The tale that follows originally was alleged to have taken place sometime in early February 1964, however the exhaustive research carried out and the recollections of several eyewitnesses has revealed the actual date to be Sunday March 24th 1963.
At the time I had been living in a flat at Avalon for close on two months and most of my weekends were spent becoming more proficient at riding my Malibu with my three flatmates, Jim, Nipper and Alan the Ding King. The joys of boardriding were such that even my responsibilities at the surf club were playing second fiddle. Maybe this is why there are so many grey areas as to what occurred throughout a considerable portion of 1963.
I have always been under the impression I was the Social Secretary of the surf club during this period, however surf club annual reports clearly show I was not. Despite this I know for a fact it was me and my loyal group of friends who were always in attendance when the band known as, 'Billy Jay and the Sundowners' began playing in the clubhouse towards the end of 1962 and they went on to make an absolute fortune from the Stomp under the guidance of Barry Feehley in '63. My memory is a little vague as to whether the band played on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday mornings, but they were content to play for nothing until hopefully the attendance picked up as the dances were poorly attended.
On Saturday evening, the 22nd of December 1962, they hit the jackpot.
The first Stomp dance was after Avalon's Open Surf Carnival in December 1962 and for that one off occasion the band was thrilled to see just over 500 young folk attempting to emulate Bob McTavish, Dave Jackman and their team of stompers, who had been doing their thing at the earlier dances and at last had a decent audience to instruct. By 11pm. over 80% had given up the jiving and were now stomping and a new craze was born.
Throughout the Stomp's short life at Avalon, one small group of members was in attendance every Saturday evening without fail, collecting the entrance fees off the hundreds of people flocking through the club's front door. This group consisted of two of my flatmates, Jim Raynor and Trevor Nipperess, along with Tom Schweitzer, Jim Gooden and myself. We were joined by other clubbies on a regular basis as well.
It was shortly after the Stomp was shut down, that the following events took place.
|LA at its worst.|
The scene of all the action. LA at its best.
|LA on a flat day.|
The photos above are of a popular board and belly board spot known as Little Avalon. On a good day it is very good, but on a bad day it can be not only very bad, but downright dangerous. Throughout my years at Avalon, never once was I ever interested in surfing at this spot, as I regarded it as too sharky. Sadly, one of our young members paddled out for a surf late one Sunday afternoon during the 1960's and never returned. His body floated to the surface the following Thursday. He was an epileptic and his decision to surf alone was responsible for him passing on way before his time.
It was this area that was responsible for the biggest mass rescue ever carried out at Avalon Beach. All Avalon club members took part and teams of lifesavers from Bilgola and Newport arrived to lend a hand and thank God they did.
Senior Avalon club member Brian Sheehan, unbeknowns to me had been training 6 highly attractive young ladies for their Qualifying Certificates. This training would have been taking place for several weeks, yet I never once was aware of it. As previously stated I may have been devoting too much time to riding my Mal instead of concentrating on surf club and beach and surf responsibilities.
I am certain that I am a bit premature in relating what transpired as so much of what went down is still extremely vague, to say the least.
Prior to rewriting this story and for almost 50 years I have been under the impression that what transpired took place 10 months after it actually did. As I am typing this, investigations designed to provide a more detailed and accurate account of what occurred are still underway. When more detail is forthcoming it will be added to what is known at this point in time.
It was early afternoon and I remember returning to the beach after a session of surfing and was surprised to see what appeared to be a girls squad being examined by the Board of Examiners. As the years rolled by, the two girls whose images were clear in my memory were local Avalon girls, Denise Ware and Lenya Laurich. I thought the two Hopewell sisters, Paula and Lesley may have been there as well. As for the others, it was a complete blank. I left my board on the beach and entered the clubhouse for a shower. The next thing I hear is the shark alarm ringing three times. Bloody Hell it's a mass rescue. Members were running from all directions and began assembling on the beach in front of the club house to await further instructions.
Down at the rock pool a Bronze Medallion training squad was doing its mandatory test swims and I believe they were the first to react as they were by far closest to where the drama was starting to unfold. From what I can remember at least two surfers were separated from their boards and were well on their way to New Zealand in a fast flowing rip. Several people dived off the rocks between the pool and Little Avalon to assist and found themselves in big trouble almost immediately. The young and inexperienced Bronze squad dived into the surf to help the struggling rockhoppers in the boiling surf, without considering the consequences. They too now found themselves out of their depth and were also struggling. The surf boat was launched and was negotiating the break just left of the rocks at the southern end. I was back in the surf on my Malibu and once again I was returning to shore when a freak wave appeared from nowhere and landed smack bang on top of the boat, back slamming it onto the submerged rocks. What I was doing back in the water, is something I cannot explain, although my flatmate Jim Rayner was with me as well. We may have planned to paddle our Mals over to the rocks south of the pool to assist if required. Time can be a real bugger when it comes to the recollection of certain events. The boats keel was split and it overturned tossing its crew and equipment into the surf. The oars went one way and the boat another. It was in the Bilgola express rip and heading south at the rate of knots, with water up to its gunwhales. Somehow two surf lines were attached and a tug of war began. The harder they pulled the further south went the boat. This prompted members of the public to pitch in and help with the hauling in.
I was busting my woofer valve pulling on one of the lines with Barry Feehley in front of me. Suddenly the line snapped sending me and everyone behind me flat on our backsides. The line had whipped forward and struck Barry in the back. He fell to the ground in extreme pain and had to be taken to the first aid room still writhing in agony.
Another line needed to be taken out to the boat, that by now was almost at Little Avalon, however no one volunteered, so I bit the bullet, put my hand up and said "I'll have a go."
One of the girls in the resuscitation squad, namely Denise Ware came running over and told me she and her other team mates would be my linesmen. She immediately seemed to take charge and told the other girls to carry the reel towards the rocks. I donned the belt and was given a big hug from Denise, followed by a kiss on the lips and was told, "Be careful Pogo, please."
There wasn't any time for acknowledgements with the others, or greetings and salutations etc. my one thought was to get the belt and line to the boat before the remaining line snapped.
I entered the water and was on my way with arguably the best looking team of linesmen that any beltman could ever hope to have.
At first it was fairly easy as the Bilgola Express rip was doing most of the work for me, but when I reached the tip of the rocks and it became necessary for me to make a right turn, the line started getting caught on the bottom and I was being pulled under. Club Captain John Fuller was on his way in from the sunken surf boat wearing the belt from the boat's bow box and swimming in a surf line. His swim was exceptional as he was going against the strong, fast flowing rip. I never would have made it. He gave orders for two clubbies on the nearby shore to dive in and hold my rope off the rocks. This they did and I was on my way once more.
God knows how many times I was caught side on by the surf and dragged across the sharp rocks. It felt like some one was rubbing my legs with coarse glasspaper. It seemed as though I was never going to reach the boat and I discovered much later that another reel had to have its line tied to the end of mine. When you consider each reel has 500 metres of line, it gives you some idea of how far the swim was. At last I reached the boat and who happens to be in it, none other than Avalon's favourite milkman, Phil Kemp.
"Quick Pogo, give us your hands, I think you may have company." he called out.
No sooner had he said it when I felt something semi rough brush along my left leg. I have no idea what it was, but it was definetly not a penguin or a flathead. A second later I'm in the sunken boat with Kempie. My only comment was, "Fuck me dead!!"
I wrapped the belt and line several times around the boat's seat and made sure it was secure, then stood up and for at least the next two or so minutes gave the patient secured haul in signal, namely one hand raised vertical. When the line became taut, we knew the signal had been received and the hauling in had recommenced.
My physical appearance must have resembled someone who had been hit by a locomotive. The straps on the belt had cut into and/or had worn away the skin around and underneath my armpits. The bare flesh was now starting to sting and blood was trickling down my torso, along with the sea water. My arms felt like spaghetti and I had a sudden and overwhelming desire for an ice cold beer and a cigarette.
The belt swim.
|All about 600 metres or so.|
The conditions on the day in question were not good, considering people were experiencing difficulties in the surf with little prospect of reaching the shore safely.What was it like, see below.
|Although bad enough, it could have been worse.....|
|"Take a belt out? Up your bum!"|
One of the Board of Examiner members from the Manly Surf Club, still in his white shirt, but minus his shorts, suddenly appeared next to us. "That's not a bad rip is it?" he shouted. Kempie told him to climb into the boat before he lost more than just his shorts. I cannot recall whether he too was bringing out another line to fasten to the boat. All I can remember is, when Kempie mentioned there may be a Noah cruising around, he fell into the wooden submarine quick smart.
Documents just to hand, along with an eyewitness report categorically state this examiner was indeed swimming a surf line out to the boat as well.
As the three of us were now all aboard, Kempie asked did anyone have a deck of playing cards on them and after I answered in the negative, he asked me to swim in and bring back a deck for a game of Euchre.
"I'll bring us back a few beers and some meat pies while I'm at it, if you wish." I said.
"Great," said Phil, "I'll have a steak and onion and a Pilsener."
I wasn't too sure if he was joking, so I merely ended the conversation by simply saying, "Go root your boot."
Every now and then it seemed as though they were making headway with all the pulling, as the damaged boat was slowly drifting north against the rip. Even if this trend continued, it was going to be another hour or so before we would be safely on dry land again. The three surf lines attached were holding and they remained taut, which was a good sign. All we could do was to sit tight and sing a few verses of 'I do love to be beside the seaside.'
Word of the unfolding drama had reached Bilgola and after a while one of their surf ski riders on a single racing ski, came paddling up and offered to take us to the beach. Kempie was concerned about my well being as I appeared to be dripping blood everywhere, but most of it was the sea water making it look a lot worse than it actually was. Most of my cuts and scratches were only superficial, except for my armpits that were really giving me some yip.
"You two go in," the milkman told the examiner and me, so we both climbed onto the Bilgola bloke's ski and he started paddling north towards the beach and safety. He shouted out to Phil he would return for him shortly. He dropped us off in front of the Avalon rock pool and started returning to the sunken boat. Upon arrival Phil was still there waiting and much to his amazement, so to was little old me and the Board of Examiners bloke who was most certainly right about it being not a bad rip.
Second attempt, we were dropped off a bit further north and the examiner wasn't too keen to swim onto the beach as he only had on his undies. I told him to take them off as well and give my team of lineswomen a thrill, along with any other female folk on the beach watching all this unfold. He swam north while I attempted to catch a wave into what was known as the gutter. I was successful and ended up well inside this gap between the rocks. Some one called out to me and I noticed members of the public had formed a human chain and they were able to pluck me out of the boiling surf and safely onto the rocks at the northern side.
There was skin off my elbows and forearms, blood and salt water were trickling from the bare flesh in and around my armpits and running all down my legs. I was helped across the rocks by two gentlemen. The others stood there applauding and shouting 'well done' etc. I reached the sand and next thing I know Denise and Lenya come running over with Denise almost in tears. At least two or more hours had elapsed since I had entered the water to begin my journey south.
"Pogo, you have no idea how relieved we all are to see you, we thought you must have drowned, you've been gone for so long," she said in a highly emotional state, then started smothering me with kisses and hugs and cuddles etc. Even Lenya gave me a big hug and planted a fat juicy wet one full on the lips. Wow!! what a reaction, I was sorely tempted to do it all again.
Denise shouted out orders to the other girls, who I am ashamed to admit I cannot recall. I can vaguely recall noticing the other girls still hauling in lines and being actively involved in the midst of what was transpiring all around us. Denise put her arm around me to support my aching body and told Lenya to do likewise and they began half carrying me to the dance floor 0f the surf club that had been converted into a make shift hospital and rest centre. People on the beach were handing out compliments all the way to the club and several guys offered to relieve the two girls of their battered, bruised and bloodied burden, but Denise was having none of it. It must have been my after shave.
They literally carried me up the trapdoor stairs that were at the front of the club and deposited me in a chair in the middle of the dance floor. The women and girls were rolling up bandages and the like, tea and coffee was all over the place and sandwiches were being made, along with cocktail frankfurts, sausage rolls and party pies in the oven and on the stove. Ladies Auxilliary women came out of the wood work and I found myself with a cup of tea and two Scotch Finger bikkies in one hand and a cream bun in the other while three other women were attempting to turn me into Boris Karloff as the Mummy. I nearly threw up when some well meaning lady poured a glass of brandy down my gullet.....Bleah!! Can't stand the stuff. When I eventually staggered out of the building I must have had at least 5 kilometres of bandages wrapped around me and I reeked of iodine and the Hydrogen Peroxide that had been slapped on with a 4 inch paint brush was still dripping off me.
What became of my highly attractive reel, line and belt team, I know not. Right through my entire association with the Avalon club, Denise Ware and Lenya Laurich were always present or nearby on the beach and in or around the club. Denise at times had a habit of lining me up with members of the opposite sex and not once were her choices disappointing. I always thought the world of Denise, but back then I didn't realise just how much. I do now.
I cannot believe that the girls training squad simply appeared to disappear. I have absolutely no recollection of ever seeing any of them again, with the exception of Denise and Lenya, I find this incredible. The only two girls I can categorically state were there, were Denise and Lenya. I will attempt to research this matter further in more detail to see what I can come up with. There is the possibility that the two Hopewell sisters Lesley and Paula may have been two others. I would love to know for certain.
I am absolutely delighted to report that documents from the past have been obtained, thanks to a former member and Nestles apprentice Warren Warner who was known as Smiley. The six girls who comprised the Resuscitation squad happened to be, Denise Ware, Lenya Laurich, Lesley Hopewell, Paula Hopewell, Tom Schweitzer's girlfriend, Carolyn Druce and much to my surprise, my former girlfriend during 1962, Patricia Jarratt.
It's amazing how well defined images that were previously non existant reappear when the facts are revealed. Upon discovering the names of the 6 girls, I almost instantly was able to see them quite clearly in my mind lined up on the beach being examined. The clearest image was that of the extremely pretty Patty Jarratt standing to attention on the right hand side of the line up. I still have no knowledge of them training over the weeks leading up to their examination however.
As mentioned earlier this would have to be by far the best looking training squad ever to be awarded the Resuscitation Certificate. The girls received a letter of commendation from the Manly Warringah Branch of the SLSA for their unique and wonderful efforts. They not only excelled themselves during the rescue, but afterwards they completed their examination and gained their Qualifying Certificates.They were trained by surf club legend Brian Daniel Sheehan, whose experience enabled him to take control and coordinate the rescue efforts throughout the afternoon.
If one ever takes time to browse through some of my blogs, these girls are referred to on a regular basis, particularly the two Hopewell sisters along with Lenya and Denise. Despite all the fun and great times we had in the past, it still astounds me that, for so many years I could not remember with certainty who they were. Even Tom's partner Carolyn made two attempts to set me up with young ladies, one of them was to reunite Patty and I after our initial breakup. If someone had told me these two would be part of a resuscitaion squad, I would have laughed my head off.
It turned out that all the people who triggered this drama were rescued, given first aid treatment and received a clean bill of health. All in all around 20 or so people, which included Avalon lifesavers and the Bronze Medallion trainees, required assistance which thankfully was forthcoming. Teams arrived from Newport and Bilgola and demonstrated what a well trained and close knit bunch we all were. Without their help God only knows what may have happened. As stated earlier I am still in the throes of finding out more details as to the involvement of many others. My knowledge of how and when certain things unfolded is limited, as I spent most of the time with Vice Captain Phil Kemp slowly bleeding to death sitting in the sunken surfboat. Although heavily involved, nothing that I did on this day had anything to do with saving lives. That fell on the shoulders of many others, including those from the other clubs who sped to our assistance. Going on what my research has revealed, full credit should go to the girls instructor and senior member Brian Sheehan, who made many decisions that needed to be made. His experience and coolness under fire saved the day.
Although everyone's persistence finally paid off and the boat was pulled all the way back to the beach, it was damaged beyond repair. The club had lost its one and only surfboat along with the oars and sweep oar. Reels were damaged beyond repair and hundreds of metres of surf line went missing. Several members suffered injuries, including myself, but nothing too over the top, with the exception of Barry Feehley who experienced excruciating pain when that rotten line snapped. Once again, all our training had paid off and the surf clubs motto 'No lives lost' remained meaningful and intact. Thank God we had sponsors and supporters, such as our patron Norman H. Cook who saw to it that all the equipment was eventually replaced. A week or two later I was having a beer with Kempie in the Avalon RSL when Norman H. Cook gave us a cheque for 200 pounds. With the help of other donations, we were able to purchase a brand new boat which we named 'Margaret' after Mr Cook's wife. Tom Schweitzer and I travelled over to Bailey's Boatshed at Abbotsford to have a look at this new custom built craft. It may not have been the best boat we ever had, but it most certainly was the prettiest.
One day a Council truck arrived at the car park with a boat and trailer and when the driver asked was there anybody around who could sign for it, I was only too happy to oblige.
We started season 63-64 with not one, but two new boats. The Council boat was a much better wave boat than 'Margaret' in my opinion.
|Brian Sheehan. (in white). Cool headed in a crisis.|
During the days that followed, the Sydney newspapers never stopped singing the praises of Surf Lifesavers and particularly those from the Avalon club. The weekend after the disaster one of the Sunday papers published an editorial referring to 'The heroes of Avalon' and the deeds that were all carried out and completed at a great risk to personal safety and loss of valuable and essential equipment. I remember reading the editorial travelling north on board the infamous 190 from Wynyard and broke out in goosebumps. I must have been visiting my parents in Annandale, as I was living in Avalon at the time.
Normally when the days work is done we all believe there is nothing better than an icy cold beer and enjoy letting our hair down. It is quite common for some of our celebrations to go completely over the top on a regular basis, but when it really and truly matters we know why we are, what we are, March 1963 revealed that. All that being said, QY's most certainly would have been a rip snorter that evening with many a beer downed without touching the sides. I slept like a log when at home in bed and ended up giving work a big miss on Monday. When all the gory details were published in the newspapers and on the telly, a decision was made not to dock me for my day off.
It was a Sunday out of the ordinary, true, but nevertheless simply another day at the office. When all research is completed, there will be mostly additions to the story and maybe the odd deletion.
Very rarely is a new blog completed when I learn, once again, of the sad passing of another former friend and/or colleague. All one can do is accept the fact that nothing or no one remains constant. So many good people have gone, who contributed so much to the SLSA, the Avalon club and to helping me become a worthwhile person.
They may never be seen again, but their spirit and my memories of them remain.
Harry Ragen, Alan Slevin, Ray Cosgrove, Malcolm Robertson, Phil Thomas, Brian Sheehan, Bruce Patterson, Doug Wells (Kegs), Ron Ware (Denise's Dad), John Campbell (Bull), Norman H. Cook, Stan Butler, Barry Frost, John Griffin, Phil Kemp, Norm Kahler, Bill Ingram, Roy Hartman, Doug Crane, Max Watt and the backbone of the former Ladies Auxiliary Jean Feehley.
All the above were surf club members, but there were some parents of our female companions who have sadly passed on. Lesley and Paula's Mum and Dad are no longer with us and I literally shed tears when I noticed their house had been sold during the 1990's. Life, at times can be a bugger, but it's mostly that all the good times simply don't last long enough. Even as I type, the tears have started flowing again, as I am completely shattered by having to add to the list none other than the beautiful and never to be forgotten Lesley Hopewell (Lulu).
I am certain there would be others, but the above are those who I personally remember with genuine feelings of admiration and respect.
"Requiescat in Pace."