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 Wairoa 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 told me how, during the war, he and Leon would sneak 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.
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 Tamarama) 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.
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 officer’s 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 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 Wairoa 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.