which had followed the smaller fish into the shallow water, and swam with his fins above the surface, would fall a victim to the spear.

Each tribe rarely numbered more than fifty or sixty, and the chief was, by right, the oldest man in it. When they increased and multiplied beyond that number, fifty or sixty, there was a new tribe formed, and they occupied a distinct tract of land, to which they were required to confine themselves. This tract of land rarely exceeded an area of forty miles in extent. Strange to say, the tribes beyond Parramatta did not understand the language of the Sydney (Woolloomooloo) tribe. The tribes on the north shore had no communication with the tribes on the south shore, except when they invaded each other—which was seldom—and did battle. On these occasions they swam the harbour, carrying their spears, waddies (clubs), boomerangs, and shields on their heads. The object of these invasions was to plunder each other of women. King Bungaree denied that they were cannibals; but admitted that they roasted and tasted the enemies whom they slew in battle. The waddies and spears of the different tribes were not exactly alike in make, but the boomerang was of uniform construction ; and I know, of my own personal experience subsequently acquired, that amongst all the savage tribes of New Holland the use of the boomerang is universal. Sir Thomas Mitchell, late Surveyor-General of Australia, and a very able mathematician, when he first saw the flight of a boomerang, and examined the weapon, exclaimed, “The savage who invented this, in whatever time, was gifted by the Creator with a knowledge which He has withheld from civilised man.” And, writing of the boomerang propeller, Sir Thomas says, That rotary motion can be communicated to an instrument, acting as a screw, so as to be sustained in air, without causing that fluid to recede, is suggested by the flight of the boomerang, a missile which few in this country can have seen used, or seen at all. This is a thin flat weapon, shaped somewhat like a new moon, but not so pointed at the cusps, and more resembling in the middle an elbow than an arc, being about two feet long, two inches broad, seldom so much as a quarter of an inch thick, and made of hard, heavy wood. The natives of Australia throw this to great distances, and to great heights in the air, imparting to it two sorts of motion, one of which is direct, the other rotary, by which last the missile revolves round its own centre of gravity, having a twist into the plane of a very fine screw. The effect of this almost imperceptible screw on air all who have been witnesses to a boomerang’s flight will remember. To those who have not we can only say that the rotary motion survives the direct impetus with which the weapon is made to ascend, so as to make it screw its way back to the very spot from whence it was thrown, thus enabling mere gravitation to undo all the effect of the thrower’s arm in sending it upwards.”

The children, male and female, of the aborigines were taught, or rather made, to swim, by being put into deep water soon after they were born. As swimmers and divers, I do not think the blacks of New South Wales were superior to the Arabs at Aden, or the Cingalese at Ceylon, but they were certainly equal to them. A captain of a ship, in the harbour of Port Jackson, once lost a case of claret overboard: a six-dozen case. The ship was anchored in eight fathoms of water. Four blacks dived down and brought it up, each man holding a corner of the chest on the palm of his left hand. Incredible as it may seem, they were under the surface of the stream for more than three minutes. I can remember one day, when out with King Bungaree in his boat, losing a pen-knife, with which I was cutting bait on the gunwale. Queen Onion cried out, “I get it!” and, dropping from the boat’s bows in her bedgown, she lifted her hands and went down like a stone or a shot. After being lost to sight for at least a minute and a half, up she came, like a bundle of old clothes, with the pen-knife in her mouth. We were then fishing off Garden Island, where the water is very deep. I doubt if there were less than fifteen fathoms under our keel.

The power of “tracking” was still left to old King Bungaree and his tribe, but they rarely or never exercised it. Their savage and simple natures had been contaminated and corrupted by their more civilized fellow-creatures, and their whole thoughts seemed to be centered in how they could most speedily become intoxicated and sleep off its effects. Bread and rum, Bungaree said, were at first distasteful to his palate; but, after a while, “he liked ’em berry much, and did not care for nothing else”. King Bungaree was the only old aboriginal I ever saw in the vicinity of Sydney. Drink, and its effects, destroyed the majority of both sexes long before they attained the prime of life. How the race continued to be propagated within fifty miles of Sydney, even when I last left the colony, in 1843, was more than I could understand. It was otherwise, however, in the far distant interior. Some of the wild tribes in the squatting districts (where rum and tobacco were too precious to be given to the blacks, either out of freak or a misplaced generosity), were as fine specimens of the human shape as any sculptor could desire as models. In addition to the elegance of their forms, their eyes were brilliant and piercing, their teeth white as snow, their agility superhuman, and their love of innocent mirth perfectly childlike.

Of King Bungaree’s principles and opinions I scarcely know what to say; nor even, as his biographer, am I particularly anxious to dilate on the subject. But I may mention that he one day confessed to me that of all the governors who ever swayed the destinies of New South Wales, General Macquarie was the greatest man. On probing him for his reasons, I discovered that the kind-hearted old officer, whom he held in such respect and veneration, was his greatest creditor. The general, according to his Majesty’s account (and I believe him implicitly), had “lent” him more cocked-hats, more coats, more shirts, more loaves of bread, and more glasses of grog, than any other ruler in Australia; and, further, he told me it was General Macquarie who “lent” him that brass plate which he wore for so many, many years, and which was no doubt found on his Majesty’s breast when he breathed his last.

On Bondi Beach

Book Review

On Bondi Beach is a collection of 54 autobiographical accounts of Bondi, compiled by a team of social scientists from NSW University. A broad range of perspectives gives the reader considerable insight into the character of Bondi and how it has—and hasn’t—changed over the years. The project was conceived by Ann Game, whose strong personal connection to Bondi inspired her to record how locals felt about the place.

My favourite story describes the onslaught of a southerly buster. In Land and ocean meeting, Murray Cox shares a childhood memory of leaning into the wind at Ben Buckler after hordes of people had evacuated the beach. Another pearl is Todd Jackson’s Guys suss other guys out, which gives a surfer’s view of what really matters: catching waves! In Surfers ruled the beach, Luke Kennedy grapples with the legacy of past surfers and the radical transformation that beset Bondi in the latter decades of the century. In other stories, we learn of the tremendous support given to less-fortunate members of the community, most notably by Fran Wootton, who established Norman Andrews House.

On Bondi Beach

The value of community is invoked throughout the book, with revealing anecdotes and personal reflections. One begins to sense that Bondi is composed of innumerable communities flowing in and around each other. The editors are to be commended. On Bondi Beach is a valuable contribution to the study of Bondi.

Dan Webber

Released: 20 October 2013

Bondi Stories Vol.1

First issue!

I would like to thank everyone who contributed material to this issue, and the many unique souls mentioned in their stories, some of whom are among the dearly departed. It is with great pride and a solemn heart that I respectfully acknowledge the many voices contained in these pages.

A huge thank you goes to the artist, Victoria Peel, whose pastel of South Bondi graces the front cover. Victoria’s great-great-great-uncle was none other than Barnett Levey, who is the subject of Bondi’s first larrikin, the last story in this issue. Vicki’s good friend, Joolee Eadie, is to be thanked for her photos of Andy Cochran, Barry Ross, Gary Moffatt, John Eccleston, Robert Fox and Wally Newell. These appear with the story by Robert Conneeley, entitled: The Hep Pit, which was actually taken from an interview by Matthew Ellks, who just happens to be his nephew.

I would also like to thank Margaret Dupré for her poem and the accompanying photos, one of which is credited to Dick Hoole, the surf film maker. In one of the photos, Margaret appears with her daughters India and Saffron sitting in front of the Pavilion. The decision to begin this first issue of Bondi Stories with a piece by Margaret Dupré is both a privilege and a tribute to one of Bondi’s classic characters.

Thanks also goes to Greg Webber, for his delightful vignette, entitled: Fuck Off, Trog!, and also for suggesting the name Bondi Stories, instead of Scum Valley, which was the original plan. Phil Leadley’s piece, entitled: The Lost Valley, bemoans the loss of community at Bondi, only to rejoice in its resurrection, through the bi-annual surfing contest and Old School Bondi Crew reunion. Thanks also goes to Mark Coleman, Richard Feyn, Michael Zaracostas, Lawrie Williams and Craig Robinson for sharing their accounts of one notorious beach inspector. Initially posted on Facebook, their comments appear within the article, entitled: The Beach Inspector. We will see if this becomes a regular feature.

A couple of blokes who have contributed immeasurably to surf culture through the medium of print, are John Witzig and Bruce Channon, both of whom documented Bondi’s surfing culture in the early seventies. John Witzig’s article, here entitled: The Beach Scene, captures the playground-like atmosphere of the urban beach. The piece by Bruce Channon, entitled Panache, is a uniquely revealing interview with some of the greatest names in Bondi’s surfing folklore: Brad Mayes, Steve Corrigan, Bruce Raymond, Ron Ford and Victor Ford.

I am especially grateful for Cheyne Horan’s contribution, entitled: The Hill, because it describes the world I entered as a kid stepping off the bus each day from Rose Bay in the mid-seventies. Ronnie Silcock gives us a taste of surf culture in the sixties, with a vignette entitled WindanSea. And his contemporary, John Sullivan, has given us an insider’s perspective on the legendary Bluey Mayes, whose life of surfing began in the 1930s. Harry Nightingale’s profile of his father, “Salty”, takes us back even further, to the very beginning of surfing in Australia. I cannot thank him enough for this contribution.

Last but not least, I would like to express my deepest appreciation to the B’nai B’rith Society for granting permission to include the article, originally entitled: Bondi’s First Jew, which was written by Bro. Dr. George F. J. Bergman and published in B’nai B’rith Bulletin, in 1955. I have taken the liberty of changing the title to: Bondi’s first larrikin, to suit the broader public. The story of Barnett Levey is uniquely relevant to this magazine, when you consider that his residence Waverley House was named after a famous novel with a social agenda. Perhaps, Bondi Stories is echoing the very same sentiment. In light of his commitment to literature as a vehicle of social development, it is an honour to carry on his legacy.

Dan Webber

Buy now!

Old Bondi struggles to stay afloat

Published by Reuters in April 2002

Sunday morning, and Sydney’s Bondi Beach looks the same as it has for decades, tired and dishevelled, like a party girl with smudged mascara after a late night.

Garbage bins overflow with takeaway food wrappers and beer bottles litter the gutters. Drunks, like modern-day vampires, scurry home as the sun’s rays hit Australia’s most famous beach.

Surfers bob up and down in the waves as the Pacific Ocean licks an arc of white sand – the first of thousands of people that will flock to the waves during the course of the day.

But Bondi, once washed with sewage on the incoming tide until Sydney built a new wastewater treatment plant, is changing.

Last summer 1.9 million sun-lovers flocked to Bondi, which hosted the beach volleyball for the Sydney Olympics in 2000. But most visitors no longer head for the beach and surf, but sip lattes and cappuccinos in cafes overlooking the sand.

And the hordes of tourists have been closely followed to the seaside suburb by developers – leaving many residents worried their beloved egalitarian lifestyle will be swept away.

“I think Bondi it is losing its sense of community. I think it is losing its soul,” says Uniting Church Reverend Paul Cameron, who preaches at the “Chapel by the Sea”.

Just six km (four miles) from central Sydney, the suburb is now one of Australia’s most fashionable addresses, touted by real estate agents as home for the young and successful.

A dilapidated house a few streets back from the beach recently sold for A$1.22 million (US$650,000), beachside apartments sell for millions, and the paparazzi hunt Nicole Kidman and Keanu Reeves in Bondi’s trendy new cafes.

Around 64,840 people live in the nine square kilometres (3.5 square miles) around Bondi, a population density of 7,200 persons per square kilometre (18,500 per square mile) – compared with two people per square km for the whole of Australia.

Thousands of backpacking tourists crowd into backstreet hostels each year, including around 75 illegal hostels, local government officials say.
Concerned residents fret that Bondi is being loved to death, with litter, pollution, crime and traffic congestion on the rise.

Cameron says homelessness and drugs are also growing problems facing the new Bondi. “We have had a fairly safe service and now it has become a little bit more extreme,” he says.


A social plan developed by Waverley Council, the area’s local authority, reveals Bondi’s split personality.

Its population is older than Sydney at large, with 14 percent of people aged over 65. There are more one-parent families, 43 percent of residents do not own their home but rent, and a third of residents are low-income earners.

But new residents are typically middle to high income people whose children have grown up, or childless professional couples – and they outbid the traditional residents for housing.

“High rents and loan repayments are causing low and medium income families with children, particularly those over 12 years, to move out of the area in search of cheaper housing,” the social plan said.

Ask Bondi’s old residents about the “gentrification” around them and they neither like it nor understand it.

“I don’t like the change, nyet. I love the beach and water,” declares an elderly Russian, who with three friends has played dominoes for the past 25 years at the same table alongside the Bondi Pavilion on the edge of the sand.

The new Bondi is so busy partying it has little time for the past. Forty years ago Bondi boasted one cafe, two milk bars and two fish and chips shops.

Today it is a culinary wonderland from the “Gusto” delicatessen, where beatnik types sit on milk crates on the street, to “Hugo’s” where couples dine by candlelight under cosy blankets to keep the sea breeze at bay.

But even Bondi’s cafe owners bemoan the rapid changes. Shop rentals have soared to around A$5,000 (US$2,660) a week for a small shop – five times the going rate 10 years ago – forcing many to make way for homogenous multinational fast food chains.

“People are getting squeezed out,” says Peter Berger, whose family has owned the “Gelato Bar” cafe since the late 1950s.

“There’s no way you can pay those rents. You can’t just put your prices up because people won’t come in,” says Berger.

He is happy with the influx of tourists which have bolstered his business, but not with Bondi’s inability to cope with its growing popularity, especially the mounting litter which spills from garbage bins at the end of each day.

“Bondi is an Australian icon it should look better…but it looks abominable. It should be more classy,” says Berger.


Waverley Mayor Paul Pearce has lived in the area all his life. He says Bondi’s population is now more “bourgeois”, creating tensions within those seeking to preserve old Bondi.

“In a sense we have preserved the buildings, but to some extent we are losing the people,” he says.

“The old style community at Bondi which was very much centred around the surf clubs, a very blokey (male) sort of culture, has certainly changed but there is a relatively coherent sense of community amongst newer residents.”

But old Bondi refuses to die – not without a fight.

Cockroach-infested flats from the 1930s which have yet to be reincarnated still litter the beach streetscape – cheap rent for groups of Japanese surfers living their “Endless Summer”.

Old ladies with tattoos on their wrists from Nazi concentration camps engage in the traditional Sunday family promenade along the beach.

Bondi is a multi-cultural enclave with 24 percent of residents born in non-English speaking countries, such as Russia, Hungary, Poland and the Ukraine.

But even a bastion of old-Bondi, the Icebergs winter swimming club perched on the southern headland, is not immune to change.

Riddled with concrete cancer, the club faced demolition until a benevolent developer transformed it into a multi-million dollar glass and white edifice.

Social membership of the Icebergs, with its new five-star restaurant and cafe, has become one of Sydney’s hottest tickets.

But each Sunday morning in winter, just like their founders 73 years ago, the “real” Icebergs race each other in their ocean pool, reminiscent of a time when all you needed to be a Bondi resident was a pair of swimming trunks.


Postcard Bondi Beach: A cultural melting pot

Published by Reuters in March 1992

As the sun’s first rays stretch across the sands of Bondi Beach and onto its ageing 1920s shops, Australia’s most famous beach looks a little seedy and hung-over.

Saturday night is party night at Bondi. Sunday morning is not a pretty sight. Garbage bins overflow with refuse from late-night take-away diners: pizza cartons, hamburger wrappers and cans of Foster’s beer litter Campbell Parade which skirts the beach.

Mini-skirted party girls wearing enough make-up to plaster the crumbling Hotel Bondi scurry home.

Agile joggers in swimsuits sidestep a few bleary-eyed tourists with British accents who wobble drunkenly head-first into the surf, jeans and all.

Before long, it’s the turn of the elderly migrants from eastern Europe, power-walking along the concrete promenade in a uniform of tracksuit, towelling headband, sandshoes and thick gold jewellery.

In the water, bobbing up and down like circus seals in fluorescent costumes, are Bondi’s famed surfers.

Scores of young Japanese, in Australia to learn English, join the line-up in the water as long as the waves stay waist-high. When the swells grow, their numbers thin.

Despite its jaded appearance Bondi has become home to a potpourri of nationalities.

The Waverley municipality which surrounds Bondi, covering nine sq km (three sq miles), is home to more than 60,000 people. According to the latest census 39 per cent were born overseas, 24 per cent in non-English speaking countries.

Walk along Campbell Parade and you will hear not only various versions of English, but more than 25 other languages, mostly east European, Russian, Hebrew, and Spanish.

By mid-morning the screams of young children echo from the northern end of the beach as Australia’s junior surf lifesavers, the Nippers, go through their paces.

North Bondi is the domain of the beach’s long-term, working class residents. The small ocean rock pools offer safe swimming for children, while Ben Buckler, Bondi’s northern point, shelters mothers and babies from summer’s blustery nor’easterlies.

Overlooking the northern corner is Tobruk House, a club for returned servicemen, an enclave of conservative Australia circa 1940s — cheap beer, bingo and weekly in-house movies.

In stark contrast, the southern end of the beach is Australia 1992; hedonistic, trendy, loud and naked.

On two cylindrical ramps heavily-padded skateboarders perform their landbased surfing before wide-eyed tourists.

Renovated blocks of flats have been turned into chic cafes where a capuccino sipped over the morning papers is de rigueur for writers, artisans and actors — Bondi’s newest arrivals.

By midday, when the blistering sun is high above, the southern sands are littered with naked and semi-naked bodies, their owners oblivious to the fact that Australia has the highest skin cancer rate in the world.

One woman sunbather has two swimming costumes — one to wear on the beach, the other in the water. For some men a small pouch and a piece of string suffices.

Bare flesh attracts not only sand flies but voyeurs who linger nonchalantly on the promenade. But no one seems to mind — after all, this is the beach where the local boardriders’ club is called ITN (In The Nude).

Carved out of the rocks that form the southern point is the white-washed Bondi Icebergs swimming club, established in 1929. Just 1.15 dollars (1.12 U.S.) buys a glass of beer and the best view of Bondi, albeit it through salt-encrusted windows.

On the first day of winter each year the elite male club, the Icebergs, throw huge chunks of ice into their ocean pool before diving in.

As Bondi bakes, the air fills with exotic smells from Thai, Vietnamese, African, Italian, and Lebanese restaurants.

Bronzed inspectors cruise up and down the beach, walkie-talkies in hand. In the first two months of 1991, around 500 people, many of them Japanese or English, had to be rescued from Bondi’s pounding waves, despite multi-lingual signs stating where swimming is safest.

By mid-afternoon, a cacophony wafts through the heat from the Bondi Pavilion, where a reggae band seduces dreadlock dancers and first generation Italian-Australians strut to ghetto-blasters.

In the 1930s, when a crowd of 80,000 sun worshippers was not uncommon on a hot weekend, the pavilion was an open air venue for tuxedoed big bands.

Today it is a community centre featuring yoga and aerobic classes, as well as a money change and souvenir shop for busloads of Japanese tourists.

As dusk descends the east European migrants return with their families for an evening stroll along the promenade before dinner at either the Jewish Hakoah Club or the Russian Black Sea restaurant.

Anglo-Saxon Australians have deserted the beach for dinner in front of the television and the Sunday night football replay.

By nightfall, the beach is empty but for the surfers who stay long after dark waiting for that one great ride.



Published in Tracks in January 1971

The crews hang at various places. At the tunnel, the second ramp, the first ramp, the rocks near the end of the beach, and at the baths. There are younger kids at the tunnel. They are swollen in numbers because it’s hot and it’s nearly holidays. They’re young and stoked and they haven’t yet acquired specific characteristics like the other groups. Or if they have they’re keeping quiet about it so far.

Bondi gets good in winter. A lot of waves and the crowds are not bad. In summer it’s the most populated bit of beach in the country. From the harsh dawn there are joggers and strollers and sitters and swimmers. There are hundreds of kids that walk out of the wilderness with a board under an arm and a towel in a hand and sunburn cream on a nose. On those summer weekends it’s glary at six o’clock and the sun is hot when it’s an inch above the horizon. The kids pull on their shorts, squint at the good peak that’s formed in the south corner, look around for someone’s wax. Old men do Yoga amongst the rocks. Joggers jog out of the hills and along the concrete promenade. And the surfers hit the peak, and it’s crowded by seven o’clock.

There are a lot of people. They go by one another without recognition. In the water, despite the crowds, there isn’t a fierce competitiveness. There are too many people for that somehow. They withdraw to their own worlds. The simple facts of survival ensure a respect and consideration that is implied mostly, and almost carelessly.

Brad Mayes is one of a lot of good surfers at Bondi. He hangs mostly at the second ramp. His surfing shows traces of Ted Spencer, perhaps the littlest bit of Nat, and it’s probably representative of the strongest group at Bondi. There are influences from the Wilderness community at Yamba and the characteristics aren’t any sort of turn or cutback. They are more basic versatility and adaptability. The waves they ride have sorted that out. It’s good surfing and Bondi surfers handle any place pretty well. They formed a club called East Coast last winter. One of the reasons was that they’d be able to take the young kids away on trips. They have not done that yet, but they’ve won a few contests and they’ve had a split in the ranks. The Fords pulled out of the club because they didn’t think that they were getting enough out of it. They’re called the Reformers. They didn’t get all that stoked about the social turns and the kegs that blew some of the club bread. And you don’t make it with the Fords if you’ve got a girlfriend.

There are four Ford brothers and five or so others that are pretty tight. Most weekends they hit Narrabeen. It stands out immediately in the quick arm swinging turn cutback. When they’re at Bondi they hang at the baths. And sometimes they wear coloured singlets while they’re surfing. When they wore them at Angourie it didn’t show too much insight into the vibe of the place. They go northside in a white Kombi that’s got McCoy stickers and ‘Northie forever’ written on it. They look alike and they surf alike and they take some of the young kids places that they wouldn’t otherwise get to go. It’s three or four hundred yards from the second ramp to the Baths. Clashes at Bondi have their own restrained sort of style.

The Fords ride McCoys with the rest of Narrabeen. Brad just bought a chined Hayden from Spider and Garry at Robert Conneeley’s surf shop. For the moment there’s no one shop that’s the fashionable thing. There are a lot of backyard boards and some of them aren’t very good, but no one seems to care too much. There is a sprinkling of Shanes, Astro Boy rides one, and Wayne Williams rides a board he made himself. Young Brock, who’s the artist of the second ramp, rides a Wilderness. Naturally.

Smaller groups of surfers gather at spots along the wall and on the sloping grass above the beach. It’s not too different to any other beach. Except Bondi has its own brand of person and surfer. He’s a product of the density of population. There are so many kids who live within ten minutes of the beach. To get along, they have to be resourceful, and they have their own kind of detached consideration. And when you watch the surfers in the water you realise how good they are. The locally grown product of the most concrete metropolitan beach in the country is pretty hot. They get more waves than most people realise. As many as anyone who consistently surfs a home beach. They know its mood and the hour when it’s likely to be good. In winter they’re happy to hang at home. The water south is cold, and for short weekend trips, when they go, it’s south. They haven’t preached the Southern Trip and so far it’s untouched by the media. Some of them think that the southside generally has had a bad time from the magazines. That it hasn’t got the recognition that it deserves. Others sense that that’s the best thing about it.

Bondi’s got nothing much going for it. It’s a product of the worst absence of environmental planning in history. It’s garlanded by sewerage outlets to the north and to the south, and every time the rain tries to wash the beach into the sea the Council get their bulldozer out and fixes things up. If they left it alone, the bank in the south corner would probably be much better, much more.

Over population makes the summer weekends nightmares. They are gross in the worst possible way. The kids recognise it, dislike it, and put up with it. And they carry this discipline into their surfing. Somehow, out of it, with the normal number of casualties, has come a group of surfers with an extraordinary basic strength. As individuals, their surfing is balanced and straight. As a group they’re not overbearing. Bondi’s got nothing much going for it but it’s kids.


Barnett Levey: First Jew in Bondi

First published in B’nai B’rith bulletin, July, 1955.
By Bro. Dr. George F. J. Bergman.

What was Bondi like in 1833? Turning the pages of the N.S.W. Calendar of this year, I found the description of a “bush walk” from Macquarie Place in the City to Bondi Beach.

Early map of Bondi

There was no Central Synagogue, neither were there flat houses there: but “some good specimens of weeping birch are seen here which, when in bloom, are singularly beautiful. There are also specimens of zunika palm, also the fern tree, and on the right, in the bush—where the Shanghai Jews now live in Bronte flats—the fan palm commonly called the cabbage tree may be found; a little further is a grassy spot indicated by the ruins of a house. The bays on this part of the coast, backed by barren rising ground, have something of a peculiar loneliness about them. The solemn roar of the breakers, the shiny shady beach, unmarked by human foot—and the low but beautiful shrubs make up a scene to be peopled by imagination. Botanists resort hither to view, in flower, many shrubs rarely to be met elsewhere”.

Here we are! Bondi, the lonely botanical bush garden of a hundred and twenty years ago. The beaches never trodden by thousands of feet . . . a ruined house, that was all!

The Calendar speaks also of a “bushroad, leading to a hill on which stands Levey’s tower, an octagonal obelisk, commanding an excessive view”, and “a quarter of a mile further we come to Waverley House, built by Mr. Barnett Levey”.

Waverley House

Waverley House was the first house in the district.

Here Barnett Levey, first Jew in Bondi, and more or less the first permanent inhabitant of this suburb lived in a marvellous home which for many years formed the attraction of the district. And he even foreshadowed the great builders of the great flat houses of the twentieth century, because we read also in the Calendar: “Adjoining is Waverley Crescent, a range of cottages projected by Mr. Levey, but of which only 2 or 3 are completed”.

Barnett Levey

Barnett Levey

Who was Barnett Levey and what kind of a man was he?

Barnett Levey was an English Jew and a free settler. It was in 1817 that we first hear of him, and at this time, although only 19 years of age, he was already a perfect businessman.

His brother, Solomon Levey, who was one of the greatest merchants in the city and partner of the renowned banker and general merchant Daniel Cooper, bought in 1817 for the price of £400 a property at 72 George Street which was then called “Sergeant-Majors Row”, as many Non-Commissioned officers lived in this street. Solomon sold this property in the same year, 1817, to Barnett. This is the property on which Dymocks Building stands today.

Barnett opened there a store and established himself as General Merchant, selling not only tobacco, sugar, tea and, of course, spirits, but also providing spiritual nourishment by selling books and prints.

The business flourished well and in 1826/27 he erected a warehouse behind the store. He called it “Colchester Warehouse”. It was an imposing five storey building, the plans of which had been designed by Sydney’s leading architect, the convict Francis Greenway.

He also built there a flourmill and Colchester House was topped with a windmill which provided the power for the flourmill.

He then had the store remodelled as a hotel —the Hotel Royal—for which he obtained a license.

His fortune seemed to be made.

It was at this time that he built his residence on the corner of what is now known as Old South Head Road and Pine Avenue and called it “Waverley House” after the novels of Sir Walter Scott, his favourite author. It was a two storey building in pure Georgian Colonial style, in an elevated position, commanding the view of Sydney to the west and of the ocean to the east and surrounded by gardens.

Waverley House once served as a school for destitute girls.

There is a reference to Waverley House in the “Sydney Gazette” which, one cannot doubt, caused widespread comment and amusement in those days. In the “Sydney Gazette” of October 15th, 1827, we read:

“Mr. Barnett Levey, besides the erection of his frightfully lofty temple in town, is also building a handsome dwelling house upon his estate on the South Head Road, within a few minutes from Bellevue. As soon as the house is finished, Mr. Levey intends erecting a church near his estate for the benefit of the neighbourhood in that direction”.

This note, inserted probably by a practical joker, very soon found the appropriate answer. Two days later, the following “Letter to the Editor” was published in the “Gazette”:—

“In this morning’s paper you make a great error. As far as your statement goes as to building on my little estate is true, but as to building a church is totally wrong. I think a grog shop would find more inside passengers on that Road.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant, B. Levey”.

The house was demolished in 1904, after it had served as a convent and subsequently as a school for destitute girls and later as a boy’s school. In 1924 a modern house, called “Eurangai” was built on this place.

Barnett held open house in Waverley and in May 1928 he was broke. He had to borrow £4402 on the security of his famous mill. And in addition, through this mill, he had come into trouble with the Government.

Levey must have had very good connections in Government circles as long as Macquarie and Sir Thomas Brisbane were Governors. He was, with Sir John Jamieson and the three first explorers of the Blue Mountains, the only person to whom land in this district had been granted before the general opening up of the area and the land sales there started.

But under Brisbane’s successor, Governor Darling, the situation must have deteriorated very much and he must have fallen out of favour. The reason for it was that famous mill and a letter concerned with it.

We are in the year 1827 and in the time of the awakening of the Australian settler to national independence, of the revolt of the free settler against the tyranny of the Governors. This revolt was led by the lawyer William Wentworth, famous through his participation at the first crossing of the Blue Mountains in 1813 and later to be one of the greatest Australian statesmen. It was Wentworth, who in his first “free” and not Government inspired newspaper “The Australian”, seconded by Wardell’s “Monitor”, attacked the Government.

It seems that many of Sydney’s Jews and Barnett Levey in particular took an active part in the agitation and in the open criticism of the Government which had started by the end of 1826 approximately. The Jews were not afraid to speak up.

The Jewish community of this time was by no means negligible.

The first report of the York Street Synagogue, dated 1845, says that “in the years of 1827/28 the worldly conditions of the Hebrews in this colony had considerably improved for various reasons”. And it was then that a Mr, P. J. Cohen offered the use of his house for the first organised Jewish services. From different sources it is evident that the first Jewish congregation was founded in 1832 Mr. G. B. Montefiore being its first president. A temporary synagogue was used and called “Beth Tephilla”.

But let us return to Barnett Levey and his mill.

In Series 1, Volume XIII of the “Historical Records of N.S.W.”, I found a private despatch of Governor Darling of 6th February, 1827, to the Under Secretary of State, Mr. Hay, in London, after whom, by the way, Mount Hay near Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains had been named.

Here Darling opens his heart to his superior and writes:—

“I have alluded to Mr. William Wentworth in some of my late letters, as appearing desirous to lead the public and degrade the Government on all occasions; I cannot perhaps furnish a better proof than by sending the enclosed copy of a letter to the Attorney General, written in Mr. Wentworth’s hand, but signed by a person by the name of Levey, who is of the lowest class, having commenced erecting a windmill in the centre of the town of Sydney on ground to which he has no claim. The Attorney General was instructed to desire that he should desist, to which he sent the answer drawn up by Mr. Wentworth. The style and the tone of the letter speak for themselves”.

The letter is indeed, impertinent enough. It is dated 30th January, 1827, addressed to Mr. W. H. Moore, Attorney General, and reads:—

“It is not true that I have ever had any notice to discontinue the building of the mill on my premises, although it has been notorious to the Governor and the whole Colony that this building has now been in progress for upwards of nine months. The enclosed certificates from my neighbours, who are most interested in the abatement of this nuisance, if it be one, will shew they do not view it in this light; and I can only say that, if it be a nuisance, the Government windmill is an equal nuisance, and I will take care, shall meet with the same fate as mine. I decline furnishing you with the particulars of my title to the yard upon which the building is being erected. I believe it to be as good a title as any in the town, and I will take care to defend it, if it be sought to be impugned. If this notice had been given me in due time, I might have desisted. To desist now, would be next to ruin; and if the Government are really anxious about the lives of His Majesty’s subjects, as it pretended, let them pay for their default in not giving me notice sooner, and I will leave off.
I am B. . . . . . B. Levey”.

No wonder that Governor Darling, depicted as “remaining hypersensitive to criticism” became enraged by this letter.

But nothing happened and Governor Darling went very soon afterwards the way of most of the early Governors, back to England, into temporary disgrace.

Although under the new Governorship of Sir Richard Bourke, Levey came into grace again, his finances did not improve.

It was then that he conceived the idea of retrieving his shattered fortunes by establishing a theatre, the first permanent theatre in Australia.

To finance this enterprise, he started with giving concerts. He obtained in June 1829, a license from the Governor to open a concert for vocal and instrumental music and for the performance of plays. Colonel Allen of the 57th Regiment gave him permission to use the Regimental Band at the first concert.

Barnett gave several concerts in the “grand saloon” of his hotel. He was his own star artist and although his pathetic rendering of the still famous convict ballad “My Love has gone to Botany Bay” was loudly cheered, money came in very slowly.

By May, 1830, his finances were desperate. Soon afterwards even the windmill was taken down. He then evolved a scheme to sell the “Royal Hotel” on the so-called “tontine system” under which, as the original subscribers to shares died off, the capital and interests accumulated in the hands of the survivors until the fortunate one who lived the longest owned all the property. However, although the impressive name of the grazier-magnate John MacArthur headed the list of the subscribers, the scheme flopped. The Hotel was eventually sold in auction in 1831 and Levey became a jeweller and watchmaker.

But this indefatigable planner was by no means beaten. In 1832 he popped up with a series of nice “At Homes” in the Royal Hotel at which he induced 500 persons to take out modest subscriptions of 5 shillings towards establishing the theatrical venture so dear to his heart. At these “At Home” concerts he was again mostly his own actor and sang to nine songs at one evening, patriotic, sentimental and comical ones.

And now he started in earnest on his theatre plans. He gathered a company of actors and prepared a temporary stage in the saloon of the hotel and in a shed at the rear of the building. The 26th December, 1832, may be regarded as the birthday of all legitimate drama in Australia. It was on this day that Barnett Levey opened his theatre with Douglas Jerrold’s play “Black-eyed Susan”.

On 25th December, 1827, he inserted a notice in the “Sydney Herald” as follows:—

“To the Poets of Australia. Barnett Levey offers a silver medal with a suitable inscription engraved thereon, for an approved opening address to be spoken on the first night of the Theatre Royal, Sydney, composed and written by a Native of the Colony and to be submitted for the approval to the Committee of Management who are gentlemen of talent and of the first respectibility”.

In 1833 a licence was granted to Levey by Governor Sir Richard Bourke for instituting dramatic performances as a regular thing, with the restriction on that he would only perform such pieces as were licenced in England by the Lord Chamberlain.

In the same year, 1833, Barnett Levey built the “Theatre Royal” on the land adjoining the hotel, a large handsome structure, seating nearly 1000 people in the pit, gallery and two tiers of boxes. Admission charges were 5/- for the dress circle, 4/- for the second circle, 3/- for tha pit and 2/- for the gallery.

Sydney had been starved of drama for so long that the theatre was crowded when it opened its doors on 5th October, 1833, to witness the opening performance of “The Miller and His Men”.

Barnett Levey, surveying the scene, might well have believed that his troubles were over—but he was to be sadly disappointed.

The newspapers with one accord, blasted the performance, declaring the feminine players “timid” and the males either “mouthed abominably” of “moving with a jerking stiffness”. The troubles increased when brawls broke out among the tough ex-convicts who frequented the gallery.

A letter to the “Monitor” complained that the theatre was full of “unshaven, half-intoxicated filthy scoundrels” and the “Sydney Gazette” thundered about the “half-tipsy, half-strumpet audience”.

I cannot describe the troubles he had with his actors who went sometimes on strike, or went off on a drinking bout. They were a colourful and eccentric lot. And they had to be versatile. His leading Shakespearian was Conrad Knowles. In one evening he played Shylock, sang a duet “Pretty Polly Perkins” with Mrs. Jones, gave a comic recitation in broken English—that will say probably in Yiddish—and wound up the night’s work in playing the leading role in a bloodthirsty melodrama, “The Italian Brigand”.

Despite squabbles with the players, financial crises and the blast of the critics who accused him of encouraging the “mass of debauchers and gaping idlers”, Levey battled on.

In 1835 he lost control of the Theatre to six lessees, but a year later was back in control again.

He kept the wolf from the door with a long series of bloodcurdling melodramas, including “The Wizard of the Moor”, “The Devil’s Ducat”, “The Spectre Bride”‘. “The Murder on the Hearth”, “The Shadowless Man” and many others.

He was occasionally able to bask in vice-regal patronage, as Sir Richard Bourke several times honoured the theatre with his presence.

On October 1st, 1836, Levey could proudly advertise the appearance of the first London actress on the Australian stage, Mrs. Chester, straight from the hallowed boards of Drury Lane.

At this time he was obviously still engaged in other enterprises, as the Minutes of the Australian Gaslight Company record that at a General Meeting of the shareholders held at the Royal Hotel on 29th June, 1836, Barnett Levey was appointed one of the directors of the Company.

In April, 1837, he staged a “grand national and patriotic pageant” at which 40 members of the 4th Regiment “by the kind urbanity of Major England”, joined the cavalcade, rigged out as members of Napoleon’s Old Guard.

But by now, although only 39, Barnett Levey was a sick and exhausted man, worn out by the interminable wrangles to make his theatre pay.

The mass of complications proved too much for him. On October 2nd, 1837, he died, leaving a distressed widow and four young children.

His widow closed the theatre for a week, then re-opened it and struggled on until March 22nd, 1838, when Sydney’s first theatre, the Theatre Royal of Barnett Levey closed its doors. It stood empty and deserted until it burnt down on St. Patrick’s Day of 1840.

What were the Jewish connections of Barnett Levey and what position did he hold in the Jewish community of Sydney? About that we do not know very much, because the first records of the Sydney congregation date only from a time after his death. But there is hardly any doubt, that he was a member of the first congregation and took part in its religious and social life. His brother Isaac Levey—Solomon had returned to England—was a foremost member of the congregation and its president in 1854 and the family is still existing in Australia. The late Colonel A. W. Hyman, a well-known personality in Sydney who, in the first volume of the Journals and Proceedings of the “Australian Jewish Historical Society”, published a short biography of Barnett Levey, was his great-grand-nephew, a great-grandson of Isaac Levey.

I would like to close this lecturette with the testimonial which Mr. C. H. Bertie gave to Barnett Levey in his “Story of the Royal Hotel and the Theatre Royal”:—

“Barnett Levey was a true pioneer. He possessed initiative and force and ahove all, he had the unquenchable courage which defied defeat and is only conquered by the hand of death. He was a little in advance of his time, otherwise his descendants today would number probably a baronetcy in the clan and a large rent role to support it”.

And I may add to this appraisement of the “Father of the Australian Theatre” the words which were written quite recently in the “Sydney Morning Herald” when the person of his contemporary, the philantropist J. G. Raphael, was remembered on the occasion of the demolition of his old house at 54 Young Street, Sydney:—

“He was one of the many worthy Jews who came to this country in the early days and who made good”.