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”.

Commonwealth Pacific Cable System

The ship is the C.S. Retriever, which is laying an undersea telephone cable system connecting Australia, NZ, Fiji, Hawaii and Canada.

The Commonwealth Pacific Cable System (COMPAC) was an undersea telephone cable system linking Canada, Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. At a cost of $100 million, the link contained 11,000 miles of telephone cable, which provided 80 two-way speech channels or 1,760 teleprinter circuits. The Overseas Telecommunications room still exists under Queen Elizabeth Drive between 2nd and 3rd ramps. It was originally staffed by people who would relay information using morse code.

The cable has existed in different forms for over 100 years and it has been upgraded a number of times. The room was known as the Cable House and was originally operated by the Australasia and China Telegraph Company. In 1911 the cable room was under a band rotunda in the park at Sth Bondi. Every now and then the cable is exposed when the beach is eroded by big seas.

In 1911 the cable room was under a band rotunda in the park at Sth Bondi.

Bluey Mayes

Recollections of Jack ‘Bluey’ Mayes, by ‘Red Ted’.

I suppose I first came across Bluey Mayes as a young kid living in Bondi in the 1950s. His mother lived in a small flat just up the road from me. It was on the corner of Hastings Parade and Wiaroa Ave, adjacent to the old Bondi Police Station. His brother, Leon, lived there from time to time.

Jack had told me stories about him surfing in the 1930s on old hollow tooth picks up to 16ft long and solid cedar boards. He used to talk during the war (WWII) about how he and Leon would sneek around the barbed wire and concrete barricades on Bondi Beach to go out for a surf and how soldiers warned them about getting captured by Nazis in U-Boats.

There is that photo of Jack taken in 1939 towards the north end of Bondi. It was used on the T Shirt for the 2000 South Bondi Reunion.

South Bondi Board Club members 1958

South Bondi Board Club members pose for a Women’s Weekly article about the new ‘hot dog’ style of surfboard. L to R: Scott Dillon, Bluey Mayes, Andy Cochran, Rod Cartlidge, Barry Ross, Des Price. Photo: Ernie Nutt.

It would have been around 1956 that Jack discarded his hollow board and got his first “Malibu”. I think it was after Peter Lawford was here to make “On the Beach” or else when the Hawaiian and Californian lifeguards were here for an Olympic games thing. He was stoked.

I also remember him telling me about going to surf carnivals (he was the sweep for Tamaramma) and taking his board with him to such places as Coolangatta and Byron Bay. I seem to remember Crescent Head also. Magoo also mentioned trips down to Green Island and Ulladulla in the late 50s. It was also in the latter half of the 50s that Jack was a member of the South Bondi Surfboard Riders Club, the first boardriding club in Australia.

Bkuey Mayes, ca.1958. The bellyboard next to him belonged to Leigh Tingle, while the board with 77 on it belonged to Ross Kelly.

From the early 60s, I had lots of contact with Jack; just surfing mainly at Bondi and on the South Coast. This continued through to the 70s and 80s with his son, Brad, coming onto the scene in the latter part of the 60s.

I remember one day, Jack stopped me to ask about pensions. I was working for Social Security at the time. He said that during the war, he was in the US Navy and thought he could get a pension. I remember my father telling me that he had seen Jack in a US Navy officers uniform one time when he was on leave. Dad wondered where Jack had stolen the uniform. As such, I said something like “when were you in the war?” and Jack proceeded to show me a bunch of US navy stuff including service records, commission, a letter from the US President and other stuff including discharge papers.

He then told me his war story. He was in the Australian Merchant Navy and had taken some shore leave in London. When he went back to the ship, he and other sailors were told they had to take the ship to Murmansk in Russia. They did not quite mutiny but said that they had signed on to get back to Australia, not to Russia in Winter and not past the North Atlantic U-Boat fleet. As a result, he transferred to the US merchant navy to head back to the west coast USA via the Panama Canal.

Clearly he did not get sunk by a submarine.

When back in San Diego, the US Navy was looking for some deckhands to work on the US Navy small ships heading to the western Pacific. Jack, thinking of a way to get back to Australia, signed on. He was made a Petty Officer in the USN. He got on well with the captain of the ship, who happened to be an LA Lifeguard in normal life and also surfed.

They did a few supply trips around what is now New Caledonia, Vanuatu and other islands much like McHale’s island. At one of them, there were some great right handers breaking off a point. Jack went out for a body surf by himself. When he got back to the beach, some MPs or Shore Patrol wanted to arrest him for attempting to commit suicide. Unbeknown to Jack or the MPs, Jack’s skipper and his mate, who was the Executive Officer for the base on the island and who also surfed, had been watching Jack and were impressed with his ability (I suppose Jack embellished the truth somewhat). Apparently, the XO was in the process of making a big officers rest camp and was looking for a head lifeguard. Jack was recommended and they were checking him out for the job.

While Jack was arguing with the MPs in much the same fashion as he harangued beach inspectors (before they were Americanised to lifeguards), the two officers intervened and told the MPs to back off and should not speak to an officer in such fashion. Before Jack could say anything, the MPs were told that Jack was the head lifeguard for the officers camp and that they would be working under his orders.

Thus Jack became a lieutenant in the US Navy. But, the tale does not end just yet.

After living the life of a “beach bum” on a tropical island and getting paid for it (He did not tell me about any nurses or island native conquests), Jack got to return to Australia for R&R. He got the tram to Bondi and was walking up Wiaroa Ave, in his USN uniform, on his way home, when a local Bondi cop who had never had time for Jack arrested him for impersonating an officer. He marched Jack to the police station which was just across the road from Jack’s (Mum’s) home to have him charged and locked away.

Unbeknown to that cop, Jack’s mum got on well with the “Crown Sergeant”, who had been told the story about Jack and the USN; apparently Jack did write letters. The sergeant just winked at Jack and gave him a zip your mouth signal and smiled. When the Constable went off to ring the USN liaison people, the sergeant smiled and told Jack he knew the story and that the constable was a wanker and he could use this “stuff up” to have the c#@t transferred. Jack just sat there not saying anything other than demanding to speak with the senior naval person at Garden Island.

Needless to say, within a short while, a shore patrol car arrived with a USN officer, who apologised for the misunderstanding. The Constable was forced to apologise to Jack and then carry his duffel bag across the road and up the stairs to Jack’s place. The following week he was transferred somewhere out west.

I then arranged for Jack to see a mate Paul Jeffries, the father of Pru who is/was on the women’s circuit, who worked at Veterans Affairs to arrange a pension for Jack. This was done almost immediately and Jack got his pensioner card. As you know, this came in handy when Jack was in the nursing home.

Jack Passed away on 9 September, 1997, Brad’s birthday.

Bluey Mayes enjoying the arvo sun at South Bondi in the mid 1980s.

The author (Red Ted), Craig Cook, Jeff (Fish Cake) Stevens, Peter Moscatt and Matt Ellks. Photo: Chris Stonefield, 12 October 1997.

This photo was taken by Chris Stonefield on 12 October 1997 when we were placing Bluey’s ashes in the rock face at South Bondi, where the “polio pit” (South Bondi Boardriders Club shed) was.  We did a paddle out beforehand. We had the ashes cemented in to the rock face and an engraved plaque was placed over the top. It was vandalized but after being replaced and dynabolted is still there. The plaque of course was a “foreign order” from Garden Island Dockyard made from the finest naval bronze.

The quintessential Australian beach

Bondi Beach has come to be viewed both within Australia and internationally as the quintessential Australian beach. It remains the third most visited site in Sydney after the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, and the 380 bus route from Circular Quay to Bondi Beach is the most profitable in Sydney.

Bondi Beach has played a nationally significant role in the development of Australia’s self image. Love of the beach is a defining characteristic of the Australian way of life. Bondi Beach is one of the world’s most famous beaches and is important to both the Australian community and to visitors. The beach, with its golden sands, parks, and the blue waters of the bay, framed within its rocky headlands, embodies a powerful sense of place and has come to symbolise Australia’s way of life and leisure. It is where Australians meet nature’s challenge in the surf and is strongly associated with the Bronzed Aussie myth of easygoing hedonism and endeavour balanced with relaxation. A place full of Australian spirit, synonymous with Australian beach culture, surfing and the surf life saving movement, it is recognised internationally.

The central role of beaches, and Bondi Beach in particular, in Australia’s self image is reflected in the use of the beach by painters, filmmakers, poets and writers in analysing the growth of this new self image and reflecting it back to Australian society.

– Australian Heritage Council [pdf]

An interview with Robert Conneeley

Matthew Ellks speaks to Robert “Bonza” Conneeley about surfing in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Barry "Magoo" McGuigan, South Bondi, ca. 1959.

Barry “Magoo” McGuigan, ca. 1959.

BONZA: Looking at the two photos sent to me by Red Ted from Barry McGuigan’s collection. One is a photo of Magoo circa ’59, posing with his board at South Bondi. The photo is taken next to the South Bondi Boardriders shed where the surfers used to keep their surfboards. It was commonly known later as the “Hep Pit” because of the threat of hepatitis from the storm water seepage through the sandstone walls. The other is a shot of the ’61 young crew goofing off on their boards. In the background is the “Icebergs” club and South Bondi reef.

MATT: Why was it actually later named “The Hep Pit”?

BONZA: Well a street drain from Knotts Avenue used to seep through there. On rainy days we would hang inside it unawares of the danger lurking. The actual shed used to butt into the cliff and it picked up a little overhang. Comprised of 1 stonewall and a little bit of a cement roof. The problem was keeping the door on. Not from theft but everyone didn’t have a key so people would bust down the door to get their board out. Boards were so heavy and kids were so young it was a big advantage to have your board down the beach in the corner. A good mate named Frank contracted Hep but no-one really understood. “Where’s Frank today?” “Oh he’s got hep, he’s home sick.” But the boys didn’t even know what it was. Luckily it was isolated.

The younger crew, ca. 1960.

The younger crew, ca. 1960.

Looking at Magoo’s surfboard in the photo I think back to the era of boards and when they came through. Everything sparks memories backwards. The first young person I saw with a modern balsa board was Warren Cornish sitting on the beach aged 10. It was a 7’ 6” rounded squaretail. I was the second kid on Bondi to have a modern board. It was the second shipment of Balsa into Australia. It delaminated in the end but it was a great board for a kid. It was 8 foot long 22 wide and I couldn’t fit it under my arm. When I look at the next photo now of the boys we are off the balsa. The guys in this shot were the next squad of young surfers to come down.

MATT: Who was in that squad?

BONZA: Bluey Mayes was ruling the roost, Andy Cochrane and Mick Dooley were the talent and then there were the teenagers meaning 13+. In the photo I can recognize a couple of heads, Kevin Brennan, Warren, Ron Silcock and John Carty. Most guys a little older went to sea or as soon as they turned 18 and could get into a pub you never saw them again. Bobby Fel, Wally the Walker, Jimmy Brown were all moving pretty fast. Pretty much hot shots. And Warren was the kid on the beach. One time he had to put his age up to get a car license. He was pretty mature so he got another birth certificate.

Back: Robert Coady, Bommy Beacham, Chris Brock, Dennis Lindsay, Paul Witzig, Mick Delaroo, Gary Keys. Middle: Kevin Brennan, Terry Keys. Front: Steve Cunningham, Bob Moss, John Coady, Dave Spencer, Robert Conneeley, Frank Pickford, Ron Silcock.

During the balsa era there wasn’t much balsa. They were hand made boards and it was a very slow process and it wasn’t much of an industry. But then it all changed once Barry Bennett started blowing foam, I think Gordon Woods blew his own. He left me one of his first prototypes. But Barry Bennet was the pioneer to successfully turn foam into a business as far as I know. Prior to that Scott Dillon and his partner Ward were practicing doing coolite and epoxy, wrap them in brown paper and glass them… all sorts of stuff to try and get some different materials happening.

Bondi crew

Jack ‘Bluey’ Mayes, John ‘Wheels’ Williams, Scott Dillon, Johnny “dinki di” O’Donovan, Darrell Eastlake, Andy Cochran, unknown, unknown, unknown, unknown, Robert ‘Bonza’ Conneeley.

By the look of this photo the foam has somewhat been perfected and these are B.B. boards. I can tell just by the artwork they were doing at the time. There were these flared panels just like the Magoo board. Just offset to one side. That’s one of the things that stuck in my mind. But the artwork was very 77 Sunset Strip, chic, cool, the bell hop, Cookie and the comb and the one panel down a shirt and things like that. It wasn’t my taste.

MATT: Where was that influence from?

BONZA: California. Hawaii’s influence waned once it went to foam, short-boards and hot-dogging. The Hawaiian influence came back later.

MATT: When talking about B.B. being the pioneer of foam what year was that?

BONZA: Guessing about ’61 or ’62 probably fiddling for years but you can see by the photo the popularity of it. So now you can see there’s half a dozen young kids but there’s only a couple of people missing there. There weren’t too many other young kids surfing.

Kevin Brennan

Kevin Brennan

MATT: Anyone else you want to add?

BONZA: Gary Keys was a part of that clan but lived inland so only came down on weekends. Terry Falson who’s dad was a crown sergeant at the law courts. Probably one of the greatest stylists that North Bondi had in that tubing little right-hander was Brian Morris. Lived up there on Ben Buckler and he was really influential in stylizing Bondi surfing. But we were shamelessly copying John Severson’s Surfer magazine Vol 1. They were the first black and white photos of people throwing out a bit of style and then it was just an outbreak of Mike Doyle hold the nose, one hand up. In the second photo the two guys crouched are good examples. The top guy is doing a Mickey Munoz ‘Quasimodo’. Someone in the photo is also doing the ‘Duke’ ornament which is almost the O’Neill advertisement. And of course ‘Kev the Head’ on his head was the most versatile, athletic, best balanced, could switch foot, ride backwards do virtually anything….. seen him paddle out with a cigarette dry and ride the first wave and flick it when he got to the nose. He was a great talent.

MATT: And what about The Baths?

BONZA: For me my interests in establishments. The Baths and North Bondi Surfclub started with my dad so I had been down on Bondi since I was really, really young. Dad was in the Bondi Icebergs so every Sunday he’d be up drinking jugs of beer and eating prawns after having his Winter swim. Mum and I would be down in the south corner out of the wind with the brolly up and as a baby I would just head straight down to the water.

South Bondi, 1961.

South Bondi, 1961.

So by 2½, they could see that I was either gonna drown or they better teach me how to swim. So, over at the baths the swimming coach was Sep Prosser who became an Olympic swimming coach in Copenhagen or somewhere like that. Sep would use a couple of kerosene tins with a belt around them under your arms and then throw you in. The first floaties. Once I was able to get going I ended up being anti-clubby. You had to be 14 to join. By the time I was 11 and the slightly older blokes, brother-in-law exempted, Peter Moscatt, were giving me the shits. They didn’t like young blokes hanging around because they were bullshitting and telling stories and I was just a fly on the wall passing by. So I was really happy to get my board out of there, cause I used to collect it there because dad was a member, and move it down to South Bondi and hang with guys like Magoo, Tony Rule, and observe the late, great Bluey Mayes and learn the social pecking order of how to fit in with hard men. That was a community. It was nurturing. There were bouncers down there after hours, there were boxers, some hard, tough men. They nurtured young blokes. They didn’t teach you any bad habits and if you were respectful you were part of their community so they would look out for you. a) that you didn’t drown and b) that you didn’t get into any trouble because at times there were all sorts of creeps hanging around. There were pedophiles lurking around the toilets so it was good to belong to such a community that cared about you. So, as a young guy you felt part of the tribe.

MATT: When talking about ‘the hep pit’ it’s obvious that was the general meeting place for the whole tribe or was there different parts of the beach which had their respective crews?

BONZA: It was before the splintering. Bondi Surfclub was first in and they were established and good rowers and so on. North Bondi Surfclub probably in second and they were more radical guys. They were more stage wrestlers and boxers.

MATT: Footballers?

BONZA: Footballers didn’t have a lot of clout in the early days. There was no big deal you just played football. I’m talking ‘Hollywood George’, the wrestlers and the nightclub bouncers coming down to stay fit. So, North had all the characters but the renegades that wouldn’t do community service, wouldn’t patrol beaches on a Sunday because they wanted to go surfing were at South Bondi. So, surfclubs were full of clubbies and the few surfers with boards were at the South end. There was only the one social hang for surfers around ‘the Hep pit’ where our boards were locked up. No other gang just that corner. The only other was if people had tied their surfboard to the roof of the car. Now we’re talking big boards, and not a lot of people had cars or racks. Later on there was the ‘1st ramp’ crew and I bump people now in their early 50s who say you wouldn’t remember me I was at the ‘2nd ramp’. (Laughs) It’s funny but when you start out somewhere as just a kid and there’s not a lot of other people around and it just continues to grow, I was a little naïve to the social pecking order because I was in with the crowd but they weren’t so much the in crowd, they were the only crowd and then the rest of the crowds grew. But how it looked when I talked to an eloquent guy like Damian Lovelock, author and lead singer of the Celibate Rifles, he felt like he was looking in and a little bit socially ostracized. I think Di’s younger brother had once told him to hop it because he dropped in on him or something and I think his interest in board riding waned and he became a body surfer. He just didn’t want to take it on, it was a bit all too much.

MATT: At what age did you start riding a board?

BONZA: I’d been running, swimming, body surfing big waves with guys from North up till I was about 10 years old. At 10 and a little bit I was looking at 16 foot hollow boards and the toss up was ‘do you want to go with a board like that or would you prefer a 12 foot plywood yacht, a VJ?’ We lived up on the Dover Height’s hill in Military Road so it was either to the beach with a plywood Malibu, they had just come down to 10’ 6”, or over to Watsons Bay with a 12 foot Vaucluse Junior. We had a canoe kicking around that we used down the south coast where we had a weekender. One of my dad’s good mates who also built a weekender on my dad’s nod was Gordon Woods. So he was in North before he moved to Brookvale, so it was decided this balsa stuff was coming so it was on for young blokes.

MATT: With your dad being part of ‘the Bergs’ and your mum hanging down at south how did you become affiliated with the hep pit’ crew?

BONZA: Simple answer to that is pure enthusiasm and some unbelievable child opportunities. My dad swum everyday so I got a lift every morning before school to go for a surf. My dad was semi retired, an SP bookie, he went down ‘the Bergs’ every afternoon and was happy to wait till school got out. So I’d have ½ km dash home from Vaucluse High then into the car and down the beach. I’d be in my boardshorts and out in the water before the school bus had even made it to Bondi. I was accepted because I was just on the beach morning and night. At one stage I can remember a couple of the older guys naming me “Rob the Rocket” because I couldn’t go left. It’d be “Go Rocket” cause they’d see me on a closing out right and I’d just hurtle. So that bit of good humour, that bit of sportsmanship all helped and basically if ‘Bluey’ didn’t want a wave, Dooley and Cochrane dueling for the next one and then there was a bunch of 16 year old guys and I was at the bottom of the pile. Sure enough a little one would come through, they’d yell “Go Rocket” and that was mine. So I’d always be going right on the shorebreak and when I’d turn back around the hierarchy of the beach would go surfing by.

MATT: Similar to your current everyday grommet?

BONZA: Yes, but no grommet abuse. Guys were pretty cool, to me anyway.

MATT: These days or even when I had my day at Bondi occasionally there were grommets who were really easy to like. They didn’t get in the way and they kinda understood the pecking order, they were humble to a degree and therefore easily accepted within the framework.

BONZA: And you warm to their enthusiasm and just with the opportunity I had, arriving fit, good swimmer, could run, dropped all of that and turned it into surfing. If the board was at North Bondi I’d paddle down. A reflection of my father, his joy of life and living life to the fullest. I owe him a huge vote.

Then when it came to get a little bit trickier when Bondi was closing out, what’s next? Almost a badge of honour…. Mick Dooley invited me over North side. Now he mightn’t even remember it but when you’re a grom you never forget it. Mick was a style master. He was up there with Midget Farrelly. Midget had more winning ways in comps but you couldn’t separate the better surfer. Contests did and Midget was, but they were both perhaps the first ‘nippers’ prior to Nipper Williams because they were little guys. They were nothing short of sensational. Mick was a really cool guy. Had the old Holden station wagon and the gal and asked me if I wanted to go North side. So you go from Bondi beach break to the other side of Long reef out at ‘Fishermans’ and ‘Little Makaha’….. just like overwhelming. Big seas. Reef surfing. You know cast in at the deep end with a hero and you just do it! (Laughs)

You can’t say “I’m not going out!” So, that was my first trip away from Bondi to go surfing.

Robert Conneely 1958

Robert Conneeley with his first surfboard in 1958

MATT: How old were you?

BONZA: It was my first board so I was 11 or 12 years old. You know I had my 2 shillings lunch money and you’d throw that in for petrol money and the bridge toll and go hungry for the day. I had fruit and stuff packed, I was a spoilt kid. But the big trip came up, which proved to be culturally significant, though I didn’t know that at the time, when Barry “Magoo” McGuigan who had a 1955 Vee Dub, was a fireman with some time off and a bit in the know, took me up the coast, and the big trip at that stage was out of Sydney and up to Catherine Hill Bay. We’d seen photos in California of shooting the pier at Huntington so it was a real romantic, visual thing, riding a mal in 3 foot waves next to the Catherine Hill Bay pier. At first my dad was concerned about Barry. He thought this guy was a bachelor, a vegan, a yogi, lives with his mum and had to put out the word, “Is he straight?” Word came back, 100% cool guy, surfing enthusiast, diver and pure living man. In Bondi and didn’t drink? That’s why he thought something might have been wrong with him. He turned me onto yoga, mashed banana, wheat germ, how to have food with you when you travel that’s good for going surfing. I owe him such a vote of thanks. I’ve seen him a few times but it’s hard to get that across. Thanks mate.

So that was the background to it and when we get there John Severson, the editor of American Surfer Magazine, was there. The surfer he brought out from the States, Bob Cooper, proved to be one of the most influential in Australian surfing culture. Before he was a hippy, think he had a bit of a beard, and was from Santa Barbara. So, straight away it was look at Cooper’s board, which was a Reynolds Yater… check it out… get all the details…. back to Gordon Woods… next minute I’m riding a board designed from a Reynolds Yater… Rincon mal. There was such a stimuli of being in those peoples company, seeing the stylistic surfing of Cooper and his nose riding… he was early days, Makaha and then dropped out later in Australia and now he’s a religious deacon in his church. Possibly a Mormon. But to get access to that level of board was almost impossible. That was the board I took when I first went to Byron Bay. Pulled up and there were no surfers there. Rode “the pass” on a Reynolds Yater style of board, with beautiful fins and rovings edges. Nose riding but not dorky, nose trimming, speeding through the curl line. Surfing Byron at a time when there were no other surfers around but the guys who come down from the Gold Coast, Paul Witzig in a giant black car, Bob McTavish, Russell Hughes, David Chidgey and no-one else? And it’s Easter! And I’m up there with Gary Keys. It was great to meet those guys and they have become lifelong friends. People might say it was a coincidence bumping people but there was no-one else around. If you saw some surfers back then you thought “Oh Good!” now you see some you think “Oh God!”.

MATT: And what year was that?

BONZA: Third year high school… maybe 14. Caught the train up there… about ’62. Yeah and we had an introduction from my dad’s influence in the surfclub to stay at the Byron Bay surf club.

John "Wheels" Williams

John “Wheels” Williams, 1957. Photo: Stu Ford.

MATT: Who turned you on to the place?

BONZA: The big tip came from John ‘Wheels‘ Williams, had been a tennis coach in Honolulu, but a great surfer and waterman. Lived in Bondi, was a handsome bloke and style guru… social style of clothing that is (Laughs) Beautiful surfer too. He said, “You kids have to get up to Byron, you’d like it. The waves go sideways all the way to the beach.” I thought, “What does he mean sideways to the beach?” But I mean you get there and go… “Oh my God that’s what he means. 500 metres all the way to the beach.” So by the time you’ve done your whole repertoire of tricks and stuff, by the end of the day you’re just taking your shorts off and putting them on your head. You’d just gone mad riding waves. (Laughs)

MATT: Ok can you talk a bit about your Brylcreem advertisement?

BONZA: That’s a bit hard for a bald headed bloke.

MATT: Ok then let’s start with your win in the ’64 World Junior Title, the preparation and how it actually came in the making?

BONZA: It all started with South Bondi Boardriders around ’60 or ’61. Tony Rule, Barry McGuigan and the rest of the crew hosted the first boardriding contest I had ever seen. Clubbies did stuff. South Bondi did nothing… they just went surfing. So now they’re going to have a little comp. they threw up a cadet division. Myself, Cornish…. I’m trying to think of a few other names who were in it, Murray Evans for sure, and you couldn’t separate any of us but somehow I fluked a win. So I got a little tin cup… you beauty! So that kind of starts a “well are you going to go over North side and have a go at Manly?” Bluey Mayes was saying to me, “Go on you’re as good as those blokes! Get over there and show ‘em!” So there was a bit of a run with comps.

Bob Evans who ran Surfing World, took stills, made movies, saw the future and he started setting up these competitions. I disagreed with his vision and personal philosophy but he was accurate. (Laughs) he thought blokes from South Bondi were a bit loutish and not as well educated as some….. and as far as the future was concerned he was a king maker. So he was setting up comps and doing a few things so by ’63 Ampol came to Bondi and sponsored a major event the Australian Title. May have been comps before but this was a big one. There wasn’t any football in newspapers, back then they would only show you the results. So the newspapers became interested and the Sunday columnists got behind this comp and they started giving half a page to me and half a page to Nat Young. “Rivalry at Bondi to be fought out!” etc. Whoaaaa… Nat Young’s going to be in the seniors? Should I have gone in the seniors? And all this associated press which started to spin me out a little bit. So they run the comp, junior final was postponed, Nat wins the seniors and scores a trip to Makaha and California and off he goes. Junior final on the next week, more press and more pressure and a really good surfer from North Avalon who went on to be the British champion after returning home was Rodney Sumpter… and in shitty waves with a bit of size at South, Rodney beats me fair and square. After it I felt flat and a little disillusioned. Wow ’63 and this is what losing feels like… shucks! (Laughs) So ’64 dawns and with a little more of an appetite I go up to North Avalon and turn the tables on Rodney. After that comp they decided they didn’t want Nat in the seniors anymore because he was too good so they put him back in the juniors and made everyone stay in their age group.

Mick Dooley, Robert Lane, Nat Young, Bondi 1963.

Mick Dooley, Robert Lane, Nat Young, Bondi 1963.

A bit of rivalry then started between me and Nat. He can’t remember the occasion but I have discussed it with him… my recollection of the event, because I was behind him, was that he effectively ‘fouled me’ as Peter Drouyn would say. Big left ran down the beach, he took off in front of me, white water came down, I’m on my heels, and I can’t get around the section to catch him. So it is a foul. He wins the event and I’m fuming. I recall trying to get a little closer to him in the water to have a discussion but of course he’s too good a paddler so he wouldn’t have even known it. He could always out paddle anyone.

1964 World Titles Awards, Manly Beach

The 1964 World Titles, at Manly Beach. Top: Mike Doyle, Midget Farrelly, Joey Cabell. Left: Wayne Cowper, Robert Conneeley, Nat Young. Right: Phyllis O’Donell, Linda Benson. Photograph by Ron Perrott.

So, now it’s all on the line for the World Titles at Manly for the biggest single event Australia had hosted up until that point. The media was huge, the rivalry building, the newspaper columnists are talking it up. They’re bringing out Mike Doyle, L.J. Richards, my hero Joey Cabell and a few others for the seniors. For the juniors, the Australian Title, and then they rolled it in and called it the first World Junior Title but basically there was only Aussies there. But I came from Bondi on a ferry so I was an overseas aspirant. (Laughs) By that stage being ’64 I was 17 and I had started getting into some serious under age drinking. So, Max Bowman and I got a flat in Manly, filled it with cans of beer…. Partying hard…. blind every night…. Next morning stagger out of bed… comps on.. down for a quick surf then into it. The contest had a few really good surfers, Chris Brock was just carving, and I finally got my revenge on Nat and beat him. I feel the rivalry build up definitely helped and gave me a harder edge.

MATT: What were the waves like?

BONZA: Pissy little 3 footers but beautiful shape and glassy.

MATT: What about the board you were riding?

BONZA: It was the first board that Glen Ritchie shaped me who went on to make Outer Island Surfboards. It was a 9’ 6” mal and it was a beauty. Glen came from Manly so the board really suited those waves… not that it was made for the event it just happen to be the board I had at the time.

MATT: How was the judging back then?

BONZA: The judging for that event was fine by me. (Laughs) No split decisions… it was a good win. What made it better for me was they brought Phil Edwards out to be a judge who was one of the world’s best at the time. I had this little bit of an underdog thing coming from Bondi that the North side judges, Bob Evans, John Witzig and all were biased. They didn’t like us socially, and possibly for good reason, crashing their party’s and being a bit obnoxious but their bias came out in comps and they were pushing their own agenda. So having an international judge like Phil Edwards really broke through that and the beauty of having a head judge like that who gives you a pat on the back is that he teaches you to drink tequila. So it was the first time we’d had tequila in Australia. Luckily it was after the surf comp. So when I got home to Bondi my mates just propped me up against the door, put the trophy in my arm, knocked and when my parents opened it I just fell in.. (Laughs)

MATT: Being 1964 and way before there was any cash in surfing, how were you earning a crust?

BONZA: In ’64, I got my first job. Professional surfing was years away so I got a job at the Rural Bank of N.S.W. at Double Bay. So I’m 6 months into a job and they were happy with having a sportsman working for them who was kicking a goal. But there was nothing straight business could do with a sportsman So I’m going’ “Gee I’d like to get to Hawaii.” And you would think the purpose of having comps like this would be to pick a team to go… but there wasn’t a lot of dough around and it wasn’t evenly placed. Midget was groomed. Don’t think he went to Peru but he won the seniors at Manly. But as surfers we all just wanted to get to Hawaii and if you went to Peru you passed through Hawaii. We all wanted to compete at Makaha in December ’64. Question was how to get there? I’d had this era of disproportionate media exposure and it was only because there wasn’t a lot going on. It wasn’t as though we were riding great waves and I had plenty of mates who were better surfers but I just happened to win the comp. Sure I was on a roll but you never thought you were better than Kevin Brennan. (Laughing) He’d just go out and trounce you any day of the week he just couldn’t keep it together or show up. He had a disadvantaged life.

So, then this advertising agency gets in touch with me. “Would you like to do a TV commercial for Brylcreem?” I was just starting to listen to the Rolling Stones, wanted to grow my hair out like Brian Jones but couldn’t cause I was working in a bank…. I didn’t listen to much Beach Boys music and here’s Brylcreem trying to put their product into Beach Boys hairstyles that were basically just starting to grow into Rock n’ Roll hairstyles. I thought, “This could be tricky. What sorta dough are we talking here?” And it turned out to be enough to buy an ocean liner ticket to Hawaii return because it was cheaper than an aeroplane. Bob Spence, the president of the Australian Surfriders Association, was going and said to me, “You should get on it. There’s a few blokes from Narrabeen going and we can be a team!” (Laughs) Team? Yeah right I just wanted to get to Hawaii.

So, we filmed a hair commercial at Newport Reef. They had some pretty quaint ideas of what I should be doing. It was closing out on the inside ledge and it’s hard to film surfing and back then for commercial cameramen, not surf photographers, it was really difficult. And they were trying to get some slang in there, a bit of a logo going. So anyway they got this shot of me hitting the inside ledge and the whole wave was about to close out so I launched the board in this flickout. Ah, ok what are they going to call it? “The Whip-Turn Pullout”. And then of course they cut back to this mock set of change rooms and I’m there running a comb through my hair. I reckon it must have been all that vanity that made my hair fall out. (Laughs) But that was the price of a ticket to Hawaii in those days.

MATT: Tell us a bit about the background behind the ocean liner tradition to Hawaii?

BONZA: Well in ’61, Farrelly went over and won and I assume the world knows that. That is a very worthy piece of Australian history and established him as a leader of Australian surfing and a clean living man. Great example and was shaping his own boards. His Makaha series were excellent, beautifully foiled boards. Let’s hope history’s got him in his place but were talking about the Bondi end of it… the mongrel end of it….. and in ’63 there was always a big send off drink at the boat. All your mates would come down and everyone would get pissed, cheap booze on the boat with no duty on it. So, Bob McTavish was down there one time and not drinking too heavy and he figured he’d take a big wave board with him and not just see the boys off but stay on board. Another friend David Chidgey was with him and wasn’t as well organized but thought, ‘That’s a great idea!” So they just jumped in the lifeboat and off they went. They got to Hawaii, landed, got onshore and ended up with jobs on the North Shore painting houses. Such was the power of Sunday newspapers and their surfing columns that a girl from Dover Heights was writing her column and mentioned what a laugh it was that McTavish and Dave had stowed away to Hawaii. The American embassy in Australia read it and they got busted for being illegal immigrants and were brought back in irons.

So, in ’64, when it was time to go, my dear friend Dr Robert Spence, the accident surgeon from Manly hospital, who was just this mad, keen surfer, up early every morning, huge waves, Fairy Bower, Bombora, mate of Scott Dillon’s, 40 years of age and just powered up wanting to do Hawaii… come on the team Rob you’re on with us.

So after the big send off drink… balancing along the railing… gladioli between the teeth… falling and thinking “Is this the end?”… luckily fell inboard…. hit the deck and thought, “Ah that’s good!” If you fell off an ocean liner on the first night to N.Z. they’d never have found you. You can’t put the hand brake on and stop one. So then we started to get into some serious training and there’s a ships pool to take advantage of. I think the ships name was the “Orsova”. We nicknamed it the “Arse Over”. The pool was a fairly decent size and so we started doing laps underwater getting ready for hold downs in Hawaii. I already had a good lung capacity, I had never smoked. Anyway first go underwater was 3 laps. Then we couldn’t break through 7 laps heading for 10. So day after day we’re just doing these laps and then as you cross the equator there’s the ‘King Neptune’ celebrations where they have a big water festival on. Someone gets dunked in the pond, King Neptune comes out with his trident and there are all sorts of games happening. So, one of the games illustrates what we were working at. They got a tray of the ship’s cutlery and dumped it into the pool and then it’s a contest of who can gather the most knives and forks. Im watching people do this and I’m thinking, “Too easy.” (In a mock Scottish accent) So under I go holding my breath, rake it all up into a pile at the foot of the ladder. I then hooked one leg under the rung of the ladder so I’m still hanging on the bottom and picked up every piece…. Filled the cozies, fill the hands… so I’ve picked up the whole tray of cutlery. Whatever the prize was… you know King for 5 minutes….. but besides that no-one could still break the 7 laps underwater. So that night after a little celebratory drink, think we were drinking Bacardi, I thought, “I’ve got to break this pain barrier.” So that night pissed, on my own, just the lights of the pool…. Whoosh, whoosh, up and down… 7 laps and through the barrier. My hearts just throbbing, boom… boom… Next minute I didn’t have arms or legs, all I had was a pulsating pain. 9 laps. (Laughs) 10 laps and suddenly there was no pain and I was in no hurry to come up. Fortunately I lifted my head out of the water because I reckon I was heading for a blackout. Pissed at 11pm and I don’t think anyone would have found me in time.

Finally on the tenth day of the cruise there’s this little blimp on the horizon and you could smell Oahu. The trade winds just blowing it at you. The first thing you noticed as you got close was the Aloha tower. A big wooden structure standing upright in Pearl Harbour… it looked like a mega hand built bungee tower. It was there to welcome all tourists because all tourism from California and elsewhere mainly came by boat. After getting on shore we were met at the Outrigger Canoe Club by John Kelly. He took us around and showed us the place, you know we were the Australian team. (Laughs) There were guys tagging along who could hardly surf. “Yep, yep, we’re all in the Australian team!” (More laughs). So, that was the start of a fantastic cultural experience. That training and pain barrier thing came in handy. I remember straightening out at inside Sunset Beach on a 10 foot gun with the lip clobbering me and I really needed it!

MATT: So where did you stay?

BONZA: Right on the point at Sunset. At some accommodation that was owned by Mrs Zeigler. She had about 6 little cabins in a coconut grove.

MATT: And tell us about the Makaha contest?

BONZA: As a competitive junior at age 17 I was in awe of Makaha. Met Buffalo and the guys and they were just gentleman. Beautiful royalty of surfing and so loved them, got on. Went drinking with Buffalo… age limit was 20… I was already a veteran drinker by 17. So I could hold cheap, lite, Hawaiian piss, no problem, and stay up drinking with them all night.

And then you meet the Californians. Butch van Artsdale, who was Mr Pipeline that year, Mike Hynson, the stylist. They were too cool to compete. Smokin’ hot one’s, and no-one cared about that. They’d seen the movie before so they didn’t have to play. But in the juniors was the hot tip from La Jolla, Billy Hamilton. Laird’s stepfather, and this guy was just red hot. Never saw anyone surf like him. Fine railed board just ripping. Was dong all that Johnny Fain was doing at Malibu, stylistically with perfect poise… just blew my mind! I’d never seen a better surfer. Rodney Sumpter was also in the comp but what they did was eliminate all those guys in the semi so they didn’t clutter up the final with true contenders. So then Fred Hemmings’ young brother was shuffled through and a couple of other Hawaiian kids that they wanted to win. I was put through as a token Australian being the Aussie Junior champ. I was just making up the numbers to make the system look good. There was an article in “New Idea” that my daughter did with a photo of me looking at the place getters trophy. I was seriously contemplating throwing the thing. The better surfers were eliminated on the way through. In that final there’s a kid riding backwards to impress his dad who was sitting on the beach, Hemmings senior who was half blind. And that wins whereas I’d just seen Billy Hamilton do the most cosmic surfing I’d ever seen in my entire life… and it doesn’t even qualify for the final? All said and done the comp wasn’t that important it was just an excuse to get to Hawaii.

My first job at the bank couldn’t sponsor me but they gave me half pay over there in pounds, shillings and pence which worked out to be about $9 a week. We were nearly starving to death to stretch the holiday out for 3 months. I was writing a few things back for the Sydney Telegraph. They were trying to put a package together for me to get down to Peru for the World Championships in Feb 65’. Bob Evans organized a paddle contest on Sydney Harbour sponsored by ‘Milo’ and Nat beat every clubby, every paddler in the whole of Australia easily… and yelled back abuse at them, “C’mon can’t you keep the pace!” Subsequently won a trip to Peru and came second in the World Championships. I never made it to Peru but Nat was quite likely the best surfer there. I didn’t see it but they weren’t going to let him win, he was too brash. The old Hawaiian judges still held the power then. That’s what built up his head of steam to break through in ’66 and win in California with a more modern format. So I was a little disappointed not to go to Peru. If contests had been my aim in life that was my opportunity slipping by. I was on a roll that year and they had given me time off work when normally I had been a 9 to 5 guy. They were giving me work 10 to 3 so I could surf before and after work. I told them I was in training but I was just going surfing. (Laughs) So, it was the beginning of working the system to fit into a surfing lifestyle.

MATT: Getting back to Hawaii you mentioned to me before that you visited Kauai……

BONZA: No that was in ’68/’69. The first year it was all on the point at Sunset… walking distance…. Some huge seas… a little bit of Waimea too!

MATT: Going back in ’68 was there a big change?

BONZA: Late ’68, of course there was a sham amateurism movement before there was a real surfing industry. Oh, I had a surf shop in Bondi to pay my way so I suppose it wasn’t a complete sham, (Laughs)… but as far as people who are sponsored now can get to a comp without putting there entire life savings on the line…. Things hadn’t really changed…. In Puerto Rico in 68’ where Nat was defending champion the big change was that cosmic culture had broken out. So in 68’ it stopped really being a contest and started being a showcase of different nationalities. Mike Hynson again was down there from California, the Hawaiians were on the paddle pop boards that Brewer had built, and David Nuuiwa had a tent and an entourage. He was the Donovan, a Pied Piper of the surfers, and the most gorgeous of surfers. Wayne Lynch was at his prime and just couldn’t cope with the rigmarole. Ted Spencer was just firing. So it was just this giant gathering of the tribe and people realized it was the world tribe. Some Hawaiians were a little bit more beer culture at the time of marijuana and papaya consciousness. People were becoming vegetarians, the competitive urge was dropping off, there was only so far you could go with competition anyway. What would it matter if you hadn’t.

MATT: So people were just embracing the lifestyle?

BONZA: The lifestyle, the cosmic ness of it. Nuuiwa was just an icon in California and was on a payroll just to be himself. To surf beautifully and just be a cosmic character.

MATT: Was there any really defined progress in surfing from ’64 to ’68?

BONZA: The big shift was in the hands of McTavish. George Greenough’s Northern California influence is sometimes overlooked…. Bob McTavish did all the hard yards. Bob shaped the surfboard versions but was inspired by George Greenough’s Rincon, Point Conception, Reynolds Yater view of surf design… George was a waterman, a crayfisherman, powerboat kinda guy. So, from surf comps in ’66 where Nat won on a mal in San Diego that he’d shaped but was Greenough inspired with a beautiful fin that made the board loose and maneuverable… Nuuiwa was just standing on the nose doing the hood ornament… Nat was standing on the back just carving, getting in the tube and a little nose riding. That was the last of those boards… that was the last clash of those dinosaurs. The next two years boards were just coming down. Henson had made progress with rocker. Brewer always knew about rocker but he was working on a more aeroplane dynamic type board. The Aussies with their Greenough influence were working on a more water hydro orientated model, drawing from boats and fish. So, Brewer was a plane, Greenough boards were a fish and seem to flex and move more with the wave. Subtle planning on top of the water and gliding. The Aussie boards were fitting into the wave and there was just this giant cosmic show of that. The Hawaiians, namely Brewer, went cosmic and his riders were Lopez and Reno Abellira. At this stage Lynchie was making his boards, Nat would make a board, Ted Spencer would borrow my board… people were happy to lend their boards, it was before legropes.

At the ’68 World Title comp in Puerto Rico the waves were a bit light. It was like let’s get back to the North Shore and do this jam again. At that comp the Hawaiian old establishment was still a powerful judging block. They had the wealthy Peruvian’s on side. Edwardo Arena was president of World Surfing. The surf comp In Puerto Rico was to promote his real estate development. He’d just bought all the land around where the comp was at. We were just pawns in his real estate promotion and getting no money out of it. We all had to pay our own way. There he was advertising his land to everyone during the contest. The winner they selected that year was Fred Hemmings Jnr who went from there to New York to an advertising agency to get all Edwardo’s stuff in place… then went back to the islands setting his course to go into Hawaiian politics. So in saying that there has been a very powerful conservative block come out of Hawaii and then equally influential, but entirely different, cosmic culture come out of there also. That was the big split. That was the end of sham amateurism and professional surfing was next.

MATT: You could almost relate that to the South Bondi surfers breaking away from the Clubby movement?

BONZA: Yes, more for the purity of surfing.

MATT: Getting back to Greenough… when did he come to Australia?

BONZA: Probably around ’65. He used to hang out with Hayden Kenny. Bob Cooper advised him to come. The ironic thing was that once George and McTavish revolutionized board design we exported it back to the Americans.

MATT: Ok, then when did this shift from ‘Toes on the Nose’ on the world stage occur?

BONZA: Right there and then in Puerto Rico. I met Billy Hamilton again traveling with MacGillivray and Freeman making the movie ‘Free Ride’ and he was also with Mark Marteson… and these were the classic exponents of highly refined malibus. They got to Puerto Rico and saw the modern boards modeled on Greenough and Brewer designs that the Aussies were riding and all the filming they had done traveling around the world became obsolete that very day and they had to start from scratch. That began Billy Hamilton on his course to go back to Pupukea for that hallmark cutback that you saw later. Brewer was doing his boards. He then started shaping his own boards and then moved to Kaui. For me it was back to the North Shore via California and it was starting to get a bit scratchy….. The hippies had moved in…. it was crowded compared to ’64 with no-one around… and the word was get up to Kauai. Joey Cabell was just blowing minds riding Hanalei Bay. At the airport on my way back from Cal I bump Reno who introduces me to Dick Brewer. “Hi Rob, loved ya surfing… how’s your Greenough board? What day you coming to Kauai? I’ll meet ya at the airport.” So when I arrived there he met me in an old pick up truck. Back to his house and I meet his wife Betty. “Rob, you’re welcome. You can see how many hippies we’ve got staying at the house. Lend you a tent, here’s a stretcher, gonna need a raincoat at Hanalei. Put you down there in a nice little grove near the water with a nice view. You’ll want to know fat Paul here… he’s Gerry Lopez’s coach. He’s got the Kombi full of surfboards. What do you want to use?” Well I went from a meat eating, drinking traveling student of the world to next minute the ‘Papaya Consciousnesses’. The same consciousness Cabell and Mike Doyle had been talking to me about. I ran out of money. All I had was air tickets and I didn’t want to go home cause I couldn’t get the money to get away again. So I’m living there on paw paws, bananas and drinking from the fresh stream nearby. Occasionally, I’d walk by a hippy camp and they’d share some brown rice with me. Living on air and ganja. Just surfing 6 to 8 hours a day.

So coming back to Bondi was a little harsh after that. A little bit of a comedown. I looked out to sea and thought, “The whole east coast is in a bay.” (Laughter) I realized the swell had to come around the corner and up the coast. Then I thought, “I wonder what’s happening on the west coast?” And it took a couple of years to get it together but that’s when the plan to move came. Had the surf shop at Bondi, put in a manager, tuned in, turned on and dropped out!

Copyright © 2006 by Matthew Ellks.

The Leveys

Barnett Levey

Barnett Levey

The Leveys were influential figures within Sydney’s business community. Barnett Levey built Waverley House, the first house in the district that subsequently took its name. Barnett was the colony’s first Jewish free-settler, arriving in December 1821, on a ship transporting female convicts. His brother, Solomon, arrived as a convict in 1815, sentenced to seven years for stealing 90 lbs of tea and a wooden chest. He served only four years of his sentence, after which he began a meteoric career as a mercantile dealer, trading throughout the South Pacific, including New Zealand, where Port Levey was named after him. His triumphant and prosperous return to London in 1826 triggered Australia’s first wave of free settlers, including most of his own family.

Waverley House

Waverley House was the first house in the district.

Solomon’s wife, Ann Roberts, was the daughter of William Roberts, who owned the entire Bondi foreshore between Old South Head Road and the beach. Barnett erected an Obelisk overlooking Bondi from Bellevue Hill, which was a popular destination for day trips from Sydney. He also built the colony’s first theatre and opened it’s first book lending library. They say he was obsessed with setting the cultural foundations of the colony. Waverley House was named after his favourite novel, which depicts society through the eyes of a mediocre individual with access to various social groups. Barnett himself was a front runner in the nation’s earliest awakening to the prospect of independence. Governor Darling mentions Levey in a letter to London, identifying him as a low class troublemaker.

Barnett Levey erected an obelisk at Belle Vue.

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Photo: Bill Pfeifer.

Photo: Bill Pfeifer.

Britannic Mansions overlooked the south end of the beach. In one of the front windows, a large sign identified the flat as HB, which was the brand of surfboard Greg Webber shaped at the time. People would rendezvous at “HB” before a surf or a night out. By the mid-eighties, Greg’s boards were everywhere. They stood out partly because so many good riders had one and partly because they were all white. The emphasis was on performance surfing, which concerns the shape of the surfboard, rather than its appearance. As an expression of minimalism, this trend might have been a reaction to the popularity of brightly coloured wetsuits that drew attention to the surfer’s appearance, instead of his surfing ability. In any case, white surfboards represented a level of professionalism that had been lacking in the seventies, when surfboards were often endeared with the sort of airbrushed artwork more commonly associated with panel vans.

Dan Webber

A haven for wannabes

The café culture took over Bondi in the 80s, a decade that saw rents double and school enrolments halve. In 1977, there were 1000 children attending Bondi Public School. Fifteen years later, the number had dropped to 250. The newcomers were steadily changing the character of the place. Fox Studios took over the Show Ground and Bondi Beach became a haven for wannabes. The higher cost of living displaced many locals to neighbouring suburbs or else further along the coast. Suddenly, the “locals” of Bondi were the café goers, who seldom stepped foot on the beach, let alone entered the surf. The surf had become a backdrop for a steady stream of traffic, with the occasional sports car purring past envious onlookers.
Dan Webber

The bronze life saver

Behind Britannic Mansions, there was a large shed, which Diana Webber turned into a bronze foundry with New York sculptor, John Gardner. She had studied Art at East Sydney Tech before meeting John Webber. But, her artistic aspirations were stifled when they started having children. While her brothers, Dick and Greg Weight, revelled in the Yellow House experience, Diana was too busy raising children to take “art for art’s sake” seriously. But, when the opportunity finally presented itself, quarter of a century later, she went back to the Tech, intent as ever to be creative. That’s where she met John Gardner, who was teaching bronze foundry at the time. One of her earliest commissions was a rugby league trophy for the Dally M Award. She made surfing trophies for pro contests and her exhibitions were well received within the Sydney art community. Then, she was asked to make a life size bronze statue to commemorate the Surf Lifesaving movement in Australia, a magnificent sculpture that stands beside Bondi Pavilion.

Diana Webber's sculpture of a lifesaver

Bronze lifesaver by Diana Webber

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