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1970s Gallows surf break & dirt track

Gallows surf break at Wilyabrup has been surfed since the late 1950s. Just getting to the waves via the notorious dirt track has been part of the adventure.

This is a collection of anecdotes and images from surfers who used the Gallows track to access waves in the region during the ‘70s.

This post continues from 1960s Gallows surf break & dirt track

Jim McFarlane (Yallingup) – Early summer was hell with bush flies breeding in plague proportions. I remember many walks from the gravel road down to Gallows, when the track had become impassable in two-wheel drives. Bags on back, boards on our heads and towels wrapped around our face, like something out of Lawrence in Arabia to keep the buggers away. Often we arrived at the surf black from ilmenite sand only to find a howling onshore. (Extract from Surfing Down Surf book published 2014).

Photo: 1975 Gallows wave line-up. Jim King pic.

Ronnie Jeffrey (Yallingup) – My mate Albie used to take me surfing at Gallows in his old Holden. The track was boggy black sand and the car wheels used to spin in the large ruts and tear up the track for anyone following us. We would park the car in the dirt car park and walk through the sand hills to the beach. On the trip back, we used to get a good run up at the track but always needed a crew in the car to push through the boggy bits.

In the 70s it was a fun crew surfing Gallows. Regulars included Horny Campbell, Mahdu Anderson, Kim ‘Boonga’ Hunter, Bruce King, Micko Gracie, Barry Green & Andy Jones. John Balgarnie & John Pozzi were always there too.

Editor’s note: Ronnie ‘Ratshit’ Jeffrey has lived at Yallingup since 1971. Initially he slept in George Simpson’s old Chrysler sedan abandoned outside Surfside Café, then he moved onto farm houses in Smiths Valley and Millbrook.

Photo: 1976 Gary Gibbon and hound, Sue Ware and hound with Ronnie ‘Ratshit’ Jeffrey at Peter Dyson’s place on Yallingup hill. Gary Gibbon pic.

Stewart Bettenay (Dunsborough) – In 1971 surf movie maker Bob Evans (NSW) came to WA to film his surf movie Family Free (1971). He bought eastern states surfers Mark Warren and Col Smith with him and was joined by WA surfers Ian Cairns and Craig Bettenay at Gallows. All surfers rode twin fins except Ian Cairns. Bob Evans accessed the Gallows dirt track in his Jaguar (aka Kevin Merifield in his Mercedes).

Image: 1971 Craig Bettenay (age 14) surfing Gallows on a twin fin surfboard. Bob Evans pic. This image appeared in Surfing World magazine.

Jeffrey ‘RE’ Marshall (Augusta) – We used to go down the Gallows track in my HR Panel Van. Around 1970 to 1973. We would drop the tailgate and three guys would sit on it, if we started bogging down they would jump off, shut the tailgate and push. The reason for sitting on the tailgate was to get weight behind the back wheels. On the Gallows Track there was what we called the Sump Eating Rock and The Rack Eating Tree.

Photo: 1971 Guinea pig race at Wilyabrup farm. Ric Chan pic.

L-R. RE Marshall, Stewart Bettenay, unidentified and Vin Nolan.

Gary Gibbon (Margaret River) – Andy Jones and I would quite often try and head down there on summer’s afternoons, to make good use of the afternoon sea breeze glass-offs and the higher tides, which Gallows always likes.

The Gallows track in the 70’s was always hideous. I learnt my lesson way back in the mid 70’s attempting a weekday solo sojourn in a VW beetle and got thoroughly bogged on the way down, on a day when there weren’t too many other takers. After fruitlessly waiting for others to come by and hopefully give me a hand, a local farmer (unfortunately I forget his name) thankfully hauled me out with his tractor, quietly admonishing me to “take a bit more care next time young fella”. I took his advice and from then on, unless I happened to be with someone in a 4 wheel drive, usually left my vehicle near the top of the track and took the long, dusty walk in.

I was always a bit surprised when occasionally, usually on Sundays down at Gallows upon kicking back after a session, I would see Trevor Anderson’s gang arrive … in this old banged up FC. Trevor and a bunch of his mates from around Dunsborough at the time, who frequently included people like Trevor McKinnon, Steve ‘Horny’ Campbell, Tall Tex, and Howard Johnson often used to get together for Sunday surf trips and head off in various directions in this old FC, which I think was Trevor’s and which I’m sure, he being a fine mechanic, kept in very good working order. The thing that got me, is that I never heard of them experiencing any bog issues on that track. From memory, coming back in particular, there was a really steep, sandy, shifty hill to negotiate, which TA’s FC apparently had little trouble (at least none that I heard about) in conquering. Though curious, I never did get around to asking him what the secret was. May be it was just good track driving skills, or a case of every one get out and push up this next bit.

My brother John now lives in Bali, he sent me these photos of a bogging of his car on the Gallows track circa 1979, in his little Datsun 120Y, which we used to take (or try to take) everywhere back in the day. To be honest, I don’t remember this one as well as the one I outlined in earlier correspondence, but John assures me I was there and he said some “nice winery guy” got us out.

Photos: 1979 John Gibbon’s Datsun 120Y bogged on the Gallows track. John Gibbon pics.Steve ‘Horny’ Campbell (Yallingup) – I loved going to Gallows with my surfing mates Trevor ‘Yip Yip’ Anderson and John Fox. We got stuck on that track so many times, particularly in the water/mud hole when water ran across the track after rain.

On the afternoon of my wedding to Wendy, I went surfing at Gallows (surfing’s good for the nerves!) with Trevor Anderson, Tex branch and Howard Johnson. We were worried we may get stuck on the dirt track and not make it back to the wedding ceremony on time.

Photo: 1970s Steve ‘Horny’ Campbell and Alf Burley walking up the sand hill from Gallows beach. Steve Campbell pic.

JohnTex’ Branch (Yallingup) – Horny Campbell, Trevor ‘TA’ Anderson , Howard Johnson and I purchased a FC Holden as a track car to be used at Gallows and Bears. On the day of Horny’s wedding, we were late back from our surf at Gallows and had to quickly shit, shower and change for the wedding and reception at the Dodd’s place in Meelup Hills.

Photo: 1980s Horny accepting his wedding gift (surfboard) from Capel Surfboard maker Peter Mercer. Steve Campbell pic.

Mal Leckie (Coolangatta Qld) – It was undoubtedly the most notorious track around 1971-2. I deeply regret not taking more photos in those days but I have a fairly vivid memory of one section of the track that turned tightly to the left (as you were coming out) around a tree with a low branch that would clip the roof racks off if you didn’t swing wide enough.

For a while, there was an old pipe-style rack bar hanging on the offending branch, bent in half. I guess it was wrapped there in frustration by someone and left as a warning.

That section of the track was the worst because you had to have speed up and turn hard left at the same time. Most cars would let their team out so they were ready to push at the right time. Sometimes several carloads of blokes were needed to get a car through. Everyone ended up covered in dust as cars bounced violently up the hill.

Nearly everybody drove ordinary cars too, so it was no easy job getting back up the track. I went south with Paul Jacobsen most times and his Kombi was at great risk on that bend so we tended to avoid the Gallows track. I remember going down there in John Fox’s HD Holden station wagon once or twice and I think we even went down in Bill Oddy’s Volvo 144 once to. It was a surprisingly good track car.

The best cars were VW Beetles because they had the flat floor that skidded across the bumps and you could get a couple of fellas standing on the back bumper to keep weight on the rear wheels.

I do remember being down there one day when goofy footer Col Smith from Sydney was there and we were all amazed at how small and light his boards were. We considered them unsuitable for WA waves but he had no trouble getting them to work.

Although I am a long time gone from the west, I love the place heaps and your bits and pieces sort of help keep me there.

I have drawn up that memory of the dusty bend around the tree at Gallows. It’s very sketchy but I hope it will do the job and maybe jolt other memories. I tried to give it a feel of dirt and black dust, and put a towel over one guy’s head to maybe remind us of all the flies. I’m reasonably happy that the ‘feel’ is right although the detail might be lost in 45 years of memory haze.

This bit of the track I remember best because it was a tight uphill turn around a tree that had a thick low branch with a reputation for tearing off roof racks. There was an old roof rack bent over the offending branch, as a warning to others I guess.

I am thinking of doing the sketch up as an ink drawing and maybe running a small edition of prints. For what it’s worth, I think the wagon I remember was John Fox’s, but not sure. My apologies to Holden fans for what I have done to that HD’s front.

Image: 1972 Gallows track drawing by Mal Leckie. Image courtesy of Mal Leckie.

Ric Chan (Auckland NZ) – There were lotsa flies and it was very, very dusty. I actually took the red Jag in there once and had to have it pushed out!

Photo: 1970s unidentified surfers pushing a surf wagon loaded with boards back up the hill at the notorious Gallows track. Ric Chan pic.

Phil Usher (Gold Coast Queensland)Nev Hyman and I went to school together at Bentley High School. We started Odyssey Surfboards in Leederville in 1976. I also shaped with Murray Smith at HotBrewz surfboards for a while in the mid 80s. Nev and I teamed up again on the Gold Coast in Queensland for several more years along the way followed by many shaping stints in many countries worldwide.

Back in the 70s we went down south regularly, one year we went 51 out of 52 weeks. Gallows was a favourite surf spot. The dirt track was horrific and we used to choke on the flies. We wore straw hats with double fly nets with elastic bands around the bottom of the nets and our necks to keep the flies out. Despite the hats and nets, flies would be all over our faces and we couldn’t swat them because we had boards under one arm and wetties on the other. The walk was a killer but the waves were worth it, No crowds and great lefts, particularly on a small swell. We got sick of the walk, flies and summer heat.

To the rescue. Nev had a 64 Kombi and I had a 67 Ford Anglia. We used Nev’s Kombi for the Gallows track because my Anglia couldn’t do it! Nev would gun the Kombi and four of us would stand on the back bumper bouncing the Kombi all the way there and back. Dedicated and diligent with a touch of crazy was the order of the day. Poor Nev had a few repair bills along the way, but it was way better than the alternative.

The waves at gallows on a small day were great for fun and on the right larger days it had plenty of grunt. The best thing back in the 70’s was no crowds. Back then, some people had not even heard of it.

When asked what I remember most about Gallows, it is not the surf I recall, it is the taste of fresh fly in abundance. That never leaves you. All jokes aside, it was a cracker secret spot back in the day.

The following Smith Beach shot has me second from right with Blair Mieklejohn to my left and Bill Mieklejohn to my right and Nev with the fuzzy top leaning on the driver’s door.

Photo: 1970s Nev’s surf mobile bogged on the back track to Smiths Beach. Wayne Murphy pic.

L-R Lee Potter, Nev Hyman, Rod Hernaman, Blair Miekeljohn, Phil Usher and Bill Miekeljohn.

Gary Greirson (Dunsborough) – I’ve been bogged many times in the black dirt on that track. It was always hot and there were lots of flies as we only surfed there in the summertime. Our VW had the most trouble under the peppies on the first hill back from the beach, there was a bend like a dog’s hind leg.

Many times we were struggling back up the track and Kevin Merifield would drive past in his Mercedes sedan.

Photo: 1970 Max Hickson, unidentified girl and Les Wright at Gallows. Ric Chan pic.

Jim King (Dunsborough) – In the early 70s I used to go to Gallows with the late Lindsay Thompson in his VW kombi. The rigid chassis of the Kombi wasn’t suited to the big ruts & black dirt of the Gallows track. One of the Kombi’s wheels was nearly always off the ground and a lot of pushing was required to get back up the track.

At other times, my wife Kath & I would tackle the track in our 2wd Toyota Corona. While surfing I would be wondering how we would get back up the sandy track, as they weren’t many people around in those days to help push us out, if required. Driving back up the track, the engine would be screaming and rear wheels spinning in a cloud of black dust….but as long as we were moving forward it was all good! The sight of old car bodies rotting in the bush next to the track wasn’t reassuring!

Photo: 1970 Gallows. Blaxell team rider Jim King.  Tom Blaxell pic.

Ross Utting (Metro)Of all the trips I did to Gallows, I can only remember three cos they were bad trips. The first two were in Morris Minors owned by David Moss & Glen Carroll. Who in their right mind would even contemplate taking a Morrie into Gallows! They were gutless and their tyres were about 2 inches wide. Both times we made it to about a 20 minute walk to Gallows & then got heaps of help to manhandle us out. After that we sacked the Morris & tried an FJ Holden panel Van owned by Gerard Waddell.

Made it all the way, but going back up the hill after our surf was a real battle. We had blokes all around the car pushing as well as four blokes standing on the rear bumpers bouncing the FJ to get traction each time we hit a hollow. Just got out, but Gerard was real worried about the toll it had on the fragile FJ.

Our Gallows strategy was never be the last to leave, cos there was only one way out and if you got stuck, those behind you had to help or they couldn’t get out.

Photo: 1976 Ross Utting with his Blaxell orange flyer single fin surfboard at Gallows. Jim King pic.

Steve ‘Sheepdog’ Cockburn (Metro) – I didn’t go there a lot!  But I have had Gallows & Guillotine surf really good. I remember surfing Gallows with John Balgarnie and having left hand waves, overhead height, that were cylindrical tubes & very fast.

Another time Peter Bothwell and I surfed Gallows on Tracker surfboards from West Coast Surfboards and the surf was hollow & amazing.

The dirt track was by far the worst track I’d experienced down south. The first part being flat but extremely boggy, then it weaved & winded steeply down between trees that were very close together.

At one State Surfing Contest Murray Smith & Terry Jacks surfed off in the Final at Guillotine. The waves were small at first, less than shoulder high, but soon they picked up to twice the size, with long lefts & short rights. There were some great rides, but I don’t remember who won. Because the surf conditions changed so much during the Final, it made it very hard for the WASRA judges scoring that event!

Photo: 1970 Sheepdog surfing Guillotine right hander in his multi coloured wettie. Ric Chan pic.

Craig Blume (Metro)The Gallows track back in the 70’s was a place to perfect and hone your dirt track driving skills, it was unforgiving and a great money earner for local mechanics and businesses.

I remember one day ‘Springhead / Grimmie’ (Graeme Lesley) took a bunch of us for a surf at Gallows in his EH Holden sedan.  ‘Springhead’ negotiated down the track to the surf like a true veteran even though it was badly rutted with lots of loose dirt and rubble where guys had been previously bogged. The return was somewhat different. He started off well picking good lines through the deep ruts until about the half way up the hill where the track detoured around a couple of big trees.  At this point he slipped off our line, because of all the bouncing, bottomed out and got stuck – couldn’t move forward or backward.  We were there for hours trying to free his beloved EH but with each attempt the car slipped closer to becoming impaled against a trees.  Finally exhausted, pissed off and sweaty and black from all the digging, pushing and dust from wheels spinning, not to mention the flies relentlessly attacking our eyes, getting up your nose and in your mouth, ‘Springhead’ decided he’d go and ask a farmer for help. At that time the rapport between some farmers and surfers wasn’t too good.  Well, after waiting for an hour or so with the sun slowly setting in the west and the boys getting more agitated by the minute we heard and saw the cavalry – ‘Springhead’ in the distance driving a tractor coming to retrieve his beloved EH before it was sacrificed to Huey.

Photo: 1975 Craig Blume and NW surf pioneer Craig Howe with their Cordingley surfboards at City Beach. Craig Blume pic.

Brian Bell (Dunsborough) – I remember turning off the gravel on Cullen Road and heading into the bend at the top the hill that leads into those huge ruts and black sand that became hot as hell in summer!

Photo: 1970s unidentified surfers recuperating after successfully negotiating a sandy section of the Gallows track. Ric Chan pic.

Mark Hills (Quindalup) – In ’81 I nearly drowned in a Surfside Board Club competition at Gallows. I was on the inside and my Pipelines leg rope got caught around a rock. I couldn’t release it. It was only 3ft deep, but I was held under water in the swells and couldn’t make it to the surface for a breath.

Photo: 1980s young Mark Hills. Hills family pic.

Theo Mathews (Margaret River) – The following photo was taken by Ashley Jones around 1977 of yours truly on a 5’3″ modified foamy (stringer, fins and leg rope) at Gallows. The board was shaped by Chris Reynolds and finished by Ashley with acrylic house paint that lasted for years. They conceived the idea for small shore-break surf but ironically we rode fair size waves with late take-offs, including Margs main break, Injidup carpark, South Point, Uluwatu in Bali etc.

Photo: 1977 Theo Mathews surfing on modified foamie at Gallows. Ash Jones pic.

Black dirt, bush flies, waves and fun times at Gallows…….

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