Thursday, September 25, 2008

How it all began.

Mr. M. Python. Vocational Guidance Officer

Fitter and Machinist on lathe

Training Squad

The old antiquated Eves Rocker. (Brave Girl )

The Firemans Carry ( Sort of )

Many people make their own luck, I was simply just lucky.

December 1957, the year’s end approaches and at long, long last, the end of school. Never thought it would happen. What next? Several vocational guidance courses indicated a career possibility. Marvellous institutions these VGC’s. One spends the whole day reading copy, inserting full stops and commas where Shakespeare wouldn't, struggling to make sense out of meaningless multiple choice questions, perusing books and magazines with pretty pictures of smoke billowing from factory chimneys and attempting to force round phallic shaped timber shafts into square and elliptical shaped holes. Exams are then set to determine whether one has the ability to count to ten without having to resort to using ones pinkies. Students failing this nearly always were advised to seek careers in banking or accountancy. Being in the top ten of my class, these tests never placed me under any duress and along with the other top achievers we were each asked what would we really like to do in the workforce. I answered Panel beating. Three weeks later a letter addressed to yours truly arrived at home. It stated that the highly technical and complicated examinations carried out three weeks previous indicated that I was more than suitable to take up a specific career.
‘We are pleased to be in a position to reliably inform you that exhaustive tests set and completed by Trevor Robert Fuller indicate a suitable trade to be ( Wait for it )
Panel beating.’………….Duh!!!
Now that I had been officially informed I commenced working as a laboratory assistant with a printing ink company. Nearly all of my mates were in the engineering trade, mostly as Fitters and Turners. I was always the odd man out when conversation turned to work. To hear them talk, one got the impression that Fitting was the only worthwhile occupation for red blooded young achievers. I applied for a five year apprenticeship with the Nestle Co. and was successful. I resigned from the ink manufacturers and on February 4th 1959 I began a job that was responsible for a whole new and unexpected lifestyle to be adopted. 

Nestles Abbotsford. As it was then. Now a Housing Estate.
                                    When the factory closed its doors, in moved the developers and what eventuated was Abbotsford Cove.

                                                                                                              The end result.
The 1960’s and early 70’s were to become the most exciting and fulfilling years of my life. Wonderful friendships emerged, I became one with Nature, treading the sacred sands of many NSW beaches, experiencing the unique sensation of the surf cleansing ones soul as well as one’s body and for a ten minute portion of my spoilt life, I felt a Divine presence when permitted to swim with and fondle two wild bottle nose dolphins at North Avalon.
Reg the foreman and George the 2 IC, what an insistent, never give up pair of pushy buggers they were. Aub, the head apprentice was almost as bad and possibly would have been worse if he had not left to graze on greener pastures. George was the main culprit. He kept hammering away, attempting to convince me that somewhere north of the city there was an idyllic paradise he referred to as Avalon. I was not aware of any such place and quite frankly I did not give a damn. I thought it must have been a rowing club on the banks of the mighty Hawkesbury…..Who cares? Approaching September I was invited to attend the Annual General Meeting of this mysterious club by both Reg and George. At first I had absolutely no interest whatsoever, but when one of my fellow apprentices known as Smiley assured me it would be a great day out, I agreed to go.
On Sunday September 6th Reg, George and their respective families and my good self boarded the old green and cream double decker bus at the Wynyard Bus ramp and began the long haul north. One of the travellers was the nephew of Reg. He was a rather large lad named Bob who seemed to be extremely enthusiastic about our little adventure. One hour twenty minutes later we all disembarked and I noticed a green and white sign with paint peeling that read, ‘Avalon Beach.’ We crossed the road and headed for a Spanish type building in dire need of another coat of light green paint and entered through a door somewhere in the middle. The room was around 5 metres square, green lockers along the left and rear wall, bare grey floor boards with large gaps everywhere, one cold shower recess on the right hand front side behind a crudely homemade bar with the letters QY on its face and to top it all off there was a tan coloured bulldog with the yellow hand painted word BUTCH along its left side sound asleep and snoring in a puddle of dribble underneath a long wall mounted seat on the right hand side.

                                                                        Photo courtesy of Geoff Searl's History of Avalon.   

The official opening of the first Avalon Beach SLSC Clubhouse 1934. The Avalon Surf Club was founded in 1925 by one of the district's most prominent citizens A.J.Small. He built the dressing sheds during 1921 and after a meeting of residents took place four years later at Mr. Small's home in Bellevue Street,  the Avalon surf club came into existence.
Going on the above photo, the clubhouse building and dressing sheds had not changed one iota when I first laid eyes on them in September 1959.


George took me through the cramped gear room out front and onto the sand covered concrete path outside and for the first time I gazed upon the beach that was to become my Shangri-la for the next 13 years.
What transpired during the actual meeting has long been forgotten, not that there would have been a reason for me retaining what was debated. To me it seemed like there were many people present who liked to talk a lot before actually saying anything. When the meeting concluded, the odd ice cold bottle of DA was consumed and we then all left to head south to Wynyard, me with my jeans and suede desert boots coated with slippery, slimy bulldog dribble. After returning to Sydney, Bob’s enthusiasm convinced me to return the following Sunday and to sign on as a Junior Probationary member. Reg was only too happy to propose my membership and George seconded it. Another sucker had been roped in. Throughout the decade Nestles became a major supplier of Bronze Medallion candidates, mainly through the efforts of Clem and Churchy….i.e. Reg and George.
Now that I was a trainee life saver there had to be a few changes in relation to my clothing and hairstyle. Tightly pegged trousers and Canadian jackets along with a flat top, brushed back either side to resemble a duck’s arse at the rear, may have been the norm in Annandale, but definitely not along the Northern beaches or the Sydney Coastline. Shorts, tee shirts, tailored shorts and football shorts with the thigh pads removed became the newly adopted fashionable clothing, along with leather sandals and rubber thongs. The greasy hair style was replaced with a number 2 crew cut. 

Off with this......
......and on with that.

At Nestles, when George first saw the freshly shaven crown he insisted I resembled the famous comic strip character Pogo Possum. The name stuck and even today as I type this codswallop , there are many surf club members who only know me as Pogo. At the time I couldn’t let George get away with it, so I named him after Pogo’s thick mate Churchy the turtle.

A problem arose when some of my Annandale mates tried to persuade me to give up the surf club as they were convinced I was now associating with a bunch of North Shore snobs. Even after I assured them that the vast majority of clubbies were from south of the harbour, they refused to alter their opinion. I had a decision to make, the Surf Club or my childhood friends. I chose the former. Years later during 1994 my 18 year old son Patrick was confronted with the same problem and he too was required to make his decision one way or the other. Patrick was in his fourth year with the Avalon club and had been unable to convince his Peakhurst friends to become Surf Lifesavers. As previously stated, I chose the sun, sand and surf, but Patrick chose his former schoolfriends and mates. It was a pity, as he was a better than average body surfer and during his first year as a member he won the Junior Member of the year award for proficiency.
Junior Member of the year with his award and Bronze Medallion. 1991
Throughout my many years at Avalon, the vast majority of members were from either the western suburbs or south of the harbour. Today this is no longer the case, as everyone happens to be a local, which means the sun, surf and sand is almost a way of life. Just about all residents at one time or another gravitate to the beach and surf as it 's always there. It is part of the local culture. The future of Surf Lifesaving appears to be rosy with all the youngsters falling over themselves to become a nipper, then go on from there.
The future of the Avalon SLSC and Surf Lifesaving Australia.
What was a Bronze Squad? Six trainees giving up 5 to 6 weekends and being taught how to save people’s lives. If six pass, all pass, if one fails, all fail. That’s the way it was back then. No oral resusc yet. The Holger Neilson, Silvester Brosch, the one man drag, the fireman’s carry, the Eves Rocker and Reel, Line and Belt were the order of the day. Five weeks training, not us. Every time we looked ready to go, one squad member would either fall ill or move to Adelaide with his Mum and Dad. A replacement was needed to be taught what we already knew. This could sometimes take a while and by the time training the new recruit commenced, we had forgotten it all ourselves. Poor old Roy our Chief Instructor, in 3 months he aged 10 years. The hardest part was the theory. First aid and Physiology were the proverbial pain in the bum, but had to be learnt. What do you do to prevent bleeding from an artery in ones arm? Apply pressure to the appropriate point or tie a tourniquet around the arm. What if the injury is a head wound? Simple, tie a tourniquet around the patients neck…Good one Bobby. Despite this, on Sunday December 20 we passed with flying colours and were inflicted on the general public at large, God help ‘em.

Finally, at last, the Bronze Medallion.

Two or three of the local beach bunnies appeared to be impressed and wet kisses were offered and gratefully accepted by all and sundry.

Fibbers, who was he? I’ll tell you who he was. He was the main reason I became fairly well known around the traps. “Who’s the bloke with the crew cut?” was a common question asked. “His name is Pogo, he’s a mate of Fibbers,” was the usual answer. Fibbers was 20 years of age and had been a club member for around 4 to 5 years. He was about five foot eleven tall, slimmish build with no noticeable features that set him apart from any other. That is until he dropped his daks. To see Fibbers aroused and naked would cause a young maiden’s tongue to unravel like a roller blind until it reached the floor. If he had lived in mediaeval times, he would not require a lance when jousting. By turning sideways he became a human outrigger capable of stabilising water craft in the roughest of seas. One of his favourite stunts was to enter the clubs bunkhouse and bonk his oversize priapus on the head of Kegs who when becoming aware of what was transpiring, would leap from his bunk leaving behind a foul smelling trail of last night’s dinner mingled in frothy looking snot.
I lost count of the parties and other social gatherings I attended uninvited that first season, thanks to Fibbers. It mattered not where the party was, there was always someone who either knew him or recognised him. We were always granted admission along with our six bottles of Dirty Annie, which by party’s end would be consumed along with considerable quantities of someone else’s. After a while my boof head began to be recognised and I too was able to attend certain gatherings without relying on him. During Sunday evening QY”s I was never allowed to purchase beer as I was simply too young to attend. Fibbers would always see to it that I did not dehydrate. He more often than not would join me and the other young teens outside giving it a gentle nudge. On the odd day when Fibbers was not around, Jackie would buy me my bottle. He was a known mate of Farls as he once pissed on his leg. He obviously held me in high regard as he once pissed on the back of my neck whilst I was sleeping in the bunkhouse.
Before that first season ended on the Easter weekend, I was invited to escort home one of the well known female identities. We took the 190 bus from Wynyard and halfway through the journey the dreaded Pilgrims Prick arose. That story has been related elsewhere. The following week she suggested I escort a girlfriend of hers home around 11pm one Saturday evening. The short journey home became an odyssey and we found ourselves in the midst of the infamous Avalon sand hills. What should have happened didn’t, because of the shadowy figures seen and occasionaly heard flitting through the Spinifex grass observing our every move. There were numerous other occasions when I too became one of these shadowy phantoms checking out the mating habits of my fellow human beings. I knew I was being accepted by some of the local cuties when on Saturday and Sunday mornings they would call out and wave to me during their morning stroll to the beach. At least two would peel off and follow me into the coffee shop where after depositing their shapely bikini clad bodies either opposite or next to me, they would proceed to knock off all my chips during breakfast.

Breakfast at the La Fiesta. Lenya and Denise would've put a hole in those chips.
Sadly all good things must eventually end and when Easter arrived I was forced to say goodbye to my mate Fibbers. He had warned me that he would be leaving the club at season’s end to hopefully gain permanent employment elsewhere. For two larrikins, our farewell was extremely emotional as both of us must have known we never would meet again……We never did.
My initial 7 months flew by way too quickly as it was full of interest and quite a bit of mischief. Already memories were locking themselves in my young and overactive mind. Many, but not all still remain. One realised that change was on the move when Heady and Bull would be seen riding strange looking balsa boards shaped like giant tears and covered in clear fibreglass. They were the predecessors of the CO2 blown foam Malibu’s that were in the early throes of development. These weird balsa boards were known as Ockanui’s.

The surfing season ended on Easter Monday and was midway through April. I assumed the club simply shut up shop throughout the cold months and reopened at the next AGM in September. For the first time that season I was allowed to down a bottle of DA in the clubhouse during what was the last QY's of '59-'60. Everyone shook hands and after reminding all present to be at the September Annual Meeting, they  headed home for the winter. I did likewise and boarded the 190 bus to Sydney and was the only passenger from the club. During those cold months I purchased a second hand surf ski and paddle and constructed my first handboard for body surfing. I had no idea that my second season was going to be the start of something extra special in my life and I was on the verge of adopting a unique and exciting new way of life, the memories of which are still giving me loads of pleasure even today.
Gordon Woods and friends with their Ockanuis.
During my first 3 years I went from this.......... this.
I was not aware that during the following years the Avalon club would become pioneers and be responsible for the introduction and adoption of surf lifesaving techniques and equipment in the United Kingdom. The club would be guilty of inflicting the Surfers Stomp dance craze upon an unsuspecting public. Senior active member Warren Mitchell with support from the club and other members would design and introduce arguably the most efficient piece of rescue equipment known as the IRB ( Inshore Rescue Boat ). The original ‘Giddy Boat’ responsible for the occasional bikini top being torn from a female passenger is currently on display at the National Maritime Museum.
IRB No. 1
Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour.
Next time I’m there I’ll see if I can find Judith’s missing bra from 1970. 

Another development culminated in the use of leg ropes on rescue boards. Not bad for a surf club situated in what used to be a sleepy little hamlet 24 miles from the CBD of Sydney.
As good as my first year was, the years that followed were even better. Canadian entertainer Joni Mitchell once wrote, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.’ If ever there was a person who comprehends that, it’s this little black duck. I will never forget the many good times on and away from the sacred beach and surf, the friendships, the camaraderie, the lifestyle and most importantly the public service that was provided gratis with no strings attached. As I type I know for certain there are still many living and breathing today who would not be here if it wasn’t for the efforts of some of my mates.
All I can say is, if you want to do something honourable and worthwhile with your life, join a surf lifesaving club. You will make a lasting contribution to society and have one hell of a time whilst doing so.

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