1973 Nationals at Margs
Trying to shut the door Down South …. too late!
The 1969 Australian Nationals held at Margaret main break in pumping power waves, the like of which had never been seen at the titles before was the pivotal moment in the history of WA surfing – when the door was flung open to the world and the secret of the Capes coast’s waves was out.
People like Len Dibben who had been there at the birth of modern surfing in Western Australia has said that ’69 was the turning point – and nothing Down South would ever be the same again.
That iconic Ric Chan shot of the legendary Wayne Lynch high-lining a main break left at the ’69 titles said it all – that WA could match it with famed Australian east coast, Hawaiian and Californian breaks which up till then had dominated surf magazines and movies.
We were in awe of the boards Nat Young, Lynch and the crew were riding and wanted to follow them too – although we parochially claimed our mate Greg “Thunder” Laurenson was at least equal with the best board shaper craftsmen and designers on the east coast…and we reckoned WA surfers like Ian Cairns, Peter Bothwell and Kevin Agar were up there too.
The ’69 titles also brought the ‘flower power’ thing to WA – the long hair, beards, beads, floppy felt hats, bell bottom dacks – the new surfing cool was here. And we were all ready to follow…
But in the aftermath came some other changes that weren’t so cool.
Surfing pilgrims from across the Nullarbor, and even from across the world, bought new progressive influences …and also, for the first time, more crowded waves at times Down South [‘crowded’ in relative terms to what we knew up till then!]
There was also something of a loss of innocence as the downside from a new drugs and dole culture began to be felt – not everybody was mellow and ‘cool’ – man!
Boards could no longer be left on cars outside pubs or at mates’ houses in Scarborough ‘cos stuff started betting stolen, for instance.
TRACKS MAGAZINE – ‘Paradise Lost’
In the February 1973 edition of Tracks magazine (really more a non-glossy, black and white newspaper format at that time), I wrote an article titled “Paradise Lost” which appeared in the “news & opinions” section and hit like a bombshell sending shock waves coast to coast
It provoked a storm with string of letters to the editor in the following edition of the magazine – which unfortunately I have not kept – which just smashed me!
Richard Harvey – third at the ’69 championships and would go on to win the May ’73 titles at Margs – labelled me as a total dickhead. It was chastening and more than a little embarrassing.
Image: 1973 Tracks Magazine Errol’s “Paradise Lost or How the West Was Won” editorial – page 1. Image courtesy of Errol Considine.
Image: 1973 Tracks Magazine Errol’s “Paradise Lost or How the West Was Won” editorial – page 2. Image courtesy of Errol Considine.
Image: 1973 Tracks letter and payment to Errol for “Paradise Lost” editorial. Image courtesy of Errol Considine.
All I can now say now is that our intentions were good and naked self-interest came first …but we were totally naïve and it was all too late. The tide could not be turned back.
In my article, I related how amazing the 1969 titles had been, but on a “cold Saturday night late in winter ’72 some friends and I go and see Tom Hoye (expatriate American and builder of good sticks at Yallingup) and get to talking about contests”.
Now Tom had fled California to get away from the crowds and reckoned he’s found Nirvana at the Margies coast.
He talked about having had it all in southern California – surfing had provided him with a good income, place to live, good car, great stereo (dunno why but I recall that detail!) …and he got to go surfing. But SoCal polluted, too fast, and the water was a crowded nightmare and had all gone to crap.
As I wrote in my two-page feature in Tracks: “He put to us a question: ‘WHY DO WE WANT ANOTHER NATIONALS IN OUR SURF…”
“Good question…no real answer…
“Only abstract notions like pride in our surf and surfers.
“Look at the realities …surfing everywhere is strangling itself with its own success and the contest will ensure the much quicker death of our crowd-doomed southern surf.”
We got fired up. You also have to put this in the context of the times. It was age of the rising power of the young & the power of protest action …”the times they are a changin’…”
At the next monthly meeting of WA Surf Riders’ Association (the forerunner of Surfing WA) I put a motion which was seconded by my mate Peter Bevan (who was also WASRA Publicity Officer) for an “extraordinary general meeting to be held for the first time in local history to “discuss” the national titles…really to cancel them.”
Well, it hit the fan – BIG TIME!
The special WASRA meeting saw battle lines drawn with the pro and anti Nationals factions lined up.
The pro team had something we didn’t – money! Some developers who were building the caravan park at Yallingup wanted to bankroll the titles. Their main man pulled out a wad of $20 notes and said he would put up $500 for the winner’s purse at the Nationals.
Bear in mind, we were earning less than $100 a week – I had never seen that much cash in my life!!
Anyway, the vote is taken and we won. The May ’73 Nationals in WA were off. Cancelled.
Now it hit the fan across the Nullarbor.
Surfing Australia President Stan Couper wrote WASRA a nasty ultimatum letter “generally calling us shitheads and coming on heavy and about how we should reconsider…”
So at WASRA’s next monthly meeting another extraordinary general meeting is called – and the vote was reversed. The ’73 Nationals were back on at Margaret River.
The Tracks feature also ran nearly a full page on the written submission we’d put to the WASRA special meeting…including:
“This monster of our own making is coming back to WA…Our frontier will inevitably be destroyed by the pressures of too many surfers and has obviously already begun to tread that path to destruction….”
I guess our attitude was – if we’re going to head down this path, then go hard!!
We were defeated. Surfing life moved on. We thought then, well we may as well enjoy it?!
I was working as a journo at TVW 7 news and conned my boss into letting me go down to Margs for the week with a film cameraman and send back reports.
That meant sending cans of undeveloped 16mm black and white film by overnight courier back to the station at Tuart Hill. With scripting copy enclosed pounded out on my little Olivetti typewriter!!
‘Surfing Down South’ has a Ric Chan shot of me somewhat sheepishly interviewing Richard Harvey amongst a group in the car park at Surfers’ Point at the ’73 Nationals. I think I mumbled my name and he didn’t work out that he was being questioned on camera by the dickhead from Perth who he’d vilified in the national surf media a few months earlier. Phew!
Photo: 1973 Aust Titles contest meeting in Marg’s car park. Ric Chan pic.
L-R competitor Doug ‘Claw’ Warbrick (Vic), competitor Richard Harvey (NSW), Channel 7 News cameraman Bryan Dunne, 7 News reporter Errol Considine, media Ric Chan (NZ) and unidentified.…you can see the Channel 7 Holden news van in the background …
TRACKS MAGAZINE – ‘Main Report on the ’73 Nationals at Margies
Fast forward to June’73 – and I accepted an invitation from Tracks to write the main report on the May Nationals at Margies.
Image: 1973 Telegram from Tracks magazine editor Frank Pithers to Errol requesting coverage of ’73 Nationals. Image courtesy of Errol Considine.
The surf was good. I wrote about how our worst fears weren’t borne out.
“The only real hassle was the hassling. Hassling in the water like I’ve never seen before. Everyone (including the worst hasslers) seem to be complaining about it so it must have been worse than usual… Tony Hardy and Rod Brooks…nearly came to blows early in the piece. But in a pattern that seemed to be typical, it was friends on shore; kills, kill, kill in the water.”
The same Rod Brooks, from Victoria, took me aside for chat about my previous little surf media storm and explained why guys like Richard Harvey had gotten so angry at me:
“…the east coast boys look forward to two contests on the Australian surf circuit…the annual Bells and the triennial or quadrennial Margaret rip. It puts surfers into the juice and sorts them out and is a nice adventure cum holiday.”
It was indeed a simpler time with narrower horizons!
I did let rip in the article at the then Surfing Australia president Stan Couper “giving a few guys the shits with his …dictatorial…attitude and rulings” about where rounds of the event were to be surfed.
“The guy doesn’t surf, he doesn’t know the coastline, the report comes in from the world’s most experienced Margaret River rider (Murray Smith) that it’s 6 to 8 foot and great, everybody wants to go there…but Stan says “NO”…we’ll check our Cowaramup and Redgate. It ended up at Margaret but Stan, it seemed, just had to have his way.”
You have to remember that back then, Australian sport was notorious for being run by inflexible, uptight officials and the interests and wishes of the athletes came second to nit picking process and procedure…
Anyway, I digress. Back to the contest.
I wrote how the first round was held at “South Point Cowaramup in fair to good 4 to 6 foot surf”.
George Simpson beat Queensland’s reigning champion Michael Peterson, and Tony Hardy did well. The WA flag flew high and we were all pretty stoked.
In the Juniors, Craig Bettenay and Bruce Hocking did well. But Ian Cairns was a shock loser.
Round two was “Big Wednesday” at Margaret main break – not perfect quality but “sure big 10 to 12 foot”.
I reported there were some surprise losers like Simon (“that guy’s got muscles on his muscles”) Anderson, but Terry Fitzgerald killed it.
After a lay day, it was on at good Redgate. Richard Harvey, Michael Peterson and Peter Townend got deep in barrel after barrel.
The final day surfed off on the Sunday, back at Main break. While smaller than the Wednesday, the shape and conditions were better.
Richard Harvey ruled in the Open final, beating Peter Townend, with Michael Peterson third. WA’s Tony Hardy came fifth, which was a disappointment as he was just such a master at Margie’s.
A young fella named Mark Richards from NSW won the Juniors – he went on to do pretty good in Hawaii and the big leagues a few years further down the track! WA’s Craig Bettenay came in fourth.
In the Senior Men’s, Tony Harbison placed fifth.
I also noted to round off my report, that great WA surfer Barry Day, who’d won the coveted Duke Kahanamoku trophy for the best up-and-coming rider at the Nationals in Sydney the year before, could not compete Down South in 1973 as he was “playing league football.” A gifted player, Barry starred in the 1974 grand final for West Perth and later played for Essendon in the VFL. He would have been a rider to be reckoned with if he’d been able to take part in the ’73 Nationals held here…one of those ‘what ifs’…
I wrote a brief comment in my Tracks report about an event in the Open final:
“There was a hassle about an alleged drop-in against Peterson that would have changed everything had it stood. Michael hassled the judges afterwards about the drop-in (or “interference” as it’s now called) and got a few to change their minds in a pretty strange decision. The ruling was reversed.”
In Surfing Australia’s “A Complete History of Surfboard Riding in Australia”, published in 2012, author Phil Jarratt revealed the full details of what really happened and Michael Peterson’s epic meltdown:
“By this time, Peterson’s drug use was becoming more noticeable to most surfers and officials…and often his behaviour on land was hard to fathom, even though in the water his drug haze seemed to be no impediment to his performance. Until Margaret River.
“In big, powerful waves the defending Australian champion was a contender all the way to the final where he was up against consistent Peter Townend and the powerhouse goofy-footer Richard Harvey. Agitated beyond belief, Peterson paddled up and down the line-up, snaking and hassling his rivals with a manic intensity. He was probably never going to beat the smooth, calculating Harvey, but a drop-in call by the judges put that beyond doubt. Furious, Peterson confronted the judges with a tirade of profanity-laden abuse, delivered in a rainstorm of white spittle.
“No one had seen anything like it in an Australian championships since Nat Young’s famous dummy spit at Greenmount in 1970…Peterson’s invective stopped as suddenly as it had started, and within seconds he was spinning wheels in the car park and on this way to the airport.”
Wow. Never knew that. The officials covered it up well for us working media back in ‘73!!
Image: 1973 Tracks Magazine coverage of ’73 Aust Titles by Errol Considine – Page 1. Image courtesy of Errol Considine.
Image: 1973 Tracks Magazine coverage of ’73 Aust Titles by Errol Considine – Page 2. Image courtesy of Errol Considine.
…and one more thing. An ironical post-script to my naïve idealism all those years ago and trying to stop the Nationals from over-exposing our surf! At the start of last year, I ended a six-year term serving on the Board of Surfing WA as Vice Chairman. During that time I played a role in helping Mark Lane and the team to move at the right time to get the MR Pro as ASP/WSL world championship event …and then helped with running of some of the media stuff…exposing and promoting the Cape Coast to millions of surfers around the world! …go figure!
My Tracks front cover – Poem
During my “Tracks” phase in ’72 & ‘73 I broke into verse – something which just came to me out of the blue to me one day during a surf – and the Editor liked it so much it made the front cover of the August 1972 edition…bit hard to read in the scan, so here’s the lines, as published:
I feel the waves;
The waves feel me.
We both feel each other:
We both feel free
Not sure now about my mysterious use of punctuation with the semi-colon and colon!
Taking a bit of a revisionist backward view of that time in our surfing history, the vibe is definitely an after-glow of the ‘tune in, turn on and drop out’ mantra from the San Francisco ‘summer of love’ hippie thing.
Even if you weren’t doing the ‘turn on’ bit, it was important in peer image terms back then to try hard to at least appear to be a cool and mellowed-out ….and not risk the mortal sin of being deemed to being uncool – shock, horror!!
…my little stanza doesn’t quite join Bob Dylan in the Nobel Prize for Literature league but I’d like to think it does say something about the stoke we all felt back then in that unique and blessed era as we spent our weekends and holidays Down South surfing uncrowded waves with our mates, progressing with the developments in surfboard design, and feeling part of Australian surfing taking on the world…the ‘hot generation’ and the swagger of ‘we’re tops now’. It was all happening.
Some people assumed the picture on the Tracks cover was me – unfortunately no …don’t think I ever looked that good on a wave! But the Tracks’ editor did find a great visual image which matched the spirit of what I was trying to say.
No idea who the surfer captured in the shot was but I reckon it looks to me like it could have been Keith Paul?
The yellowed Tracks cover is now framed and hangs in a little personal surf memorabilia man-cave in my garage at home…
Image: 1972 Tracks cover (August edition) containing Errol’s poem. Image courtesy of Errol Considine.
Image: 1972 Tracks payment letter to Errol for poem and an inside article. Image courtesy of Errol Considine.
Footnote: In 2004, I interviewed George Simpson for a feature profile piece which was published in the first ‘Summer 04/05’ edition of “Longbreak” surf travel magazine (now published online: http://www.longbreak.com.au/ ) …
George related about his first trip to an undeveloped Bali in 1973 and stayed six months. They travelled to Indo by boat from Singapore and slept amongst reed beds on the beach at Kuta.
Local bemo drivers would charge the surfers the equivalent of about $1 to take them out to Uluwatu.
One day at 8 foot Ulu’s, George was surfing with the very same Richard Harvey.
The NSW goofy spotted white water further up the unexplored coast and decided to take off and have a look to see whether he could find any more surfable waves.
The way George tells it, Mr Harvey paddled off by himself carrying just a bottle of water and a joint to keep himself provisioned for the journey into the unknown!
In that one day, George told me, Richard Harvey discovered and surfed Bingin, Padang Padang and Impossibles by himself. It’s hard to imagine how mind blowing that must have been.
Harvey arrived back at Jimbaran Bay after dark that night bubbling with excitement about these great new spots ….which today are just so well-known across the world. Bloody amazing!
Click on this link to view 1973 Australian Surf Titles #1 Contest Images by Ric Chan