Bondi

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.

JOHN WITZIG

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.