April 9 - 22, 2017: Issue 308

The Beachcombers Surfboard Riding Club

Palm Beach, NSW - 1959 to 1961

This is getting towards the time when the Beachcombers started.

This began when Johnny Hawke’s Beach Buffet was on the southern part of the dressing sheds. Upstairs was where the food was sold; pies and hot dogs, that sort of stuff. What he sold the most of was that Golden Circle Pineapple juice. He was onto a great thing there; people used to visit Palm Beach in the thousands on the weekends.

There was Howlett’s store where the bus terminates and then John Dunne’s, who had the Cock and Bull, came along later. That was next to Howlett’s.
Johnny Hawke used to sell a pie for 1 and sixpence; the profit he must have made would have been enormous. The juice sold like hotcakes.
Downstairs they’d originally tried to sell souvenirs but it just didn’t work. He said to us one day, ‘look, we’ve got this spot downstairs, you guys can have it.’ – to use to put our boards in. I used to carry mine back to the Golf Club and they were bloody heavy then.

My first board was a balsa board, and then the foam board revolution came in. I remember working at Johnny Hawke’s and saving up all this money for a board – he used to give me one pound a day, which was a fair bit but I would work from six in the morning until six at night. Dad held that old principle where if you wanted something you earned it and saved your money up to buy it.

So I’d be there working my guts out serving hundreds and hundreds of people while all my mates were surfing. And of course that view from where we served looked right down the beach from over the dressing sheds.

This became the place where the gang gathered. For my first board I’d wanted a Scott Dillon board and had saved up £28 and knew the type I was getting. Dad said, along with a mate of his, that I was wasting my money. I remember dad bringing this board in, to which I said, ‘dad, that board is a joke, I don’t want that’. 

Dad said he’d already paid for it, it’s £12 – so I was pretty annoyed, I wanted a Scott Dillon board, they were the go. At any rate I ended up with this Beale as my first board, which was a balsa board and it just didn’t suit me – I was the laughing stock of the beach. It was really heavy at the back, the nose was that paper thin I thought it would snap off. My fears were realised when it did.

At any rate, this nice little piece of real estate was given to our gang to use in 1959. We’d keep our boards there. Prior to that, if we didn’t take them home, we’d leave them behind the Palladium. No one knocked them off.

The Palladium circa 1950

Some original Beachcombers Surfboard Riders Club Palm Beach NSW 1961 near the present day dressing sheds. Note Johnny Hawkes Beach Buffet in the background washed away in king tides. The Beachcomber’s Club was underneath the Beach Buffet. Back row – Ken ‘The Blue Streak’ Mackey, John ‘Pine’ Prosser, Richard Parkinson. 
Front – John ‘Olly’ Oliver, Ron Turton, Johnny McIlroy (with hat on)Pearl Turton, Glenys Pearson, John ‘Beaver’ Gonsalves, Ronnie Berczelley (smoking!)and Laci ‘Hompus Stompus’ Berczelley. Note the jackets with the initials on them. ‘Cooky’ Burnes style from 77 Sunset Strip! photo- Ron Turton.

Standing: John ‘Pine’ Prosser waxing board, Rodney ‘Rouge’ Harris
Sitting – Steve Campbell (blond child) Leigh Campbell (with hand on head) Lee ‘Bombie’ Beacham (white jacket), Alan Ward (guy talking to), Rodney Campbell (white jumper) and Laci ‘Hompus Stompus’ Berczelly (smoking). 
The gentleman in background looking like he’s doing The Stomp is Tony Bradley.
Check out Col Brown’s famous Ford Twin Single Spinner it went on many a surfing safari. Picture taken at Palm Beach dressing sheds. South Palm Beach in the background the washed away Beach Buffet and Beachcomber’s club. Photo - Ron Turton.

What a spot, looking straight out over the ocean. The name of this place became ‘The Beachcombers’ but I was a club in name only. We didn’t register it, we didn’t take membership, no minutes or anything like that.

Our claim to fame was though that we were the first surfboard riding club in Australia, until proven otherwise. If you look at the Surfing Australia: a Complete History of Surfboard Riding in Australia (2012), that Phil Jarratt put together, he sort of acknowledges that. There were these others from South Bondi who put forward a similar claim but I ask you – where was South Bondi ?!– here we were in this little part of Australia called ‘Palm Beach’!
We were the centre of the universe! Nothing else existed!

We never copied anyone – anything we did down there was from our own skills and thoughts. It was decided we’d call this club ‘the Beachcombers Surfboard Riding Club’ and a photo was taken, which I’ve sent to you, which has been in every single book about the peninsula; half of them haven’t even got captions under it. I still have the negative of this.

Who took the photo?
We think it was Alex McTaggart and we think this because he wasn’t in it. We know he was there - his brother is in the photo.
There has been a lot of argument as to who took it. One day Pearl and I were going through these old surfing magazines we had and in an envelope among these we found the negative.
Alex says he only knew a few people in the photo – his brother, Johnny Oliver and Frank Gonsalves, but I’m pretty sure it’s him that took it.

The first Australian surf board riding club – the ‘Beachcombers Surfboard Riding Club’ of Palm Beach NSW and their boards 1959. 
Seated (left to right) – John ‘Olly’ Oliver, John ‘Johnny Mac’ McIlroy(drinking soup),  Ron Turton, Neridah Wright, Joy Gassman, Billy McTaggart, John ‘Pine Apple’ Prosser. 
Back (left to right) unknown, John Pullenger, John Dunn, Peter Dever, Frank ‘Speedy’ Gonsalves. (photo Ron Turton).

The most interesting part about all that is, and there were two generations together in there; the older blokes who were around two years older than I, and I tell you when you’re 14 someone who is 16 seems really mature, us younger ones, Johnny McIlroy, Johnny Prosser, Laci Berczelley and me decided we should have a jacket. 

What you have to remember about those days is there was all this guff about the surfers and the rockers and how we were trouble – the clubbies and the surfers did not get on. There were a lot of problems there for a few years; the Surfers and the Rockers and the Widgies and Bodgies, there was this thing about Surfers being layabouts and we all smoked these foreign cigarettes – that was another thing.

These jackets were unbelievable – they were black and had white seams in plastic down the side and on the back was ‘Beachcombers, Palm Beach’.
There was a show called ‘77 Sunset Strip’ and a bloke called Cookie Burns who was always combing his hair backwards in a real Elvis Presley style. In the Archie comics all the blokes had their initials, like in the college style. 

We decided we’d have that too – I had a big R on the front, Ken Mackey had a big K – we were so cool!
We were half Surfer half Rocker – we loved all the Everly brothers music, Johnny O’Keefe etc., but we also loved surfing.

We ordered about a dozen of these jackets and we thought we were so, just, ‘cool man’. We couldn’t wait to wear them – we’d wear them down to Avalon and strut around – when I think back we must have looked like West Side Story, only of Palm Beach!

I’ll tell you one story that helped put Palmy on the map. One year when still at high school, 1960 this was, they used to have this big rugby league knock-out comp. It started at Keirle Park and all the finalists got to play at Brookvale oval, which was like playing at the Sydney Cricket Ground to us, that was like ‘wow!’.

One year the Narrabeen Boys High won the whole 8 stone knockout division and had to go to Brookvale. I was 7 and a half stone and thus a bit light for the 8 stone mob, but I was a winger and always the best runner in my age division at school. I remember when they had the mini-Olympics at Avalon I was stuck at Leichhardt; I was annoyed – I would have won the gold in the sprint races. I remember when I got back Mr. Archibald lined me up against those who had been the sprinting gold medallists and I had to look around when running the 100 to see where they were! That’s fair dinkum!
Anyway, that wasn’t meant to be.

In high school I remember I had to lose all this weight to get to 7 stone because Mr. Russo, who didn’t like me much, told me to go and play with the 7 stone team. I remember I ate a Sao biscuit and a cup of tea every day for a week, nearly killed me. I got down to 7 stone quick smart.

The 8 stone team won it and got through to the State finals and had to go into the big time, into town and the Sports Ground - the Sydney Cricket Ground was next door. I was thrown in as a Reserve because I’d won the 100 yard sprint and Mr. Russo wanted the best there. So for those two weeks leading in I ate like a horse and ended up at 8 stone. Laci Berczelley was in that team, as was Johnny McIlroy. 

Ron won these Manly Warringah Rugby League High School Carnival pennants while attending NBHS in the school's first two years 1959 and 1960.

We wore our Beachcomber jackets into Sydney. We wore these jackets walking from where you get off the bus, up George street, up Martin Place to Elizabeth street and then got the bus into the showground. There were all these people in from Nyngan and Tamworth for the State titles and these three dudes walking through the crowd with ‘Beachcombers, Palm Beach’ on their backs.

Did you ever run into Midget Farrelly while at Palm Beach?
Oh yeah. Bev and Pearl were friends, still are. When I was at High School, Beverlie’s father, Jack Carter was the Secretary Manager at Avalon Beach RSL. I knew Bev too, everyone knew each other.

I first met Midget unofficially while surfing. That cheeky little bugger Nat Young was around too. I got to know Midget well, as everyone did. I remember one rainy night when dad was still working at the Golf Club there was a bang, bang, bang on the door. I opened it and there was Midget in some yellow oilskin North Sea Fishermen outfit and his motor scooter. He came in ‘G’day Ron, Ross’ – we’d seen each other down the beach and all the surfers knew each other. We may have been a bit isolated at Palm Beach but we all knew each other were around – the North Av. Group, there were some at North Narrabeen and Dee Why, bloody good surfers too – North Avalon had Rodney ‘Gopher’ Sumpter and Michael ‘Little Dooley’ Mabbit, they were just superstars. Mick Dooley also lived at Avalon for a while there.

At any rate, Midget had come to see Pearl. Pearl was a great surfer too, she went on to win the Interstate Surfboard Riding Championships in 1963 at North Avalon, which was the forerunner to the Australian Championships.  

April, 1963 Interstate Surfboard Riding Championships The three Turton children Pearl ( Womens) , Ross (Juniors) and I (men's) surfed in this.

Ross and I baled him up; I was still pretty young then, still in my teens, - ‘what’s it like to do this?’ – surfing stuff. He was like a god to all of us, and this was years before he won the World Championship.
He put up with us for a while and then, ‘any chance of seeing Pearl?’
He was a good fellow; the respect he paid my mum and dad, he was just so polite.

Midget was basically a shy person then – you had Nat who was out there selling himself. You’d see Midget out there surfing on his own whereas Nat would be right in the thick of things.

I think Midget got annoyed with all the inaccuracies in stories run about him. I recall phoning him about three years before he passed to speak about the wedge fin, which he invented, and had been credited to someone else. He was fed up with it then, had been for years, mostly because these inaccuracies are recorded as truth and what really happens then gets lost. He had a thing about getting it right but had a sort of ‘the horse has bolted’ attitude when one after another story would come out, and they were still publishing stuff right up until him passing.

I remember in 2015 a Farrelly board was found up in the bush on a farm in rural New South Wales and I sent a picture to him asking him what year – ‘’69, an original’ was the answer, straight away. He knew his stuff and he was articulate. 

So Pearl was a champion?
She was the Australian Champion in 1963. Pearl was an all-round gymnast; she could run, she could do back flips, anything. I lent her my board one day and she just got up and rode it. I’ve written a story on Pearl – why don’t you run that?

We will!  What were the most memorable surfs or swells you remember while The Beachcombers Surfboard Riding Club was going?
There was one I remember that came in outside the Palm Beach Dressing Sheds in 1961 – it was a freak, ran for about an hour, this massive onshore break, and it was steep, about 12 foot. I’ve never seen since or before then. It just came out of the blue. Word got around pretty quickly, but we were there and everyone else came down – Midget even surfed with us, he wasn’t going to miss that wave. I was a goofy and it was a left-hand break and I saw this wave coming in, thought, ‘this is the wave of the day’ and got it, and bloody Gopher was paddling out and went to turn around and I said, well, you know; ‘go away, please’. I got it and turned around to go for it and then just heard this grunt, and out of the bloody tube came Midget – I didn’t even see him; I’d dropped in, but jeez, I dropped out very quickly!

In that last edition of Surfing World, they’ve got ‘Brushes with Midget’ and that wave with him on it is in it. They rang me up and asked me to send some stuff in.

Ron Turton Palm Beach NSW Winter 1959. One of the guys had an underwater camera and used to take pictures of marine life. I was on this wave near the dressing sheds and up he popped in front of me and took this fuzzy photo! Evasive action required on this 9 footer! 

Leone Power of Collaroy Beach NSW a great fan of the surf. Leone was Ron’s first girlfriend and became a sculptress in London. The surf reel stems from the times when Warringah Shore Council (W.S.C.) would issue these to each beach they were responsible for.

Which was your favourite board?
A Scott Dillon, a 9foot Mal. I got him to make the blank and got it back to my mate Richard Parkinson who also lived at Palm Beach with his parents. We glazed it, fibre glassed it and sanded it all back and made it real lightweight by only putting two layers of fibreglass on it. I designed my own fin – was always experimenting. 

Trish Samuels  (Patsy Lane)
by Trish Samuels
Pearl Turton and I grew up together at Palm Beach and we were both in the group called The Beachcombers back when we were all of 14 years in 1961. The Beachcomber Club was a little club we started operating from the main beach at Palm Beach in about 1960. It consisted of a small group of  local youngsters, average age 15  friends mainly from school. Our uniform was for winter a sort of bomber jacket and our hats were our cut down winter velour hats from our high school. The Beachcomber Club only lasted for a few years.

We would borrow the boys surf boards for the short time that they would let us ‘have a go’ on them. It was a great time and I guess we were in the infancy of surfing. I didn’t surf as Pearl did but just borrowed the boys boards (when I was allowed!) however, I have always lived near the sea or close to it and love being in it .

Part of this was surfing films at the theatre at Collaroy – good times. The surf films were shown at the Collaroy cinema and I know The Endless Summer,  the Bruce Brown movie was one of them.  One of the Witzig brothers used to make films also. I remember borrowing my brothers jumpers and his after shave (as perfume) to wear with jeans to the movies.
Photos and Anecdotes courtesy Ron Turton and Trish Samuels