Posts Tagged ‘portrait’

Farewell Dave Gray

More than 80 surfers paddled out at Compton today to say goodbye to Dave Gray with many others lining the cliff tops to give him a really great send off


Dave Gray R.I.P.

I asked Dave Gray if he would let me interview him for Wight Surf History and eventually he sent me this. We actually planned to do a proper interview and he was going to dig out some old photos but sadly it never happened. A history of surfing on the I.O.W. by David Gray aged […]


Sid Pitman R.I.P.

Sid Pitman sadly passed away while on holiday in the Mediterranean last week. Sid will be greatly missed by the whole Isle of Wight Surfing Community.  Are thoughts at this time are with Sid’s wife Jan. Sid started body boarding during the early sixties with a homemade plywood board, curved at the front and painted […]


Surfer’s and Dogs Delight

A postcard found on ebay by Len Parker (now in Florida) titled ‘Surfer’s and Dogs Delight, Compton Bay’ The surfer is Martin ‘Bert’ Spencer sometime during the early 90’s carrying a Custard Point longboard at Compton Bay, Isle of Wight. Len Parker and Ray Hutchings had a couple of these boards on the Island around […]


Wight Water – Issue No 2

Issue No 2 of the Isle of Wight Surf Clubs magazine ‘Wight Water’ came out in the autumn of 1976. It included a write up on the IOW Surf Club longboard competition won by Tad Ciastula, 2nd Dave Jacobs, 3rd Keith Williams, Pete Brown and Dave Grey. It also covers the IOW Surf Club Darts […]


Colin Williams

Colin Williams remembers all of his family holidays spent on the isle of Wight where he learn’t surf during the 60’s and 70’s. The Isle of Wight was and probably still is my favorite place in the world. I must say that Australia, for me,is the one of the greatest places on earth; however, a […]


Movember in Memory of Lee Sheaff

Isle of Wight surfers join Movember and grow some sick moustaches raising vital funds and awareness for men’s health…. follow the link to donate to such a great cause uk.movember.com/team/1301269 Here are some of the Isle of Wight Team half way through Movember


Freshwater Bay 4 November 2013

With 2 metre swell predicted and northerly winds the early risers got some good waves at Freshwater Bay this morning. I got down late but what a glorious morning. With huge tides it was starting to get pretty bumpy when I got there but a few nice ones were to be found.


‘Do the Wight thing’ – Just Seventeen magazine

In May 1992 there was a mother and daughter swept out to sea off Compton. It was at the end of a day surfing and about tea time and Isle of Wight surfer Andrew Plenty was just off home. The mother and daughter were hanging onto a rubber ring but panicked and let go of […]


Dave Gray shapes a board as a school project

Wight Surf History has been given a surfboard originally thought to shaped by Dave Gray as part of a school project Dave passed the board onto Russell Farrel during the 1980’s and then passed to his brother Steve who has kindly given the board to Wight Surf History. Dave we would love to know a […]


Lord Louis Mountbatten surfing in 1920

In March 1920  Lord Louis Mountbatten was posted to the battlecruiser HMS Renown and accompanied Edward, Prince of Wales, on a royal tour of Australia in her. After Australia the Renown went on to Fiji, Samoa, Honolulu, and then to Colon via the Panama Canal. During September 1920 they stopped on Oahu, Hawaii, staying for a […]


Through a Liquid Mirror – Wayne Levin

‘Through a Liquid Mirror’ an Exhibition by Wayne Levin Internationally acclaimed Photographer, Wayne Levin from Hawaii has brought his exhibition all the way to Dimbola Museum and Galleries on the Isle of Wight. Wayne started out with a Brownie Camera and started developing his own film. Wayne has exhibited all over the world including New […]


Surfs Up for Freshwater Parish Council

Last night the Freshwater Parish Council invited Paul Blackley to be guest speaker at their Annual General meeting at Freshwater Memorial Hall. Paul showed the Councillors and members of the public a slideshow of images taken form the recent Exhibition at Dimbola Museum and Galleries and talked about how the Wight Surf History Project. With […]


Isle of Wight Surfing History in Pictures

Isle of Wight Surfing History goes back over many decades and in 2012 Wight Surf History put together an exhibition including images at Dimbola Museum and Galleries at Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight. The Exhibition closed with an amazing Jubilee party with live music from Sam Scadgell, Black House Crows and The Shutes. Here are […]


Wight Surf History Exhibition now at The Waterfront

Both Wight Surf History Exhibition Prints are now displayed at The Waterfront Bar and Restaurant, Totland Bay, Isle of Wight. If you somehow missed the exhibitions previously then get yourself down to Totland Bay. It may not have great waves but it has to be one of the best places on the Island to enjoy […]


UNDERGROUND EXPLORER: ROB WARD

The story of British surfing would not be complete without reference to its underground surfers – those who passed up competition, fashion and media exposure for hard-bitten travel. These are the “soul” surfers such as Rob Ward and the late Nigel Baker. Rob Ward was a lover of French waves. “The early days surfing France had to be the best time of my life. I was totally focused on riding big waves at Guethary,” says Rob. “In 1967 I lived in a tent in the Cenitz valley, then in later years stayed in a villa with early Newquay immortal Alan McBride.” Rob was a standout big wave surfer and a hard-core adventurer. “Growing up on the Isle of Wight, in the south of England halfway up the English Channel, I never saw anyone surf,” says Rob. “But one day in 1961 I found an article on glassing a surfboard torn from a magazine and lying on the floor of a garage at the back of my dad’s hotel. I tried to make a board upstairs in the hotel, but lacking the right tool or materials, it was not a happy experience, and I never finished the board.”

Educated at the Nautical College at Pangbourne in Berkshire, Rob went on to become an officer in the Royal Navy. “In 1964 I was a Midshipman in HMS Jaguar on the South Africa/South America station,” says Rob. “I’d been pestering a South African lieutenant aboard with the question of whether people surfed in South Africa. I had a day’s leave on the Friday of the week. I took a taxi to Cape Town from Simonstown naval base and arrived just after the shops had closed. I found a shop with a surfboard in the window and banged on the door until they opened. They gave me a board and took £30 pounds (a month’s wages) from me. The sporting taxi driver shoved my prize halfway into the boot of his car and drove me back ‘home’. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen—brownish, distinctly bent and with the name Sunsurf announced by an orange sticker with an impressionist rendering of the principal feature of our solar system near the nose.”

“I surfed in South Africa, South and Central America and returned to the UK,” says Rob. “During my third year at the Britannia Royal Naval College (in Dartmouth, Devon), I tendered my resignation with some trepidation. I had, after all, been in an institution since I was six. Within a few months, a friend and I had bought an old diesel van, some blanks from a defunct surf business in Newquay and, after building a dozen boards in the Isle of Wight, headed down to Guethary. Then followed nine months of bliss. We built a small factory on the outskirts of Bayonne with a French partner. I grew my hair for the first time in my life and surfed every day it was possible. At first I entered in the competitions that the French Surf Federation had newly inaugurated. I won an international paddle race taking Felipe Pomar’s record for the course by five minutes.” 1965 World Champion Felipe Pomar was a go-for-broke Peruvian big wave surfer, famous for his power paddling.

Later Rob turned his back on competition, travelling extensively in California, South Africa and Australia, often seeking the more obscure, high quality big wave locations as his hang out, such as Outer Kommetjie in Cape Town, Margaret River in Western Australia and Cactus in Southern Australia, many years before these places were reported as make-the-barrel-or-die big-wave breaks. Rob also had an innovative attitude towards surfboard design and had a long relationship, spanning decades, with experimental shaper Tom Hoye, Precision Equipe, in California, who would ship him his latest, sometimes quirky designs, to ride wherever he was in the world. “I recall in 1972 coming from the surf in the desert in South Australia. There had supposedly been a large shark sighted. But the waves were extraordinary,” says Rob. “I spent an hour alone with both fear and elation and when I came from the water I actually fell on my knees and thanked God for my existence. It was the sort of peak experience that will carry you through a lifetime of the normal, and less common, trials. Bliss indeed. Thank you surfing.” In one of those impossible to predict moments in an obscure place on the planet, who should Rob bump in to during a spell at Cactus but ‘Moby’ – Dave Patience, one of Newquay’s earliest surfers and Guethary pioneers.

In the ‘80s Rob lived in Cornwall and ran a surf shop in Newquay called Ocean Imports. “During that period,” says Rob, “a friend encouraged me to buy a 26 foot boat with him and smuggle hashish from Morocco. Of the six-year prison sentence, I served four years. I had no excuses. I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I was grateful for the opportunity to study Romantic Poetry at the Open University.” Upon release, Rob started building 40 foot catamarans. In the Orinoco Flo he made a global circumnavigation, financed by paying surfer passengers for the surf break stops along the way. These included pioneering visits to the Easter Islands.

Rob’s surfing passion has always been focused and intense. He possesses a driven quality recognised among that breed of surfers like Laird Hamilton who “have to be there to ride the big waves.” Well-educated and highly articulate, Rob has also been able to share his love of surfing. His performances have been inspirational, and he would have been better known, but for his low level of interest in surfing contests. Even in current surf sessions he sets a high international standard for his age. “I just completed a 27 kilometre paddle race beating paddlers 20 years my junior,” says Rob. “Now 60 and looking back at 40-plus years dedicated to surfing – seeing that I abandoned a naval career my father had set his heart on for me; considering the jail term that I served as an arguably direct result of the economically barren years in the back of a van in Mexico and California, a station wagon in Australia and under the stairs of a villa falling down a cliff on the Chemin des Falaises in Guethary – I suppose I should harbour some regrets. A surfer will know that I do not. Joseph Campbell, in one of a series of interviews made shortly before his death, declared – ‘Ah, fortunate is the one who finds his Bliss.’ It’s an odd phrase but that is what surfing has been (and remains) for me. And I feel fortunate indeed.”


Los Hombres se vienen, El hombre se va, en la carreterra

(In other words – in the desert – The sun comes up; The sun goes down.) Just a few more shots. I’ve got anything you have sent before today which is  Tuesday March 27th. I’m 66 in four days. Please send money. PO Box 82, Dunwich, 4183. It’ll be forwarded to the secret desert hideaway. […]


Cactus – Day 7 – by Rob Ward

In a reflective mood This is a toilet – 2 trunkated telegraph poles support the roof structure, they and all the interior fitting are secured to a concrete floor and the cement and sandstone boulders lead in a spiral to a well ventilated flushing loo. Ron says the (?8) loos with their running water, piped […]


Cactus Day 3 – by Rob Ward

This is a bit of a blow. Even under the awning you can (just?) see in the foto below, the light is way too bright for me to see anything on MAC’s screen. So I can’t write standing at the table I made from a panel of Carbon/foam/laminex (Formica), or sit with MAC resting on the little fridge freezer I have on loan. So I’m reclined with MAC on my knees and my head jammed on the walls of the sleeping box on the ute. (The white bit, obviously).

Camp (Castles surf break just over dune) habitation of the Camel Driver, the Painted Dragon and the Honey Eater – the Camel Drivers 2 best mates (read on…) unless you already did. NB Solar panels calculated to spit out photovoltaic energy. Crafty.

Let me tell you about my new best friends: The first and most hilarious is not called a Painted Dragon. There IS a lizard here that IS called that. But the one I’d call a Painted Dragon is called here a Gecko, which it most certainly isn’t. To know why this little guy is my new best friend (number 1) you’d have to know those whom I designate mine enemies. Everyone in England knows what a horsefly is. They’re big bumbling f###ers… we used to shoot them with the elastic garters that held our socks up at the school where the man used to beat me with a stick. They used to breed in the hot tin-roofed classrooms or under the floors or somewhere. But they blackened the windows. Alive and dead. Here they are called March Flies and someone recently announced a theory that were properly called Marsh Flies. Well, this is the Desert, the edge of the Nullarbor Plain. (That means no bloody trees, sport…) And these things have gone forth and multiplied. (You get Biblical in the desert). So I think we can dismiss that radical take on the etymology of March Fly. Since one is covered in flies here from sun-up to sun-down and equally, as the hoi polloi are wont to say in the UK, from “arsehole to breakfast time” – which I suppose to mean, “all over” – the March flies come at you under good cover. And these ones here bite twice as hard as the Queensland March flies, PLUS! they are half the size. So you’ll be walking along trying not to be a woos, lagged in flies like a dinky-di, outback, mule-skinning kind of Ozzie or imagining yourself in one of those pictures you see of bee-trainers (you know the ones where they have a bee “hat” on) and suddenly your composure is shot to buggery by a stabbing pain in – some place on your delicate skin located between your ******** & b’fast time. You look at the afflicted part and sure enough, there is a drop of your very own red, red blude as if you’ve just been donating it of your own free will to the doctor (to check that your AIDS has not come back) or the clinic that collects it for people who need it. Far from it, it has been removed against your will, painfully, in order that this spawn of Beelzebub can go forth (and here’s the irony…) multiply Biblically. Indeed, in plague proportions. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Pharaoh was in these parts before he started afflicting the Jews and that he seriously pissed God off.

Enter the Lizard that should be called the Painted Dragon. He should be called that,

Because it’s a great name and he deserves to be called by a great name
Because his back is a beautiful scaly skin tapestry that is expressly designed to strike dumb your average word-smith. Oh alright! it’s a lace-work of black separating fractal patterns of reddish-ochre split into two broadly parallel lines each about 6mm wide in between a cool mint green patterning tending toward a lemon belly. Of course the overall effect if you don’t get up-close and personal is a light sandy brown. But don’t be fooled. This is the Painted Dragon.

And here’s his trick… it’s amazing and it’s what makes him my best mate. I’m cooking standing at my table. Along comes the March fly (by the way, you’ve noticed the month; just a hint to the radical etymologists (& entomologists) among us, he settles on your foot. And just as he is about to fork in his first mouthful of dinner you feel a delightful tickle on your ankle rather than a stabbing pain and your dragon has nailed him even as he drilled! But these guys are even more proactive than that. This morning I watched one jump a full 100 mm and pluck one out of the air! This may not sound like a great leap to a 1800mm high human being … but just try leaping 1800 mm straight up… these guys are just 100 mm long; probably 15 mm high.

Ron who owns the place these days was just by (we’re friends… I gave him money) and told me of a fellow who was here for a few weeks and became such good mates with one he wanted to take it home. That, of course is NOT ON. If everyone did that this place would be a writhing, knee deep carpet of March flies and there would be not a small number of emaciated once-human leathery near-corpses riddled with tiny blood-stains.

Best friend number 2 is a pretty, social bird with a tinge of green to his wings, a black eye-flash, a sweet unassuming song and a cunning ability to fly upside down into the tiny scrubby bushes here that look identical but actually constitute an eco-system of great diversity (if you get up-close etc…). They say that good art is a matter of ‘mis-direction’. So if this was good writing, you would have no idea at all why this pretty ‘Honey Eater’ (again, crassly mis-named) is my second, new best mate. And I’m not going to insult anyone’s intelligence by mentioning that, while it may seem silly for a bird to fly into a bush upside down, they do have a knack of coming out with their beaks bristling with legs and wings. But I’m not allowed by the conventions of good art to say what the legs and wings are hanging off…

Anyway, enough of legs and wings; let’s get onto cabbages and kings. There was swell when I got in 3 nights ago but I’d driven all day – only 560km, not the 900 of the day before that, so I parked somewhere and braced myself to “make a deal” with Ron, who wanted $10 a night, which is a lot for a toilet when a chap owns a shovel. Ron came round shortly before dark which is about 7:30; sunrise is about 7:30 too so I guess we can agree that Meridian Passage at this longitude and using the rather odd time conventions in South Australia must be about 1:30 pm. For the record, NSW is one hour ahead of Qld. SA is 30 minutes back from that. NSW claim somehow to be saving daylight, eh? I know I wrote that, but it doesn’t seem to me to mean anything believable. SA of course, is – well the way I drove – nearly 3000k further away from sunrise than Stradbroke Island. And, now that we know that the world is round (actually, of course, an oblate spheroid) and goes round the sun (actually, elliptically round the sun) we know that sunrise is something of a misnomer. But more serious than the error of all those phrases is the sad fact that I even felt I needed to know what time the sun did, or didn’t “come up”. I woke at “6:30” this morning in the dark. I actually went to bed at “7:30” before dark. But the thing is, which 7:30 did I got to bed with and by which did I arise? The phone picked up SA time back in Ceduna where there is coverage. The computer is on Qld time. But my body is going to have to come round to acquiescing to Cactus time. The, sun rises, the sun goes down. Ca y est! Yesterday I went on to the beach and with no sign of human company did my Salute the Sun. I felt no need to rush. And last night, when I had a stainless cup of red (just found the glasses) I felt no desire to finish the bottle. This is part of why I came here.

The day I arose and surfed Castles. Very badly. In fact rather as if I were the victim of a bit of Jesus healing. You will know the story. A Centurion came to Jesus and said unto him. I am a man of authority. I say to this man “Come!” and he cometh. I say to this man “Go” and he goeth. I recognise in you a man of authority. It is sufficient that you say the word and my servant will be healed. He’s a 66 year old in a wheel-chair and he says he wants to surf.

Jesus said to his disciples, “I say unto you, I have not seen such faith as this in all Judaea.” And to the Centurion he saith, “Return to your servant. Tell him to arise from his wheel-chair. He will surf”. Well, as it went, I rather took the view that Our Lord had overestimated his pull with Our Father who is in Heaven. I surfed, but I surfed as if I were still in a wheel chair. Fortunately, I was alone and I pray, unseen. Later in the day I wandered up to Caves which was firing and offshore. I had wanted a paddle and did not want to mix it with the locals of which there were 12. But Lo, when I went out there in the afternoon there was but one. And I passed a man upon the road who was not young (for he was at least 40) and he was afflicted by poor attitude. He said to me, “The wind is on it. It is wretched”, though when I thought upon that I knew that the man truly had said, “For it is Rat Shit.” Thinking this unbiblical I passed upon my way. Having returned to my dwelling I picked up my 6′ 3″ quad, and girding my loins (read: fighting my way into a full wetsuit for the second time in 10 years, yay it was an struggle and yay I did fall upon the ground as it were possessed by an demon and if he who passed by on the other side of the road in my hour of need because I was a Samaritan and therefore despised, he should have seen me writhing in mine effort later to get out of it in the shallows, for, verily, I did nearly drown.) Long story short, terrific head-high waves running 100M with one guy out. “Carrick”. Good nautical name: the “Carrick Bend”, a particularly complex knot; also the name of a Cornish Council which would be right. Dad has a 100′ boat in Indo chartering. Carrick, after 11 years in Indo now drives a tug in Thevenard up the way near Streaky Bay I think. He ripped, and – you know what? – the healing kicked in. (A prayer, travelling at the speed of light – the ultimate speed of the permeation of force in the Universe – it must therefore take a measurable period of time to get from Judaea to Heaven and back again, so fair-enough!) And verily I did rip too. Later joined by Simon who farmed 7000 Hectares and was waiting for the first rains upon the land that he might plant grain. Simon had been a shearer before his parents gifted him the farm. I said, By Jove, that must have given you a strong back! And he said that it did but that it was a young man’s game. I had taken a look at him and thought he was not only young but hard as nails and I said to him, “And how old are you?” And he replied that he was 37. I said, Verily, verily, you are indeed a poor old f#ck.

And we had a ball.

Later,

Rob

The sea and part of the Gawler Craton, the granite underlying the sedimentary sandstone and limestone on which the surf breaks and a piece of rock that has neither been been faulted nor folded in 1,450 million years and can therefore be supposed to be “as God intended”. Which I would apply to all of Cactus if God believed in me.

Camel driver seen on walk to Port Le Hunte (That really IS the name) That really isn’t a camel driver…


Johnny Fryer 2012 English Champion

English Surfing Championships 2012

At the 4th time of asking the English Surfing Championships hosted by Extreme Academy at Watergate Bay finally got under way. The storms that had lashed the South west during the week had left a residual dying swell. With this the contest Directors decided to complete the whole of the Mens and Ladies Open Event in just one day. This meant that each of the competitors who made the finals would have surfed 4 competitive heats in one day. This was not only a test of skill and prowess but fitness and stamina would be a deciding factor too.

With 2 -3ft surf rolling through Watergate Bay all day the finals got started in the early evening, Hannah Harding maintained her authority through the heat to take the Ladies English title, the battle for second was awarded to 14 year old Peony Knight, Gabi Rowe taking third and Rachael Taylor coming 4th.

The Men’s Final was an array of progressive surfing from all four surfers, each posting impressive scores, but it was the the consistency of goofy footed Johnny Fryer who attacked on his backhand bagging his second English National title.

The second day of competition generated much smaller conditions, The longboard semi finals took advantage of the clean 1.5ft waves but the organisers luck was beginning to run out. The Southerly wind began to veer to the North and with it the came worse surfing conditions. With no other option than to complete the competition, all five finals of the scheduled finals were held in abysmal 1ft onshore surf. This though, to the surfers in the Senior, Masters and Veteran categories meant they changed their boards to suit the conditions with most opting for super buoyant fish boards and working hard at generating any speed they could muster to get those vital manoeuvers completed.

The Ladies Longboard and with her first English title was won by Emillie Currie who throughout the day had impressed the Judges with her forays to the nose. The Mens Longboard was won by Ben Howarth whose hard work and combination of nose riding and driving down the line in such poor conditions gave him his first English title too.

The English Surfing Federation is a volunteer organisation and would like to acknowledge the support of; Extreme Acadmey, Sharps Brewery, Snugg Wetsuits, Zumbatastic Newquay, Mindless Longboards, Bagabond, SurfingGB, Cornwall College Surf Science Faculty and UK Pro Surf Tour

Results

Mens Open; 1. Johnny Fryer 2. Sam Lamiroy 3. Richie Mullins 4. Gordon Fontaine

Ladies Open; 1. Hannah Harding 2. Peony Knight 3. Gabi Rowe 4. Rachael Taylor

Mens Longboard; 1. Ben Howarth 2. Ben Skinner 3. Adam Griffiths 4. Angus Murray

Ladies Longboard; 1. Emillie Currie 2. Ashleigh Bennetts 3. Nicola Bunt 4. Rebecca Stanhope

Senior; 1. Lee Bartlett 2. Felix Dixon 2. Richie Mullins 4. Gareth Llewellyn

Masters; 1. Martin Connelly 2. Lee Bartlett 3. Chris Harris 4. Paul Barrington

Veterans; 1. Tony Good 2. Andy Sturt 3. Roger Knight 4. Matt Knight 5. Anthony Weight


Al Reed gains 3rd at Woolacombe

Apologies to Al for the lateness of this article. April saw the first in the series of the British Longboard events held in very tricky conditions down at Marine Drive, Woolacombe. With howling onshore winds and rain the contest started with 2-3ft waves but as the wind got stronger the waves gor really messed up. On the Sunday the wind dropped a little cleaning the waves up a bit. I spoke to Al after the evnt and he said ‘it was well windy but pretty fun. I won all my quater and semi heats but when it came to the final I just couldn’t find the waves, only got two in the whole heat and it wasn’t enough for a win this time. I’m gonna get into some training I think as that Matt Thomas is a gurt triathelete and I’m gonna need to be as fit as possible to beat him! Got some 8 point scores for the big roundhouse cutback in the photo sequence. that was in the earlier round though, could have done with it in the final.’


On the road to Cactus with Rob Ward

I’m alive and nobody is more surprised and happy than I am. I’ll only mention one (out of many) reason: Road Trains. Any Australian who has driven outback knows what a Road Train is. Think very big semi-trailer with another one or two stuck on the back. You’ve got the hang of driving fantastically fast, gradually, over the course of five days. The legal limit is 110kph. You’ll be overtaken frequently if you drive at 120. But trucks, “lorries” (UK Speak) more or less confine themselves to the limit. There are now average-speed cameras. Truckies have always known where the cops are and where the cameras are. But this device has them beat, for their own good, sure! It automatically identifies vehicles over 4.5 tonnes weight – that is, NOT a van – and calculates the driver’s average speed over, what? 100 kilometers? So, no good speeding up between cameras. This means for the common ute/pickup voyager that, sooner or later, you will find yourself overtaking a road train. The roads are good. Straight and flat and my fotos give little impression of the fact that you can see to a 30k horizon and sometimes get a hint of further if the terrain permits it. You can on the larger version but I couldn’t send them.) The engineers were Romans. A road train coming towards you usually appears as a water tower in the distance. You’re seeing the white fibreglass wind streamliner that leads the air blast up and over the one-story-high trailers behind the prime mover. The body of the prime mover is hidden in the road’s “mirage effect” at a certain distance. Gradually it begins to make itself visible. First it gets two black legs then it forms itself into a recognisable object and then you start preparing yourself to stay real nice and steady on your side of the road. Of course, if you did do a head-on with one it would be over very quickly and with little damage, including psychological, to the road train or driver. Your engine would pass out through the back of your treasured transport/home with you a hard to-identify something in between One of the many little games you play over these great distances is to start counting the seconds from first sighting to the passage of the vehicle. Then you start trying to work out how far away it was when you first saw it. I found about 30 seconds was common. So, closing at about 220kph, you saw it about 2k up the track.

Anyway, passing an approaching road train is a thrilling but only a brief flirtation with death – the road is just wide enough for two of them to pass each other without going for a wander. Overtaking takes more planning. I overtook 2 in the past 2,300k which I concluded last evening here in Port Augusta. (About 560k to go… that has worked out about 400k further than I expected.) The last one was a bit of a worry. I came up behind it and stayed well back. The first one was a gentleman and perhaps realising how nervous I was, eventually gave his indicators a little flash to say – well, I don’t know what in truckie speak? “OK buddy you can f###ing GO now!” The second, on the 200k dead-straight stretch coming out of Broken Hill troubled me. He had to negociate an approaching Road Train himself while I was behind and he put himself half a metre onto the gravel shoulder. The entire back half, with some 32 wheels whose tyres cost about $1000 each (nothing like my friend who has a gold mine in the Klondike who pays for his earth moving gear $20,000 per tyre – second-hand!) well, the entire back half of the road train was drifting as if to overtake the first half. The driver pulled this off a couple of times and I can’t say if he was alarmed or not. I would guess not. He was down to about 100 and I had, days earlier shocked myself by realising that I had gone up to 130 on overtaking. So I got set to go. No worries about oncoming traffic – the road is empty to the horizon. So you take to the ‘wrong side of the road’ and go. To keep your wheels on the tarmac you have about 300m to your right and – for safety’s sake – about 500-1000mm on your left. It is like driving down a city block in height and extent and the sky does go dark. This is when you really hope the driver next to you does not go skateboarding on the gravel. Actually fear only comes into it before and after. At the time surgical concentration is the mode. Phew, my heart is racing just thinking about it. Hey, if you’ve got a Volvo or a great powerful 4WD that’s another thing. You go fast and steady and you’re by in quite a long! moment. But when you’re navigating your home, 3 surfboards, and a box with enough weight in it on the roof to need a lot of air in your rear tyres to keep them round… different story.

Anyway, let’s get off dicing with death and onto dealing it out: road kill. When I drove with the ex-wife and Jonno to NW Queensland, out past Longreach to Carisbrooke station 3 years ago, there was so much road kill you could go the whole way stepping from one dead animal to the next. Nearly all Kangaroos. Wedge-tail eagles more or less set up shop in groups of 20 or 30. Chatting as they gorged. For some reason, the roads were largely clear of road kill down here, farther south. In the first 1,500k I counted just 2, albeit fat, wallabies or small kangaroos… not sure which. Bit of a mess. I have not seen a single living one in 2,400k. (Had they all gone north and been run over?) However, and this surprised me, I counted no less than six dead European foxes. You’d think they’d be smarter having survived being imported expressly to be hunted. (What did Oscar Wilde say in reference to fox hunting? “The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible”). Just as I was giving up on wildlife in general, I saw a flock of emus, with their lovely brown tail feather drooping quite delicately. Had they been fluffier and a little more erect I could have mistaken them for Ostriches, which my two English surfing friends & I often saw when we cycled along the Garden Route some 1000k to Cape Town. Hmmm, funny how these adventures occur at the end of a relationship! Still, this time round I am not waking every morning miserable. Au contraire!

Of course, I wrote this as I drove, in my head. Or rather, this is precisely NOT what I wrote in my head as I drove. I surrender abjectly before the task of putting into a few paragraphs an impression of the really big bigness of the outback. And that is the impression when driving, almost flying, over it. God knows what the single cyclist I passed was thinking! He shamed me. I had been having thoughts like, “Oh F###. If the beast breaks down, I’m done out here.” Not dead, but I have no money for a tow and, pray tell me, what does a 100k tow cost? Then the repairs? I’d say to myself, Look, it’s done 181,000k There’s every chance it’ll do another 5 or 6, no? The outback passes your eyes hour after hour, day after day. But I should remark that this particular version of the outback trip has been beautiful, rather than bleak and desiccated. At no time was there not water standing somewhere. Thousands upon thousands of square kilometres passed with green as far as the eye could see. Indeed, it only got a little dry as I drove into South Australia yesterday, within 50k of the Spencer Gulf. I passed a farm at Wilmington some 20k from the gulf waters where some Charolais cattle were feeding on hay. I drove past millions of hectares of green without a domestic animal upon any one of them. I was shocked to come upon the actual Darling River in full flood. The colour of Rudyard Kipling’s “Great grey-green greasy Limpopo river”. That’d be the one that tells how the elephant got his trunk, if memory serves. In fact, leaving Gilgandra, at a petrol station, a Kiwi (the national, not the bird) told me that, seeing the surfboards on my roof, he’d guess I was heading to South Australia. I said I was. He told me that a bridge was down past Broken Hill which meant I would be unable to drive directly to Port Augusta, but would have to take a 400k detour via Mildura. Looking at the map I was almost tempted to head directly down that way and perhaps save a couple hundred klicks. As I was driving away it hit me how much pleasure he had in imparting that (bad) news. Schadenfreude is alive and well in the breast of the feral Kiwi. A couple hundred k up the road – I had decided to go the Broken Hill road as it was so straight and good and resigned myself to the long detour – I pulled in for a coffee. A fat girl (the girls are fat, the men are rake-thin outback. Strong arms but no bums, no idea why) a fat girls told me that No, the South Australian engineers were way better than the NSW ones gave them credit for. They had filled the then flooded, now dry, creek and built a road around the bridge. They just didn’t understand, she said, how quickly it floods and how quickly it dries round here. No more the feral Kiwi. The busted bridge was at a small settlement called Cockburn. The locals, (and what gives me any right to bicker?) pronounce the name not as the Scots and English, nor for that matter the Actor, James Co’burn, who chopped out the offending consonants. They pronounce it more as a male venereal complaint. The bridge hardly merited the description. (Of ‘bridge’, I mean of course…) A couple of concrete slabs set up like dominoes both horizontally and vertically which was no match for 2M of rushing mud. But the staunch SA engineers had filled it and faired it and we all drove round the bridge in a cloud of red-brown dust and with nary a care. But still a tad worried about the pronunciation. I did cry something lusty and rude to the Kiwi.

I won’t do the travel guide here but I have to thank Danika for the tip to take the Waterfall Way across the Great Dividing Range. Although the last 5 k uphill to the point where the rivers change direction tried the beast mortally in second and third gears. I realised then how loaded she is. When I took the foto of the tiny Newell falls she was pissing water and coolant all over the road as the radiator boiled fit to blow. After that, brave thing, she has run cool – even at 130kph. Phew. If I can attach it, the picture of the Ebor Falls, does no justice to it. Or the dodgey viewing platform that tenuously held the nervous writer above a 200M drop. Note the camera shake.

Oh just one pleasing note: I knew I was in the outback when truckies started to raise the hand to salute you. There is that sense of being “out there together”. The salute takes a number of different forms from different types of driver. The Common Trucky salute is the right index finger raised (print toward you). It is the Parisian demand for service too: “Service! Garcon…” I found mine was more along the lines of the night owl’s pinion feathers. The left hand, fingers slightly spread in a spiral. (In the bird it works to maintain laminar flow and avoid (noisy, hence warning the about to be dead rabbit) detachment of air as the wing terminates. You know how a pigeon’s wing whistles?) I don’t think mine was so functional but it did serve to express the pleasure I felt in being recognised as being fully “out there”. In all senses. Women were ambivalent about waving but when they did it was frequently the “High Four”. The thumb remained attached to the wheel for very good reasons. I never saw a child in a car. Perhaps they were all in the back working over an XBox 360. Or watching a video. God, speaking of toys! I saw huge rolling homes that actually towed a CAR behind! And I worried about (and finally had to concede I could not bring) my mountain bike.

Last night I took a sleep in a Motel run by a Sikh called Gorinda, here in Port Augusta. Charged the MAC, the camera and the phone. Spoke to Danika who may have been cooking for Sam. I was too amazed to catch her to take it in. Every other night has been by the side of the road in the bush. I got my guitar out at Tamworth in honour of the coming Country Music Festival. I had a good coffee and charming service (made to feel reelly welcome) in Gilgandra at the Jolly Cauli. The six foot transvestite who ran the business proved that hospitality trumps gender perceptions, for me anyway – hands-down. She was not exactly Priscilla Queen of the Desert, nor was she the Lebanese one who gave Danika her lift up this way all those year ago. But the tradition is strong. In Willcania, next to the Darling river, a nice Country Women’s Association type gave me coffee and a home-made cake. The shop was called the Elliott sisters. When I enquired about the sepia print of two very beautiful young women – although the adjective ‘handsome’ contends with ‘beautiful’, she told me they were the original sisters. She told me this story. The older sister Isabel had been engaged to a local farmer for 18 years. One day she took her courage in both hands and said,

“Fred, have you thought about marriage?”

He replied,

“Yes, but who’d have us?”

And on that bombshell, Luvya,

Rob


Future of my life – Rob Ward

When I was in Simonstown Naval Dockyard with HMS Jaguar (in South Africa) I had made friends with a young fellow on a Naval replenishment vessel. We’d met, so to speak, in the Mozambique Channel, during a RAS (“Replenishment at Sea”).

He and I decided one afternoon and evening to climb Simonsberg, the small mountain back of the dockyard. Going up was exciting. Pulling up onto a ledge we came eyeball to eyeball with a Cape cobra, which fortunately was not too pissed off. Going down was really quite dangerous for a couple of reasons. One, it was getting dark, so we were hurrying. And we had not taken note of a deep quarry which stood in our way down. There was a 100′ drop made by the excavation. We only became aware of it in the fading light from very close to the edge. So we were not too late to skirt it. The other thing that didn’t seem too much of a worry was a load of barking and screaming that was going on around us. We had no idea what it was. Obviously some bloody wild life.

We got to the dockyard a while after dark quite thrilled with the whole adventure, indeed with a small sense of achievement. When we came to the gates of the dockyard we had to identify ourselves to a dockyard policeman. These guys were Afrikaaners. Very big. But, if you’re not giving them a hassle (more on that in a sentence or two) they are personable and a source of much good information when your ear has cut through the thick accent. So he asked what we’d been up to and we told him. He said – can you do an Afrikaans accent? Well here’s your chance to try…

“Now you fellows been bloody lucky. You walked through a pack of baboons. And I want to tell you a little story about those boys. Last year, after they had been breaking into the food store in the radio station at the top of the mountain there for a while, one of our men was doing a patrol with his Alsation. He happened to catch the mob inside the foodstore and let the dog off his lead. The dog caught a small one and killed it. The biggest baboon called off the pack. He screamed at them and they all came out of the store. Then he carried on barking and screaming for a bit. Then the entire pack went in, surrounded the dog and tore it to pieces. I tell you man… you don’t want to piss them off!”

Point taken buddy. I wonder what happened to the policeman. He then went on to give us a little advice on the scorpion we had caught and put in our sandwich box. It was large and had black pincers and a black sting about the size of the last section of your little finger.

“That one is the most poisonous one in South Africa. It will kill you if you’re not very lucky. Put it somewhere safe!”.

I was thinking of my divisional officer’s bed. He was a bastard to me.

Anyway a week or two later -I had by now bought a surfboard – £30, a months salary, and a bit brown: a “Sunsurf” – and I had started surfing. I was at a drinks function in the dockyard and there was a guy there whom I knew surfed. He was shorter than us but fit and with regulation blonde hair. Not long; he was a conscript as Whites had all to do National Service in those days. He also had his right arm in a plaster cast to the elbow. I asked him what had happened and he told me. I’m glad you’ve been practising your Yarpy accent because here it comes again.

“See, ma brruther, I come back late from drinking and I was clahmbing the wall back into the dockyard when this big O comes up to me to arrest me. Well, Ah had enough punishment this month and ah was trying to reason with him but he pulls aht these bangles. He’s goin to cuff me, see? Now, ah don’t mind bangles but these were chromium bangles and – see ah was pretty drunk – and ah just couldn’t consent to the chromium bangles, so ah hit him. Trouble was, he ducked and ah caught him on his forehead and broke three bones in my hand. Now ah’m confined to the base for a month and the surf ‘s really good at Muisenberg this week! Ah’m just gled he didn’t murra me.”

I don’t have to tell you, I’d learned enough about surfing (that it was the future of my life… not the Navy!) to sympathise with him most sincerely, taking no account whatsoever of the cultural gulf that yawned between us.


WSH Jubilee Party

What an incredible night, a great performance from Sam Scadgell (even though he was suffering with a cold and had rushed back from cricket in Ryde), Black House Crow were stunning (looking forward to seeing much more of you guys in the future). The Shutes, what can I say apart from AMAZING. I still can’t […]