Thoms: Surfmovies (2000) page 13
Margan &Finney: Surfing(1970) page 52.
At the same time in Sydney significant developments in competitive swimming technique, popularly attributted to members of the Cavill family, were progressing towards what subsequently was to be known as the "Australian Crawl", now freestyle.
Concurrrent with the adoption of surf-shooting skills, in the 1890s the increase in the numbers of surf-bathers and concerns for the inherent dangers, with an increasing number of fatalities, led to the first attempts to establish regular life saving equipment and services.
For the next sixty years, Australian surfriding, surf life saving and competive swimming would develope together in a complicated mixture of personalities and organisations.
The origins and development
of bathing at Sydney's beaches and bays are obscure and possibly date from
the initial British occupation in 1788.
For Sydney's Northern beaches, the most complete and detailed study of original source material is by Shelia and George Champion in their Bathing , Drowning and Life Saving in Manly, Warringah and Pittwater to1915 (2000).
is no similar comprehensive study of the beaches south of the harbour.
Suffice it to say, a combination of circumstances and players saw the daylight bathing restrictions, that came into force in the 1890s, effectively rescinded at all city beaches by 1903.
As could be expected, the techniques and performance in the formative years of Australian surfriding are largely undocumented and must be based on recollection.
Extensive personal interviews are the basis for C. Bede Maxwell's account of the early days of surfriding in the first, and officially santioned, history of surf life saving, Surf - Australians against the Sea, published in 1949.
from the obvious skill as a professional writer, it should be noted that
Maxwell had an indirect connection with the surf life saving movement and
shows no particular bias to any one club or beach and that the work was
heavily researched in preparation to ensure that personal recollections
were able to be cross checked with available documentation.
Examination of her notes, for example correspondence with Adrian Curlews, held by the Mitchell Library, Sydney, indicate these external sources were faithfully transcribed.
The work is a brilliant beginning for the writing of Australian surfriding history and its influence is apparent in every subsequent work in the field.
Unfortunately, Maxwell is not infallible and her account of of the breaking of the all-day swimming ban by William Gocher in 1903 was probably a significant contribution to the perpetuation of this largely manufactured event.
In strark contrast,
the other major retrospective work is Arthur M. Lowe's Surfing,
Surf-Shooting and Surf-Lifesaving Pioneering, self-published in
Lowe's perspective is singular, viewing himself as the principal motivator in the development of surf-bathing, surf-shooting and surf life saving in Australia, not to mention his claimed important contributions to
Ruby Union football and the Army in two wars.
He appears to be spured into print by current (sometime in the 1950s ?), unspecified, press reports and radio programs detailing the origins of surf-bathing, surf shooting and the surf life saving movement which he is keen to dispute and in several places specifically refutes critical points reported in Maxwell.
Surfriding, or surf-shooting
as it was known, appears initially as an off-shoot of of slowly developing
surf-bathing movement and it quickly became recognised as a unique and
highly skilled activity.
Surf-bathing normally involves the participant wading and occasionally immersing in the surf zone.
Generally the surf-bather retains contact with the ocean bottom, and failure to do so can be fatal.
Experienced surfriders consider the activity either an essential first step, juvenile, unskilled, unadventurous, or a potential courting situation.
1836 Sydney Morning
Herald Monday 19 December page 25.
"A Subscriber" letter: Illawarra stockade .... surf bathing drowning.
1837 Sydney Morning
Herald Thursday 21 December page 2.
Quotation from Alexander's Colonies of West Africa.
"Interior of an African hut ... light boards ... sharks".
1840 Sydney Morning
Herald Saturday 28 November page 2.
Quotation from Bennett's Whaling Voyage Around the World.
Pitcairn's Island: "the children ... foaming steeds".
Mercury Wednesday 9th May page 2.
Extract from The Times (London) 27 January 1855:
"Of the numerous national games and amusements ... practised by the Hawaiians, surfbathing ..."
"As far as history
goes back, the South Sea Sea Islander has revelled in the surf, and has
been accustomed to shoot the breaker on a canoe or piece of wood.
But as history fails to record the fact that any person was in the habit of shooting the breaker without
assistance, Manly is entitled to claim to have invented surf-shooting for human beings."
In the Sydney region, the Manly penisular offers direct access to both the Pacific Ocean to the east and a myriad of bays and coves to the west in the confines of Sydney Harbour, a waterway recognised as one of the finest natural habours in the world.
In addition there were a number of freshwater water courses and lakes in the immediate hinterland.
For the indigenous Eora, the juxtapostion of surf and flat water provided access to a maximum variety of marine food sources, which is perhaps implied in Bradley's 1788 report:
On the ocean-side,
Cabbage Tree Bay is of critical importance as it allows direct opean sea
access in almost all wind and swell conditions.
This was no doubt exploited by Eora fishermen as it was by the professional Sly Brothers, who developed the principles of surf-shooting in the Australian surfboat.
Cabbage Tree Bay was also a potentionally rich source of that tree's gum, used to seal the joins in the Eora's bark canoes.
On the harbour-side,
bathing and swimming were promoted by Manly's earliest developers.
Henry Gilbert Wilson built a pier, the Pier Hotel and Brighton Bath House at Manly Cove between 1885 and 1857.
In 1860, an advertisment for the Brighton Estate at Manly Beach highlighted that "sandy bays open to the ocean and Cove afford facilities for the enjoyment of bathing, boating, and fishing".
By the 1880s, pools were considered part of Manly's necessary public facilities and were regularly updated and under leasing arrangements with the council.
The first Manly Swimming Club was formed in 1892.
Charles Steedman's Surfboard, 1867.
Surf life saving historian Sean Brawley noted in his history of the Bondi Surf Bathers Life Saving Club:
"As early as 1867, champion English and Victorian swimmer Charles Steedman, made mention of 'A small deal board, about five foot, one foot broach and an inch thick, termed a 'surfboard ' in his 'Manual of Swimmimg'."
The account of "swimming on an opean sea coast", pages 266 to 268, contains nothing that can be said to describe wave riding activity, which questions where and in what context Steedman based his "surfboard" observations.
The full quotation demonstrates some of the difficulties in comprehension:
"A small deal
(pine) board, about five feet long, one foot broad, and an inch
thick, termed a 'surf board', is of considerable help to a swimmer who
is crossing water on which the foam is deep- for by its aid he can raise
his head to breathe above the surface of the foam."
Without further information, Steedman's "surfboard" is a surfboard in name only and remains, at present, an anomaly.
Competitive Swimming and the "Australian" Crawl.
Here's one answer: the origin of swimming was when someone either got brave, took a risk or was lucky when they entered a body of water deeper than they were tall, and accidentally figured out how to move through the water instead of instinctively drowning.
Another answer is that a person or persons in antiquity watched aquatic animals and fishes and started getting ideas of how they might move through the water, then tried them out.
in swimming can be said to be invented by individual people, like David
Armbruster and butterfly. Others took an existing stroke and improved on
it, like Weissmuller or Handy."
Mary Donahue: History of swimming section
of the "Crawl" stroke has been the subject of considerable discussion.
It is popularly agreed that Australians can claim the honor of being the first to employ the stroke in championship events, but this is open to doubt."
Hellmrich's conditional, "but this is open to doubt", reflects the lack then and now of any comprehensive work detailng the world wide development of modern competitive pool swimming, largely in tandem with the growth of the Olympic Games.
Such an account would ideally detail the establishment of pool specifications and the calculation of distance; the standardization of timing equipment and proceedures; the compilation of world record times; the introduction of swimming lanes; the provision for spectators and the marketing as a sporting spectactular; and the development of the different strokes and training techniques.
In the case of the strokes emloying an overarm motion (modern freestyle), while such a method was known to be employed by native swimmers
event was a swimming competition in 1844 in London. Some Native Americans
participated in this competition. While the British raced using breaststroke,
the Native Americans swam a variant of the front crawl, which had been
used by people in the Americas, West Africa and some Pacific islands for
generations, but was not known to the British. As the front crawl is much
faster than the breaststroke, the Americans easily beat the British: Flying
Gull won the medal, swimming the 150 feet (46 m) in 30 seconds, and second
place went to another American named Tobacco. Their stroke was described
as making a motion with the arms "like a windmill" and kicking the legs
up and down. As this produced considerable splashing, it was considered
barbaric and "un-European" to the British gentlemen, who preferred to keep
their heads above water. Subsequently, the British continued to swim only
breaststroke until 1873.
Manual of Swimming:
including Bathing, Plunging, Diving, Floating, Scientific
Swimming, Training, Drowning, and Rescuing
Henry Tolman Dwight, Bourke Street, Melbourne
Lockwood and Co, London. 1867
the Trudgeon and
the Australian (or the American) Crawl, most accounts infer some relationship
with "native" swimmers.
Rather than any one dramatic development in technique, freestyle was
Polynesian swimming, employing a deep overarm stroke and horizontal flutter kick and later adapted by Western swimmers as the Australian or the American Crawl, bears a direct relationship with the paddling and kicking technique used to propel a (short) surfboard .
Arthur M. Lowe
and Tommy Tana, 1890s.
The first identifiable surfrider in Australia is probably South Sea Islander, Tommy Tana, a youth employed as a gardener in the Manly district.
Unfortunately, the most detailed report of Tommy Tana is by Manly Surf Life saving Club member, Arthur M. Lowe in his 1958 self-published recollections Surfing, Surf-Shooting and Surf-Lifesaving Pioneering.
Although this is
the most complete and detailed account of the early years of swimming,
surfriding and surf life saving at Manly Beach from 1886 to1910, in many
respects the work is historically suspect.
The early sections simply unverifiable, dates are difficult to determine and the text generally presents a labyrinth
of digressions and assorted facts and/or theories making it a very difficult read.
The work is grossly
self-serving, Arthur Lowe viewing himself as the principal motivator in
the development of surf-bathing, surf-shooting and surf life saving in
Australia, not to mention his claimed important contributions to Ruby Union
football and the Army in two wars.
Lowe's confusing, and often innaccurate, personal chronology appears to be backdated by about two years to effect his historical prominance, in particular before the two recognised surfriders of the period, Tommy Tana and his student, Fred Williams.
"The real facts
as shown in this book, distinctly state my mates and I were shooting with
Tanna four years before Fred came to Manly."
Strangely, Lowe does
not seem to had access to a copy of C. Bede Maxwell's first, and officially
santioned, history of surf life saving, Surf
- Australians against the Sea, published in 1949.
If he did, there was significant material there in conflict with his own view to take issue with.
Also, no doubt, he would have at least revised his chronology.
Many of the surfriders
and swimmers included in Lowe's book are identifiable from other contemporary
sources, sometimes playing significant roles.
Apart from his membership of the Manly Surf Life Saving Club, Lowe himself is noteably absent in these
documents and recollections.
Research into the historical resources of other organisations that Lowe records as playing important parts in his
life; such as football clubs, church choir, the press, and the army; may shed further light on the validity of a
number of his more unbelievable claims.
If Lowe's work has
any value it must be the exceedingly rare details relating to Tommy Tana,
a native of the
island of Tana in the New Hebribes working as a gardener in Manly.
At this point, it is the only account describing Tana's technique and with the inclusion of details about Tommy's harvesting fish from pots located off the south point at Manly, appears realistic.
Lowe claims at a
very young age he initiates surf shooting in 1886 and now as regular shooter,
circa 1890, is introduced to Tommy at his place of employment.
At this time, Tommy Tana has been in residence in Manly long enough to growth and prepare a top class tennis court and to aquaint himself locally to establish his fish traps.
He was obviously a regular at the beach, raising the question of why the two "regulars" not met in the surf before.
Overall, Lowe's work is an attempt to write himself into a central role in the development of surfriding and surf life saving at Manly, beginning with the flambuoyantly detailed claim, pages 20 to 22, that he independently invented surf-shooting in 1886 at the age of seven.
"It was the year
1886, and I was 7 years old, when the start was made, so I can safely and
correctly date the beginning of surfing in Australia from then.
There were no others before myself."
Later that year, Lowe records an "historic" ride that takes him all the way to the beach.
Importantly this wave appears to be only caught from inside the break, as Moore comments later:
after, when the South Hebridean Islander, Tommy Tanna, came from the Island
Tanna, southern island of the New Hebrides Group, and taught me to go far out and into the shark area, for which I have been ever grateful, and take the big waves from there, I look back on that wave in 1886 as the greatest and most important one in my life."
"Quite a number
of middle-aged men had now taken up the surfing and were an example to
a lot of the younger men, who clung to their blankets till the last minute
before rising for the hot shower and
The 'Manly News' was helping in the movement.
Such pars as, 'The happy screams of laughter and frolicking that we hear coming from the South
Steyne front, early morning, certainly points to the fact that the surfers must be enjoying themselves.
Otherwise they would not continue on.
And it keeps growing.
Where will it all end?'."
In the Introduction, Lowe names several of these senior surf shooters:
"There were some
six regular senior surf-bathing pioneers, mostly in their early twenties
employed with various city firms.
They were not keen surf-shooters like we juniors were, and alternated Sunday swimming on the
Northern beaches with us, for some on the Harbour beaches.
Late one Sunday they grounded their boat alongside my father's boat's moorings, as I was
inspecting the rope ties, for I had seen from a distance that someone must have been using it.
The six occupants of the grounded boat got out and approached me.
They were Frank Row, Rugby Union and International Rugby Union footballer and captain: Alf and
Fred Williams, Alan Moore, Reg Walker and Harry Carroll."
At this stage (1888 to 1889) sufriding appears mostly confined to to the southern corner of the beach.
"When we first started, the surfing location was about opposite Wentworth Street, principally because the earliest and most constant surfers came from that street, or near to.
Later, as more were now coming from Victoria Parade and Ashburner Street, etc., the area gradually
had worked down to the South Steyne.
At the South Steyne a shed of about 15 by 10 feet, with an iron roof, had been erected on piles driven
into the sand.
Alongside of same, a post had been also driven into the sand, and a large box with an iron gable roof
installed on same.
Within it hung a huge ship's buoy and a heavy red fibre rope."
Significantly, the South Steyne Bathing Shed were not built until early 1891 and lifebuoys installed in July, several years later than implied by Lowe.
Arthur Lowe is aged ten (circa 1890) when he first encounters Tommy Tana at "Tramore" (previously Tremore, laterTraymore Guest House), the home of the Moore family, where he is employed as a gardener.
"Eric later called
Tommy Tanna over from his own well-kept quarters in the bottom of the garden.
Eric said, 'Tommy, this is Master Lowe, and I have been telling him how far you go out in the ocean water.'
Tommy smiled happily at me, and showed a perfect set of white teeth.
He was about 20 odd years of age, with a good looking Islander's type of face, fairly tall, with an athletic figure, and close crinkly hair.
He had an intelligent face and spoke very good English, as taught by his employer and family.
Mr. Moore was Managing Director of the big ironmongery firm of Holdsworth and Macpherson, now carried on as Macpherson's.
There was a tragic happening in connection with the firm, which will be told in due order.
Eric turned to me and said: 'What about you and I going down to the South Steyne rocks in the morning with Tommy, while he sets and robs his fish traps, and then goes in for his swim and comes in on the waves?'
'Certainly,' I said. 'I have been wondering, since you told me he goes right out, how he escapes the sharks.' and added, "I have been shooting for the past two years with a small lot of surfers, from opposite Wentworth Street, but not from far out.' "
Arthur Lowe provides some details of Tana's technique, importantly noting the combination of the overarm stroke and the kick associated with Polynesian swimming.
"At first we confined
ourselves to the smaller waves near the beach, but gradually getting more
expert, and thereby confident, we went for the deep water, and Tommy -
I'll never forget the pleased grin and shouts of joy from Tommy from the
Island of Tanna, as we pulled up alongside him.
'Very good now, for everybody,' he exclaimed in his fast becoming excellent English.
'You see,' and as we all got lifted up from the base of a wave to its crest, he gave several quick over-arm strokes and kicks and then traveled on to the beach with it.
But he would also do other strokes and kicks while proceeding to the beach.
Never at any time did I see him, during the long time we were surf shooting together, make, as Eric and I and others after us, a perfect shoot.
He always did a certain amount of swimming during the shoot.
"Then Tom Skinner,
the health and nuisance Inspector, had obtained a fishing boat from the
Sly family at Shelly Beach.
He picked up Tommy Tanna, and another islander who was a friend of Tommy's, and a good swimmer, and they rowed to the scene of the man's disappearance.
The Inspector then ordered the other islander to dive and try and find the body.
The Islander dived over but never returned, and after waiting some time the Inspector ordered Tommy to dive and see what happened to his mate, but Tommy shrank back and refused, saying: 'No, I no come back, too!'
Later, I said
to Tommy, 'Was it a shark?' at which he replied, 'No,' very decidedly,
and added, 'No struggle, no blood!'
'Well, was it an octopus? I asked.
'I not know, I not see,' he replied, and then he added thoughtfully, 'Could be.' "
Lowe then presents further speculation that giant octopi regularly attack Sydney bathers.
From the Pacific
island of Tana, (New Hebrides, now Vanuatu) he amazed onlookers at Manly
Beach with his
skill at using the power of a wave to ride back to the beach.
His style was studied and copied by Manly swimmers, notably Eric Moore, Arthur Lowe and Freddie Williams,
considered the first local to master the sport.
Alick Wickham, 1900s.
In the 1890's, Alick Wickham, a native of the Solomon Islands, was reported as a candidate for an profound influence on Australian swimming by introducing the ‘crawl’ stroke, which would be later exported to the rest of the world as the ''Australian Crawl''.
"Alick Wickham was the son of an English man and a Solomon Islands mother. While at boarding school in Sydney, he is known for introducing the Australian crawl to Australia's Olympic swimmers the Cavill brothers at Bronte. He may also have introduced the surfboard. In 1918 he dived from over 60 metres in front of 70,000 people and was in a coma for a week. He was also Australia's 50 yard freestyle champion."
Roviana Lagoon, British Solomon Islands.came to Australia on his father's trading schooner, XXX?
Wickham was not the only "Polynesian" to have an influence on Australian swimming and surfriding, the eldest Cavill originally noting the swimming style of of a female while visiting a Pacific island.
In August 1898,
the Referee cited a letter from Sid Cavill,who commented on the swimming
ability of a ‘sturdily-built dusky maiden’against whom he had recently
competed in Samoa en route to the USA.later, Sid elaborated on this race,
explaining that the Samoan swam an effort-less crawl without kicking her
legs. He copied her style, restricting his abilityo kick by tying his legs
together, and found it vastly superior to the trudgen,which was the most
popular racing stroke at that time.
(13)Referee, 24 August 1898, 6.
- source required.
into Australia by Harry Wickham, a Rubiana Islander, in about 1893, the
not attract the attention of local experts until 1897, when Alick Wickham, brother to Harry, then about
12 years old, astonished old-time expert, the late George Farmer, by swimming 66 2-3 yards at Bronte
Baths, Sydney, in 44 secs."
On 1st March 1892, Manly Council considered and awarded the tender for recently refurbished the Manly Baths to Mr. Ernest Cavill for three years.
At the only reported carnival at the Manly Baths during 1892, E., C. and S. Cavill were evident in the progarm.
Due to financial difficulties, Cavill was unable to maintain the lease payments and the Baths were resumed by the Council on 25th December 1892.
The "Manly Ducks",
Messrs Wickham, A. Rosenthall, L. Murray, H. Baker, and C. Smith, performed
an exhibition of fancy diving and swimming at a carnival held by the Manly
School Swimming Club on 15th March 1905.
142. Evening News, 14 March 1905.
At Manly Swimming Club's 1906 Gala at Skinner's Baths the world record for 100 yards was equalled by the current holder, Cecil Healy, but a premature start in the final saw the event awarded to Alick Wickham.
154. Daily Telegraph, 4, 6, and 8 Januray 1905.
In February, at a combined carnival by Manly and East Sydney Swimming Clubs at the same venue, Alex Wickham (representing East Sydney), failed to break his world 50 yards record of 24 3-5 seconds.
Cecil Healy was also unsuccessful in breaking Dick Cavill's 120 yard record.
163. Daily Telegraph, 26 February 1906, Evening News, 26 February 1906.
In a report pepared by Manly Surf Club stalwart, A.W. Relph, Alec Wickham and Cecil Healy are listed as club members of swimming renown.
157. Second Manly Surf Carnival Souvenir Programme, 1909.
Around the same time another South Sea Islander, Tommy Tana, a youth employed as a gardener in the Manly district, was introducing body surfing to Australia.
From the Pacific island of Tana, (New Hebrides, now Vanuatu) he amazed onlookers at Manly Beach with his
skill at using the power of a wave to ride back to the beach.
His style was studied and copied by Manly swimmers, notably Eric Moore, Arthur Lowe and Freddie Williams,
considered the first local to master the sport.
Williams, our champion surf shooter, and H. M. Hay, the speedy Manly swimmer,
who 'did fifty-nine' in his heat of the inter-club handicap on the first
day of the recent carnival, were invited by Kahanamoku to "get aboard"
with him, and they speak of the experience as thrilling.
"Now stand up!' ordered the controller of the frail craft when the proper moment arrived, and then - 'well we've already ordered a board each,' said the pair of enthusiasts yesterday, while talking of what occurred, 'and we are going to master that game beyond any other.'
Kahanamoku is not anxious to keep his secret to himself.
He went to considerable trouble explaining the how and why of his pet pastime, and it will not be his fault if we do not have Fred Williams instructlng all desirous of learning the mysteries of this new to us surf play, as he taught so many the art of body shooting."
Enthusiasm for surf riding expanded such that Manly surfers were invited to demonstrate the technique at other metropolitan beaches, ultimately including Newcastle and Wollongong.
(1949) pages 6 -11.
- Greg McDonagh in Pollard: Surfrider (1964) page 55.
- Harris: Manly SLSC (1961) pages 4-5.
- Thoms: Surfmovies (2000) page 14.
Thoms: Surfmovies (2000) page 13
Margan &Finney:Surfing(1970) page 52.