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.
First 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. Over 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.
Peter Bowes’ Erin 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.
Three 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.