Surfing in Australia
Surfing in Australia
Surf culture has been an important part of the Australian identity for over a century.
The influence of surfing can be seen in many of the films, music recordings and newsreels in the NFSA collection.
From clean-cut surf lifesavers in 1920s newsreels, to the psychedelic adventures of Captain Goodvibes in the 1970s, Australia’s fascination with surfing continues to influence popular culture well into the 21st century.
A newsreel featuring the female lifesavers that patrolled Terrigal beach from 1942 to 1945, during the Second World War.
Shot at the famous Bondi Beach, the film reflects on the prominence of beach culture in Australia.
A cartoon adventure featuring Captain Goodvibes, the pig of steel, and his sidekick Astro. You can watch Hot to Trot here in its entirety.
Summary by Paul Byrnes
Interviews with the first woman surfer Isabel Letham, who tells how she first got on a surfboard in 1914, and Graham Cassidy, then president of the Australian Professional Surfing Association.
Summary by Susan Lambert
'Ma’ Bendall tells us how she was one of the first women to take up surfing when she was over 50 years old. She tells her story over wonderful 1960s black-and-white footage of her surfing.
Summary by Susan Lambert
Professional Australian surfing legend Pam Burridge talks about how she got into the sport, winning her first surfing competition at twelve years old.
Summary by Susan Lambert
The summer of 1963-64 saw a brief flowering of Australian surf music. Inspired by the songs of Jan and Dean and The Beach Boys as well as the reverbed guitar instrumentals of bands like the Shadows, Bombora was the big hit of Australian surf music, hitting No. 1 in September 1963 and opening the way for six months of surf‘n’stomp. The Atlantics were the only Australian surf band to achieve international success. By early 1964, The Beatles were No. 1 in Australia and surf music was replaced by the British Invasion.
Surfing may well be a quintessential Aussie pastime but who introduced us to the modern-day art of boardriding?
Warren Brown gets the lowdown from former world champion surfer Midget Farrelly. He tells the story of Duke Kahanamoku, a champion Hawaiian swimmer, who showed Australians how to ride a wave at Sydney’s Freshwater Beach in 1914, using a board he built himself from a lump of local timber.
Huge, heavy and completely finless, the first Australian surfboard has pride of place in the local surf club.
Investigating National Treasures with Warren Brown is also available for purchase from the NFSA Online Shop.
After a great day surfing with his friend Richie West, George Greenough goes back to work on his boat, a 37-foot hull on which he is building his own cabin. He explains his philosophy of surfing, and his need for isolation on the waves.
At Bondi Beach, the Queen observes an Australian surf carnival, a gathering of teams from surf clubs around the country and New Zealand, all wearing the traditional neck-to-knee surfing costume that was required just after the turn of the century, when Australian surf clubs began.
After the traditional march past, the lifesavers take to the water to give a demonstration of rescue techniques, using both hollow surfboards and surfboats, but the heavy seas play havoc with their plans.
Notes by Beth Taylor
Echoes is a 23-minute film within the film, composed entirely of George Greenough’s footage from inside the curl of the wave – the legendary 'green room’. The camera, with specially designed wide-angle lens, was usually mounted on his back, or on the front of his kneeboard.
A short newsreel item from 1963, outlining police efforts to curb gang violence between outer suburban ‘rockers’ and surfers at Manly beach.
The first Australian surf hit was the instrumental 'Surfside’ from The Denvermen, entering the charts in January 1963 and reaching No. 1 in the Sydney Top 40. It had the required Fender lead electric guitar sound, cleverly recorded with a tape echo machine timed to the rhythm of the tune. This was the first instrumental single for The Denvermen who had previously been Digger Revell’s backing band. The Denvermen had an advantage over most of the other bands in the Sydney region, as the father of the band’s lead guitarist, Les Green, worked for one of the big music stores in central Sydney. This meant the band had access to the latest guitars, amps and PA equipment to produce the favoured sound of the time. 'Surfside’ had a catchy enough melody that it was recycled a few months later for 'I Watch The Surf’ by singer Darryl Stewart.
A lifeguard watches over Bondi Beach in a scene from Bondi Rescue Series 1 (2006).
Each weekend during the summer months as many as 40,000 people can be attracted to Australia’s most popular surfing beach, Bondi. The lifeguards patrol the beach and rescue people caught in rips, apply ice to severe bluebottle stings or help to find lost children.
The series came about when producer and former lifeguard Ben Davies was able to persuade his ex-colleagues that a series showing how they work would be a great information tool for beachgoers. Executive producer Michael Cordell was quick to see that the series would have its own in-built drama and each week the lifeguards pit themselves against the elements to keep people safe and go head to head against each other in feats of daring in order to keep themselves in peak form.
Surf Patrol shows the work of volunteer life-savers in the 1950s, patrolling Australia's dangerous surf beaches.
Narrated by David Wenham, this clip explores significant landmarks in the history of the interaction between Australian culture and the beach.
This clip includes a Simon Townsend's Wonder World! music video for Australian pro surfer Pam Burridge, who recorded a single to raise funds to compete at major tournaments. This was during a time when the women's professional surfing league was in its infancy and competitors struggled for a piece of the sponsorship pie.
Aside from its progressive current affairs story format for kids, Simon Townsend's Wonder World! was also known for music videos. Wonder World! was often the first show to play new release pop clips and even filmed a music video for INXS's first single, 'Simple Simon'.
While production values for these in-house music clips were low, they were consistent with the program's homespun and unpretentious tone. This segment is a good example of their do-it-yourself approach to music videos and the end result looks like a lot of fun.
Patricia (Little Pattie) Thelma Thompson (née Amphlett) OAM (born 1949), is an Australian singer whose debut single with The Statesmen, ‘He's My Blonde-Headed, Stompie Wompie, Real Gone Surfer Boy’, reached No. 2 on the Sydney charts and No. 19 on the national Kent Music Report.
The surf pop song was released as a double-A side with ‘Stompin' at Maroubra’, both co-written by Jay Justin and Joe Halford. The songs were part of the short-lived dance craze known as 'The Stomp'.
The single was released by EMI on the HMV label when Little Pattie was 14 years old, having already appeared on the Opportunity Knocks TV series and been a regular performer at the Bronte Surf Club as the lead singer of The Statesmen.
Little Pattie continued to have chart success throughout the 1960s. She regularly appeared on TV variety programs, toured supporting Col Joye and the Joy Boys and entertained troops during the Vietnam War.
In the 1970s she expanded her repertoire, releasing country music with Festival Records and performing swing and jazz songs. In addition to her recording and performance career, she has been a vocal coach and active unionist in the entertainment industry.
Cover image: Little Pattie album cover. NFSA title: 581495.
A newsreel segment about a 1920 surf carnival in Newcastle. 300 members of leading Sydney Surf Clubs compete in an annual surf carnival. Footage includes a march past by lifesavers, club novelty events, men surfing and a surf rescue boat.
For Newcastle, as for many towns and cities along the Australian coastline, the ocean serves as a means of transport for people and commerce but also as a place of recreation. In this clip from a 1920 newsreel, members of Sydney surf lifesaving clubs are in Newcastle participating in the annual surf carnival. We see teams participating in the March Past and in novelty events, and riding surf boards. The Surf Bathing Association of NSW was officially launched in 1907 and ‘clubbies’ are an iconic sight on Australian beaches during the summer.
Commentator John Moyes explains that men are making surfboards out of plywood. A line of surfers carry their boards down to the shore and paddle out towards the breakers. The camera follows their path, capturing them from just in front of the waves. A man who has been hit by a surfboard is rescued by the lifesavers on duty and carried ashore. The clip ends with a shot of the surfers in the afternoon sun.
Summary by Poppy De Souza
Beautiful blues and vibrant greens fly by as Tim Bonython navigates Bali in search of the ideal waves to glide along.
Bonython has been an avid documenter of surf-related footage as a cinematographer, director and producer since 1978. He also established the Australian Surf Movie Festival.
The NFSA holds 100 of his films, mostly home movies.
This image is a still from the film Bondi Tsunami (2003) - the first Japanese surfing road movie in Australia. The film follows four characters Shark, Yuto, Kimiko and Gunja man, as they travel up the east coast of Australia in a 1961 EK Holden Special, visiting beautiful beaches, vast landscapes and some of Australia's surreal tourist attractions.