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Ross Utting’s Travel Odyssey 1974-75

Every surfer’s nightmare is to sustain an injury which keeps them out of the water for an extended period of time.

In the winter of 1973 City Beach and regular south west surfer Ross Utting tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee during a social football match.

He spent about a month in hospital with the leg in traction, 2 months with it in a plaster cast, then underwent a further 2 months of intensive physiotherapy.

Image: 1973 Injury report courtesy of Doug White’s Wave Length surf column in the Sunday Times.

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When all that was over his surgeon said “No surfing for at least a year”.

Rather than sit around and develop bad habits, Ross bought a one way air ticket to London and began a 2 year travel odyssey which ended back in the surf in Bali.

This is his travel story…..

London and UK

When I lobbed in London in early 1974 I eventually found my way to a place in Norfolk Square in Paddington.  I guess in today’s lingo it would be called a “backpackers”, but it was a pretty salubrious address and just a stroll down to Hyde Park.  At Norfolk Square I teamed up with a couple of South Africans and we had a pretty good time exploring London.  These were heady days in London with free rock concerts in Hyde Park on Sunday arvos and great bands in the pubs, clubs and theatres. One concert that sticks in my mind is Ian Anderson and his flute out front of Jethro Tull at the famous Rainbow Theatre.  Wow! That was a show, but there were many others.

The sport was pretty good in London too and during my stints there between trips I saw an Australian/England test match at Lords, the tennis at Wimbledon, went to the horse races at Epsom on English Derby Day and was a regular at Queens Park Rangers soccer matches.

Photo: 1974 London party. Ross 2nd from right. Ross Utting pic.

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It was during these early days that I tried to track down Ian ‘Mitch’ Mitchell in London.  Back in WA we had all heard about Mitch’s exploits in the 1973 UK Surfing Titles in Cornwall, and a Scarborough guy I bumped into in London told me he regularly saw Mitch at a pub in North London where NZ/AUST band Max Merritt & the Meteors were the resident act.  But by the time I got around to ringing Mitch’s number it was disconnected.

Click on this link to view 70s-80s Ian ‘Mitch’ Mitchell blog re ’73 UK surfing titles.

I travelled all through England, Scotland and Wales but was particularly taken with Cornwall in the SW of England. Saw some good waves around Newquay (Fistral Beach) and St Ives. No one in the water but bloody cold, glad I couldn’t surf.  I went back to Cornwall in 2008 and found good waves again at Fistral, still freezing but now many people in the surf.

Photo: 2008 Fistral Beach Cornwall. Ross Utting pic

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North Africa

After cruising around UK I had a chance to do a trip across the top of North Africa with one of my South African mates, so we caught a boat from Genoa in Italy across the Mediterranean Sea to Tunisia, and travelled onto Algeria and Morocco.  It was in Morocco that I developed a taste for offbeat travel experiences.  We headed back to London via Portugal and Spain.

Southern Europe

When we got back to London we bought a car and headed back to Spain.  Amongst other things, we got caught up in the mayhem of the Tour de France bike race when crossing the Pyrenees, explored the Basque coast around San Sebastian and went to the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.  We then travelled onto Barcelona where we had arranged to meet another guy.  No mobile phones in those days, so the arrangement was “be on the steps of the Post Office at 11am each day from mid-August, till we get there”.  We were quite a few days late and he said he was getting nervous, but we hooked up in the end.

We travelled all around Southern Europe including a visit to the Monte Carlo Casino on the French Riviera.  Problem was, our standard of dress was so poor that they wouldn’t let us in. Between the 3 of us we put together an outfit, which had to include a tie, that got us in.  One of us would go in for an hour in the fancy outfit, come out, swap clothes and the next guy would go in.  We felt inferior sitting out the front waiting our turn and watching all the limo’s dropping off the toffs.

The trip ended on a sour note when our car was broken into outside Salerno in southern Italy when we were having a swim, and we lost everything but our board shorts, T-shirts and thongs.  Fortunately, we had hidden our passports and travellers cheques in the rocks while we swam.

Israel/Greece

By now it was winter, I had been away for a year and back in London based in West Kensington, I was ‘over’ going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark.  Then I saw an advertisement seeking volunteers to work on a Kibbutz in Israel.  The deal was, if you worked for a couple of months they paid your airfare, provided accommodation and meals and you got 2 bottles of beer thrown in on your Saturdays off.  That’s me! I’m off.

I worked on Kibbutz Gazit in the North of Israel.  Great experience, but the reason they needed volunteers was that the young people were all off fighting wars, some nearby in the Golan Heights bordering Syria.  My first job was picking oranges, but I kept falling out of the trees when the war planes would break the sound barrier low overhead and there was a sonic boom.  I tried washing dishes but upset the other Kibbutzniks when I tried to get them to scrape the scraps off their plates before they chucked them into my sink for washing.  Found my forte when I became a chicken man, feeding the chooks and catching them to take to market.

Photos: 1975 Israel Kibbutz Gazit. Ross Utting pics

Left: Ross’s kibbutz hut. Right: ‘Chicken Man’ Ross.

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On completion of our working commitment I travelled all over Israel with my hut mate, a Dane named Torben. Great adventure, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Sea of Galilee, Red Sea, Dead Sea, Bersheba, Eilat ………

Eventually caught a ship out of Haifa headed to Greece, but I could only afford deck class.  That meant you spread out your sleeping bag on the deck up near the bow and were quarantined from higher class passengers.  The ship stopped at Cyprus and Rhodes on the way to Athens.  After checking out Athens, I spent a few months on the Islands of Ios and Santorini. In those days there were no hotels on Ios so you had to make your own arrangements & I found a room at a great family’s home.  There were no jobs on Ios so all the men were either in the US working or on the mainland.  I got allocated tasks around the house, the most important of which was to keep the barrels in the kitchen and bathroom full of water (no running water). I was lucky enough to go to functions and religious ceremonies with my Ios family.

Photos: 1975 Greece Ios Island. Ross Utting pics

Left: Ross with his Ios ‘family’.

Right: (Top) Ross with Ios neighbour Dimitrios. (Bottom) Ios Port view from town.

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Turkey to Nepal

From Greece I travelled into Turkey, and around the coast into Iran, Afghanistan, through the Khyber Pass to Pakistan, India and Nepal.

Long and exhausting travel, but extremely rewarding (once it was over) as you just couldn’t do it now.

Afghanistan was like the wild west.  Out of the main towns of Herat, Kandahar and Kabul everyone carried rifles, but they were so friendly.  Not scary at all. Well maybe a bit!

I didn’t get off the road from Herat through Kandahar to Kabul, but from there I headed up through the Bamian Valley to the Hindu Kush mountains. Just beautiful country but harsh.

I recall not taking my clothes off for 2 weeks at one stage. Just too cold and no facilities.

Photos: 1975 Afghanistan. Ross Utting pics.

Left: Ross’s shoe shine spruce up in Kabul (at least his boots were clean!).

Right: (Top) Afghan bus. (Middle): Buddhas of Bamian (since destroyed by the Taliban). (Bottom): View of Bamian Valley from Buddhas Head.

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Bali Bound

Once I got to Kathmandu in Nepal I was on a mission, the surf was calling.

On his return from travels with Bruce King, Bob Monkman and Peter Mac, Micko Gracie had told me that he got good waves in Bali on his way home. Remembering this, I travelled down through south east Asia and lobbed in Bali in November 1975. Didn’t like Kuta (too busy. Ha!), but a couple of klms north on a limestone track was another quiet little village called Legian.

There I found the family run losman Puspa Sari on Jalan Padma and settled right in. I think it was about where the Legian Village Hotel now stands. Got a Midget Farrelly board off a Sydney guy returning home and I was all set.

Very few Balinese surfed in 1975 and there were hardly any other surfers around.  I surfed Kuta Reef on my own, but other guys liked to have company and used to come looking for you. Best waves of my life were at Sanur, 6-8 ft freight trains nearly down to an old ship wreck, 5 guys out, but we rarely saw each other. In the months I was in Bali I rode my motor bike out to Uluwatu 3 times and never saw a soul. Even in those days with no traffic it was a long trip on a very narrow road. Doc McDermott of Smiths Beach once told me that in 1975 he and his wife Carol rode their pushbikes out to Uluwatu. Bloody hell, how did they get up that first hill at the back of Jimbaran, let alone the rest of it!

Life in Legian Village was great. Very quiet, surf by day, gamble with the old guys out front of the Banjar buildings on Jalan Legian at night while the gong boys practised inside, and generally chilling out. I needed it after my lengthy travels and while everyone around me was getting Bali belly, I was putting on weight as from whence I had come, the food and hygiene in Bali seemed outstanding.

Photos: 1975 Bali Indonesia Kuta/Legian.

Left: Made Swita & Ross at losman Puspa Sari in Legian.  Ross Utting pic.

Right: Jalan Legian Kuta. Peter Neely pic www.indosurf.com.au

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The tariff at Puspa Sari was $1 per day including breakfast, which was a thermos of tea and a bunch of bananas left on the table and chair outside your room.

One of the staff members was Made Swita.  I remember his name cos he wrote me an envelope with his name and address and instructions to send him my Puspa Sari photos when I eventually got home.

Anyway, Made had this chook that he was grooming.  Cock fights were huge back then.  “Mr Ross, we can get money today, you come.” With the chook in a basket we caught a bemo to the purpose built ‘arena’ near the bemo station in Denpasar. It had a small ring and tiered seating all around. Losing chooks hung on hooks around the place for sale.

I backed 5 winners in a row leading up to Made’s chook fight, but as is the story of my life on the punt, the one you need to get up, gets beat.

Made was philosophical about the defeat and retorted “No problem Mr Ross, dinner tonight, chicken soup!”

No money, time to go home.

Ross Utting.

Editor’s note: Following his 2 year travel odyssey, Ross continued to travel and surf, often combining both. He also returns to Bali every year, but pines for the days of ‘75. 

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