173 nautical miles north from Sydney, 423 kilometres by road, is a sub-tropical
region in what is described in general terms as the Mid North Coast of
New South Wales.
Discovered in 1818 by John Oxley, it became a penal settlement in 1821, and the transportation of convicts ceased in 1840, free settlers having moved in, in the early 1830's.
and sixty-one years on, Port Macquarie is today a greatly appreciated and
fast-growing residential area and a papular holiday resort with a permanent
population of 16,000 people.
It is of some cause to wonder, did the convicts ever surf?
The aborigines confined themselves to the backwaters of the rivers and inlets, and we do know that the cattle brought here were unceremoniously dumped into the surf to swim ashore.
The men of
the 48th Regiment at Foot were probably never out of their uniforms, so
it seems likely that the group of young men, who formed the Surf Bathing
Club here in 1910, soon after surfing became accepted in Sydney, were Port
Macquarie's first surfers - in the summer months.
Today, surfing in Port Macquarie is an all-year enjoyment for large numbers of people, and for many thousands for nine months of the year.
Surf Club has enjoyed an interesting "growing up."
In its first decade, with no means of training swimmers, it was predominantly a beach club, and won more than its share of events at carnivals in that area; then came the era of surf skis and surf boats, and finally a predominence in swimming (with the advent of baths) and the blue ribbon event in surfing circles, rescue and resuscitation.
Swimming facilities, prior to the opening of the Memorial Baths in 1966, were confined to a horse and scoop pool within the southern breakwall, a fenced-in river pool at Hibbard, and a wire mesh pool in the harbour near the Royal Hotel.
With the Memorial Baths in 1966, came the "real" swimmers.
Active membership has never exceeded the 1 00 mark and the average for the past 50 years would be around 60.
Membership in 1929 totalled 40 active, and in 1978- 79 the list numbers just over 60 active members
Should any of our city counterparts get to read this history they will no doubt be astounded to learn that it was necessary in the boom days of sand mining in the early to mid 1950's for the Surf Club to take out a Miners Right (for the purpose of mining rutile, zircon, ilmenite, monazite, tin, gold, platinum) to protect Flynn's Beach.
The beach was never mined.
clubs -and now another one- have celebrated their Golden Anniversary since
the founding of the surf life-saving movement, in 1906.
It has to be remembered, however, that Port Macquarie was a town of 1 300 people -none of them convicts- in 1928-29, 2905 in 1947, 6590 in 1964, and 14,100 in 1976.
Flynn's Beach was, and is, two miles distant from the town proper and the only way of getting there in those early days was to walk.
And walk those early surfers did, often to lake Cathie on a Sunday afternoon for a swim in still water.
By 1947- 48,
the Surf Club was circulating printed annual reports among its members
and supporters and it is interesting that the total value of club equipment
was 518 pounds whilst surf buildings were generously valued at 250 pounds.
The equipment included a new 200 pound boat (the "Chid") and other things like a spade (handy for handling the toilet situation), at 9 shillings and sixpence, and two rakes, 12 shillings.
March past costumes 7 pounds 10 shillings, eight R. & R. costumes 2 pounds.
When the march past costumes were replaced, suggestions, "sell them to members for two shillings each," "give them to members," "give them to Red Cross," were all defeated at a fiery meeting. Perhaps the moths won.
But, back to the beginning:
A man from Manly, Mr. P. G. Hampshire (Dairy Officer for the area Manning to Nambucca), made his home in Port Macquarie in 1910.
"Born in the surf," he was instrumental in the formation of Port Macquarie Surf Bathers' Club, on Town Beach.
Drill and swim trials for efficiency badges engendered rivalry.
The club's best swimmer was Ernie McGuire, who died in Sydney ex-Inspector of Police, in 1968.
In Port Macquarie he was a crew member of the tug "Undaunted" and he later joined the Water Police on Sydney Harbour.
A very strong swimmer, he often rescued here many of the less proficient and in one "wonderful feat" he plunged into the water on the bar from the "Undaunted" to rescue a youth who had gone overboard in heavy seas crossing the bar.
Members of the Port Macquarie Surf Bathing Club,
Club wasn't re-formed after World War 1.
Interest was revived in the late twenties with a growth of holidaymakers in the town and the advent of a chef at the Royal Hotel, a Mr. Samson.
The first surf carnival was advertised in the "Port Macquarie News," to take place on Town Beach, on Boxing Day, 1928.
Port Macquarie Surf Life Saving Club was formed at a meeting held in the
Town Hall, on 24th October, 1929.
Officers elected were: Patron, Mr. A. A. Cumming; President, Mr. H. J. Blair; Vice-presidents, Messrs. Cyril Lewis, H. Crakanthorpe, A. Lonsdale, W. McMillan, G. Prentice, A. C. Elliot; Treasurer, Mr. L. Atkinson; Secretary, Mr. A. Henderson.
The mayor (Ald.
Mowle. deceased) had an offer from the Spooner government of 6000 pounds,
3000 loan, 3000 grant and put the proposition to the surf club that 3000
pounds be spent on providing the club with a building, he would spend 3000
pounds on roads, and the surf club be responsible for repaying the 3000
There was no agreement.
with some help. built a boat shed (for three pounds) with donated timber
on the north-east corner of Town Beach headland and railway sleeper steps
led to it.
An easterly gale washed all that away.
A near drowning
on Town Beach (line caught under rocks) when a Bronze Medallion squad was
being examined led to it being condemned by the M.N.C. Branch of the S.L.S.A.,
plus a deterioration of Town Beach for surfing as the northern break wall
progressed in 1936-37 led to consolidation at Flynns Beach.
In the picture the beach looks remarkably free of rocks, and it was, because Bob Huddleston's father, with explosives provided by the municipal council, and the help of one or two surf club members -all voluntary work on Saturday mornings- blew the rocks sky high.
Larry Pullen, although beaten at times by fellow club competitors, can lay claim to being Port Macquarie's top paddler.
He gained his Bronze Medallion in 1956, and proceeded to win seven Branch Championships single ski to 1964 and "bobbed up" again in 1975; Larry has also won the inter-Branch Single Ski Championship for three years in a row from 1962; has won four Branch Surf Ski Championships, one Double-Ski Branch Championship, and rowed with the Branch champion senior boat crew in 1961-62. At State level, he won the West Australia State Championship, both single and double ski, at City Beach in 1965, and in the same State the double Ski Championship in 1966, and again in 1968.
Ten years later, and back with his home club at Port Macquarie, he won the N.S.W. Wave Ski Championship at Bondi, in 1978. Australian titles have narrowly eluded him; he was second at Merewether in 1960 at the Australian Championships, second at the National Championships as Warrnambool in 1963, and at Clifton Beach, Tasmania, in 1969.
From the S.L.S.A. he received a Laurel Wreath in 1962 far his perfarmances for Part Macquarie Surf Club, and a Letter of Commendation for his part in a rescue at Bonny Hills in 1965.
Larry Pullen and single surf ski, circa 1968.
One of Port Macquarie Surf Club's most promising young surfers, Jomes William ("Jimmie" to his friends) Gilleland, opprooching 17 years of age, lost his life at Flynn's Beach on Saturday morning, April 6, 1968.
"Out the back" and "cracking beauties" with his mates at 9 a.m. he was apparently struck on the head by his own board.
So adept in the surf, nothing could happen to Jimmie and no alarm was raised until mid afternoon, when he wasn't with his board and clothes, or his girl friend.
His father, club stalwart "Bill" Gilleland, was among those searching the beaches; Jimmie's body washed up on Flynn's Beach at midnight.
No doubt he inherited much of his love for the surf, and ability, from his father.
Jimmie joined the Surf Nippers when they formed in 1962-63, and he was Mid North Coast Branch Cadet Champion in 1965-66.
His name appears frequently in this booklet as a successful junior surfer.
"My oh my!
What a dandy was 'Tacko' McLaren
(second from the right),
and that's Les Perks (left)
with Alex. Betterridge beside him.
The surf boys were on a visit to
Black head in 1930."
THE SURF SKI
The surf life-saving movement in Australia was founded at Bondi in 1906, followed by Manly in 1911, and the surf board was introduced-from Hawaii in 1912.
The solid board persisted until 1938, then came the hollow board, till 1956, and the balsa wood, fibre-glass and fin followed.
But what of the surf ski?
There is a
local claim that the McLaren brothers, Harry and Jack ("Tacko") were the
first to ride surf skis.
They built the somewhat monstrous, hollow skis, for use around their oyster leases and surfed with them for pleasure.
That was in the 1920's, before the Port Macquarie Surf Club was formed, and a Harry Crakanthorp, who was town clerk here in that period, surfed with them on their skis.
Club's 50 year history says the surf ski was designed and introduced by
Dr. J. S. Crakanthorp in the 1920's.
Whichever way it goes, fact remains that Port Macquarie has had surf skis for as long as they have been about.
"The 'original' surf skis,
and ' Tacko' McLaren's
transport for them."
In the 1940's,
Harry Morris, shire engineer at Wauchope, built a ski of wooden frame and
Roger Dulhunty bought this ski and used it for handlining and spear fishing around Flynn's Beach and Nobby's.
a junior of the club, bought the ski in the 1951-52 season.
"The Green Hornet", as it was known, was a ski of massive dimensions and weight and not even the classic physique of Johnny Elliott could generate the power to propel the monster through even a flat surf at a reasonable pace.
Nevertheless, Elliott did win his first carnival race on that craft.
Elliott and a few friends began to build their own craft, experimenting with designs at frequent intervals.
They rode these skis at every possible opportunity for the sheer thrill of challenging a big wave.
As a result
of an Australian wide appeal conducted by the "Sydney Morning Herald" to
raise funds for Surf Life-saving gear, Port Macquarie received in the 1952-53
season a set af flags, a box line, patrol tower, patrol enclosure and a
single ski with paddle.
This little ski sparked off renewed enthusiasm within the club, as it was light and fast and superb in a big sea.
A massive surf
was running at Old Bar in January 1954 and a big field of paddlers faced
the starter; among them was a newcomer to Port Macquarie who had just gained
his bronze, Johnny Townsend. As this was his first start in a ski race
his mates let Johnny use the "Herald Ski".
Edstein, Old Bar, Townsend and Carr, Port Macquarie, were the only three to "get out" and outside the white water Townsend shouted to Edstein "What do you do now?" Edstein said "we'll catch the biggest damn wave we can see just for the fun of it".
Seconds later all three were on a "monster".
Edstein beat Townsend narrowly.
It was a good ride by Townsend, who only three weeks before, had never sat on a ski.
paddlers trained more the following season and Elliott, Carr and Townsend
were joined by Brian Peel, Graham Feeney, Col Shoebridge, Ian Moore, Derek
Crisp, and a young talented all round surfer Eric McManus (who was to become
Flynn's Beach first paid caretaker and lifesaver, working under the directions
of and paid by the Port Macquarie Surf Club.
He held that position for three years, 1956-59).
"This 1919 picture establishes
Harry McLaren as the first
maker of surf skis.
Harry is second from the left,
with Ray Dick, Herb Reckless
and Bert McLaren, left to right."
In 1956 Larry Pullen gained his bronze medallion and it soon became apparent that Port Macquarie had a champion in the making, not only as a ski rider but as a rower, sweep oarsman and board rider; in 1960 he went within six inches of winning an Australian championship.
In the final of the single ski at Merewether Larry was in the lead with only 20 yards to go and looked certain to bring home to Port Macquarie it's first gold medal for a water event; however a bad side wave "skewed" Larry and enabled Dick Marrott, of Dee Why, to come from behind and force Larry to take the silver medal.
At the same
Australian titles one of Australia's best-ever sweeps, Keith Hurst, captained
his Mollymook senior crew to victory.
Nothing new in that for Hurst, except that on that day he won the crown with a broken leg still swathed in plaster and protected by yards of plastic bandages.
Hurst taught Port Macquarie's Allan Dick the finer techniques of surf boat racing whilst both were members of North Bondi Club.
Pullen's narrow defeat at Merewether he transferred to North Bondi in 1960-61
season to join Phil Coles on the double ski.
Coles had been previously Australian single ski champion in 1955-56 and in 1958-59 and was to win again in 1960-61 but to that date had failed to gain an Australian double ski championship.
Coles and Pullen didn't combine as well as expected on the double ski nor in the kayak pairs (with Olympics in their vision).
Larry returned to Port Macquarie the following season.
Perth from Port Macquarie in 1969 he was severely injured in a car smash.
However after a succession of operations the leg healed sufficiently well enough for Larry to hobble to his ski and start off again on his quest for a gold medal.
Competing for Port Macquarie, he teamed with Peter Hennessey and was third in the Australian Championships at Dee Why, on 30th March, 1975.
Larry has also been a noted builder of fibreglass surf skis over the last 1 0 years and many times the craft of his design and manufacture have won major championships.
the junior brother of Larry, gained his bronze medallion on December 17,
1960, and quickly followed "big brother" in adapting to the ski-craft.
Jim was a fine all round surfer and was a member of many winning branch championships teams in R. & R., boat races and was in fact the intitial Mid North Coast Branch Champion Iron Man which he won at Bonny Hills on 22nd January, 1967.
brothers and Larry Hennessey had introduced double skis to the branch that
Jim Pullen won three branch championships on the single ski but the double ski event was to prove his forte.
In 1968-69 Jim and Larry Hennessey reached the final of both the State and Australian Championship, and looked likely in having a promising future, however Larry Hennessey left Port Macquarie.
Jim was left
without a ski partner until Peter Hennessey returned from active service
Peter rejoined the club and Jim asked Peter if he would like to "tryout" on the double ski.
In their first year, 1979, Peter Hennessey and Jim Pullen were second in the State Championships, third in the Inter-State Championship at Ocean Grove.
On the second
day at Ocean Grove, Victoria, Australian Championships, March 29, 1970,
the Port Macquarie pair revelled in the heavy going.
They charged into the race as though their very lives depended on it and were over the break and past the first "can" whilst their opponents were in all sorts ...
... of trouble
in the shore dump.
Minutes later Port Macquarie had its first gold medal in an Australian Championship for a ski race.
Pullen was overjoyed with their stunning victory and was singing the praises of his partner, Peter, who put on his football jumper and fell asleep.
The gold medal pair were beaten narrowly the following year in the State; reached the final of the Australian in Perth, only to have their rudder smashed in the first 50 yards and were literally right out of this race.
The club champion
cadet of 1964-65 was Fred Middleton who had previously been the club Nippers
champion 1962-63 and 1963-64.
Fred gained his bronze medallion in December, 1965, and won the junior championship of the club three times between 1965 and 1968.
From 1968 to 1979 he dominated the senior club championships with the exception of only one year, that was in 1974-75 when Larry Brook was victorious.
Middleton is an outstanding all round surfer and has excelled on both the double and single skis.
He was selected in the N.S.W. Country team to tour New Zealand, in January, 1970, as the only "all round" surfer, and so became Port Macquarie's first lifesaver to represent overseas.
faith in him was justified as he won 30 events (team and individual combined).
His proudest moment of the tour was at Gisbourne when he defeated the North Island Iron Man Champion.
Fred Middleton has won 9 Branch Championship Iron Man events; he is the current professional Flynn's Beach lifesaver and has held that position for seven seasons.
1978, Fred carried out a superb rescue when a mother and daughter got into
difficulties on the southern rocks at Flynn's Beach.
The daughter would probably have been lost only for Fred's quick thinking and superb physical condition.
on his return from front line duty in the Vietnamese war rowed in boats
for some time and then started on the single and double skis and is still
performing with great distinction, and is a noted "big surf" skier.
He is the current M.N.C. Branch Champion, won at Crescent Head on March 11, 1979.
Other fine surfers from Port Macquarie to have performed well on skis in recent years were Russell Pilcher and Allan Witchard. Witchard, among his other surfing feats, was Combined New South Wales Country branches Iron Man Junior Champion at Crowdy Head 1975-76 season.
The club's best junior surf skier at this time is Tony Hallinan who won the N .S. W. Country Junior Ski Championship in 1976- 77 and was placed third in 1978- 79.
Two cadet skiers to show promise this year are Steven Woods and Scott Oliver.
The "long" surf board as used in State and Australian Carnivals was never used in Port Macquarie Club and it was not until 1957 that the short "zippy" board was introduced in Port Macquarie.
(A visiting American surf team had introduced the "zippy" board to Australia at the Olympic Games Surf Carnival in Victoria in 1956).
The first "zippy" board to be seen at Flynns Beach was jointly owned by Johnny Elliott, Ian Moore and Brian Carr who had paid fifteen pounds for its purchase.
It was a hollow plywood craft and most of the recognised paddlers of that time quickly adapted to it.
A year later a dozen or so balsa baards with fibreglass covering were in use on Flynns Beach (the
average weight of these craft was 28 Ibs.).
The first race
for "zippy" boards in the Mid North Coast Branch was held at Flynns Beach,
January 4,1959, and Larry Pullen won the event (then a demonstration board
and not recognised as an official piece of surf life saving equipment)
from a strong field including Freshwater Surf Club.
When "zippy" boards were officially recognised as surf equipment the name was changed to "Malibu" boards.
won the first major "Malibu" board race for Port Macquarie at the initial
North Coast inter-branch carnival at Flynn's Beach on February 4, 1962.
Holmes also won two consecutive Branch Championships on Malibu boards, as Junior 1961/62 and 1962/63.
Holmes left Port Macquarie still as a junior and joined the Rainbow Bay Surf Club in Queensland and while competing with that club he won the first recorded Iron Man race held in Australia; that event was a non-championship.
He was for many years one of Queensland's finest surf competitors.
The Pullen brothers have also been outstanding Malibu competitars as have Russell Pilcher, Alan Witchard, Larry Brook, Tony Hallinan and David Raymond.
Fred Middleton has won seven Branch Malibu board Championships and has also been Combined Country Branch Champion.
50 Years of Surf Life-Saving in Port Macquarie 1928/29 - 1978/79
With assistance from Brian Carr and Joe Debenham.
Port Macquarie Printers Pty Ltd.
65 Clarence Street, Port Macquarie, 1979.