Jack ‘Johnny’ Carter's Ashes returned to his Palm Beach home
Ceremony Held on Sunday February 26th 2023
Jack ‘Johnny’ Carter passed away on May 10th, 2021. A much beloved fixture of Palm Beach Summers, renowned for teaching generations of youngsters how to swim, John Edward Carter first came to Palm Beach to fulfil a role as a Beach Inspector as they were known then in 1946.
In a 2013 interview with Pittwater Online he said he worked from 7 in the morning until 7 in the evening for £5 a week.
Last weekend a ceremony and paddle out by Palm Beach SLSC, attended by Jack’s daughter Robey and her children, was preceded by the annual Jack Carter Cup, a challenge named for this revered Life Member of the surf club that comprises a 1.5 km swim, 6 km ski paddle (around Barrenjoey), a 2 km beach run and a 3 km board paddle. These can be done as an individual or as a team.
Following Robey stepping into her father’s shoes to hand out the prizes for 1st place getters in age divisions and teams; sunglasses - an inside joke, two of Jack’s closest mates at the club, Jon Erickson and Shane Oxenham, shared some insights of his 75 Summers at Palm Beach. His daughter Robey also spoke, laughingly recalling one of their last 'debates'.
Jack being returned to his spiritual home had been planned for an earlier date until Covid restrictions caused his daughter Robey to move the date so all who wished to could attend. Given the community outside of the club has long been big fans of Mr. Carter, the ceremony was open to all. For those who could not attend, a transcription of these shared stories runs below.
Jack teaching children to swim in 2013
PALM BEACH swimming instructor Johnnie Carter giving a lesson to six-year-old Jeffrey Persson, who is on holidays from school. Beach Holidays (1953, December 13). The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 - 1954), p. 25. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article248837815
MC for the Service was President of the Palm Beach SLSC Jeremy Black.
Jeremy Black, President of Palm Beach SLSC:
Thank you very much everyone for coming here today – as you can see Jack has turned on a fantastic Palmy day for us. It’s a bit emotional standing up here today – in my life, which has only been 45 years, I’ve never met anybody who has influenced the lives of so many people, not just influenced but helped shape a community.
Looking at everyone arriving today with all the children getting out of the cars, and knowing there are generations above that and even their grandparents, I think we may even have a great-grandparent here as well who was friends with Jack, it is just astounding that an individual like that existed and that we knew him and that we were lucky enough to call him our mate.
One of the great honours of my own life is to say that Jack Carter was my swimming teacher.
I wanted to share an anecdote, and there are thousands and thousands of these when we’re talking about Jack. For those who aren’t members, around 10 years ago we were running what we call a Surf Skills test where our new members who have been training really hard all Season paddle out on a board and it’s compulsory for them to catch a wave and hold onto their board as they come back in. If you don’t pass that then there is a good chance you will not make it into the club that year. So there’s a lot of pressure through that particular test. There was a couple of people who didn’t get through that day. They were drowning their sorrows up on the back lawn at the table, it was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and there were also a lot of Freshers who had made it through, so mixed emotions. Jack was in the kitchen cooking up what he liked to call ‘Mr. Healthy’, which was a combination of all sorts of food that went together and always smelt pretty good, and tasted bloody good too.
Jack came out and saw that one end of the table wasn’t happy. He said ‘why is this table so grumpy?’. We explained the story and he came over to me a little bit later and said ‘watch this Jeremy’. He came back out saying ‘where’s my teeth? Where’s my teeth?’. No one had any idea what he was talking about until there was a scream at one end of that table as Jack had quietly taken his teeth out and put it in the beer of one of the Freshers.
From that moment on the Freshers forgot that they’d failed the Surf Skills test and the party started, which Jack was very much a part of.
But that was Jack; a larrikin and memorable for knowing how to bring out the best in people.
Today I’d like to call up a few people who have some words for today and begin with one of Jack’s dearest friends, Jon Erickson.
J.B., President of Palm Beach SLSC
As Jeremy said, it’s pretty hard to cover Jack’s amazing life and what he did. There are so many stories so what I’ll try and cover is what I saw and experienced.
I met Jack in 1981 as a Fresher. As you do, you come down and have a few beers at the RSL or the then Moby’s (at Whale Beach) and then come home and pass out. I passed out – I think a few of the boys were still going until late into the evening.
The next morning I awoke to a man with no teeth, a garbage bin full of water, screaming abuse at me because his sausages, his beer and his tomato sauce had disappeared. I found out a bit later that the boys who had stayed up later had eaten his sausages, drunk his beer and used his sauce which was an actual cardinal sin. I went around to the butcher’s at Palmy, when we had an actual butcher shop around there, bought him some sausages, had some beers with him that night, and from there what you call a great mateship came about.
In the 1980’s, 90’s and 2000’s a lot of you know that this place here was ‘Jack’s House’ and he knew who was in it and what was going on. The call of ‘who’s in my house?’ rang out a number of times from Jack as you walked through the place. Taking confession at the kitchen window was one of Jack's fortes; the Freshers would be pulled in and Jack would be there with his shirt and collar reversed so he looked like a priest. His usual question was ‘do you have a girlfriend?’, and then he would say ‘tell me more’.
You were usually asked to say 7 Hail Marys and have 3 longnecks of V.B.
Everyone in the club had a nickname, whether you were around swimming with him or on the back lawn, he had a nickname for you; there was ‘Bluey’ and ‘Jimmy’, ‘Bullfrog’, ‘Fuhrer’, ‘The Captain’, ‘The Dentist’, ‘8 Days’, ‘Dr. Smoothie’, ‘Helicopter Tim’, and my favourite among these was ‘Roman Beauty’ who was a Fresher who joined and was so good looking that Jack could call him nothing else.
With Jack you were either a ‘shifty ride’ or a ‘good bloke’, and you didn’t want to be in the ‘shifty ride’ category with Jack.
He spoke in rhythming slang, he didn’t do this to be cool – it was just the way he spoke, the way he grew up.
Summer for me started when you walked onto the front lawn and saw Jack’s van flying with either the Col Joyes, the stuffed joys, the knock-off sunglasses or the leather shoes that were ‘all leather from toe to go’, or so Jack said. Walking on the balcony you’d see a middy of half full beer holding down the Form Guide with his radio barking out the last races from 2KY. Jack was either fast asleep in his bed with his teeth lying next to him or in the kitchen cooking up a feed for whoever was around.
Jack did 21 Seasons on the beach here. Mick Sylvester tried to break that record and got to 15, I got to 7 – every one of those 7 years I did with Jack I knew the kiddies were safe because Jack would always walk out on the pool when the escalator was running and pull or direct the kids onto the rocks or onto the sandbank.
I’m not going to talk about the rescue at Bronte as I know Shane is going to cover that, but if you take that in when you hear it, bear in mind it was one thing Jack was very proud of.
I think one of the highlights for me was the beginning of Summer was marked by kids being dragged kicking and screaming down to the pool. Many of them were not quite ready for what they were going to get from Jack. Jack was barking at them they had no idea how to swim, and he was telling them to get their shoes on. The first mornings for those kids must have seemed a little crazy I think. By the end of Summer those same kids were jumping into the swell off the point, many of them swimming back to the beach with people they had made friends with who they would be friends with for life. And Jack was among those they had made a friend for life with. There were often tears when they had to say goodbye to him at the end of Summer.
Winter for Jack was towing the caravan to Kingscliff or Blacksmith’s and working the markets across the region. I’d often head up and spend time with him and Jay and Storm, his two sons, and occasionally catch up with Robey for dinner.
Everyone probably has a great life story about Jack and this is probably one of those for me – there is a video of it around somewhere. Jack had decided to go for his second marriage. At that time one of the key activities at the surf club here was diving off the balcony onto mattresses below, usually led by Tim Woodman.
Jack would love watching this, with a beer in hand, and I guess he had a plan in place even then. I received an invite to the wedding, which was to be held at Kirra Surf Club, a two-storey building with a walkway below it. The wedding was scheduled to start at 3 o’clock. Rose, his wife to be, asked that I come up and keep an eye on him; I knew that was going to be a hard task, even at the best of times.
At 5 past 3 there was no sign of Jack, no sign of Mick Marsden, no sign of Mick Sylvester, his groomsmen; a pretty ugly trio at the best of times and you certainly don’t want to let them get away from you.
Anyone who knows Jack Carter knows that at 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon he’s either at a TAB or an RSL watching the races. So I jumped in the car, hoofed it down to the Kirra TAB and there they were in their black suits waiting for the results of Race 6 at Randwick.
I drove them back, thought ‘that’s it, I’ve done my job, we can all settle in for the wedding’. Jack walked up to the altar, said to Rose, his lovely wife-to-be ‘can you just give me 5 minutes’. He walked into the toilet and 10 minutes later Rose asked me to go in and find out what was going on.
I knocked on a toilet door and Jack came out dressed in a full Superman’s suit; the underpants, the cape, the blue and red outfit, the whole shemozzle. He spent the next few minutes running around the main room singing the Superman theme pretending he was flying across the room. His actual plan was to run around the room, dive off the balcony and land on the mattresses below at Kirra Surf Club. Fortunately the Captain at the time said ‘look, I think you might hit someone on the way down, so we’re not going to let you do it’.
The last few years were pretty tough on Jack. For anyone who knew him, coming down to Palm Beach and teaching kids how to swim were two of his greatest loves. I did a lot of trips to see him after calls from Robey to take him to John Hunter hospital or Belmont, often accompanied by the Fuhrer, Ed Day, or The Dentist.
On the last trip he told me that night he’d seen a surf boat. I asked him if it was a Palm Beach boat, he said ‘of course’. He then asked me who the Club Captain was; at that time it was Ben Neighbor – Jack said ‘he’s a good bloke, isn’t he’ and this was not so much a question but a statement because to be Captain of Jack’s Club you had to be a good bloke.
Jack slipped into unconsciousness soon afterwards and that was the last time I got to speak to Jack.
On the Saturday I drove to John Hunter hospital and sat with Jack while he was in a coma and read the Form Guide to him, particularly highlighting James McDonald, his favourite jockey.
Jack would pass away a few days later unfortunately. The bright light in that year, especially for the Carter family, was that when the Melbourne Cup came around, Jack’s favourite jockey, James McDonald had a 13 to 1 option in the Cup race. Everyone who was close to Jack had money on that horse, Verry Elleegant, as we knew Jack was cheering him on and James McDonald rode the winner. We all cleaned up.
I know there is a lot of people here who Jack would like to thank, and we talked about this before he passed away. First, Nugget Meares, Life Member, is here today; when Jack was in his early years he marched his kids from the morning group, after the watermelon fight, full of hot dogs, red frogs and red cordial, through all 3 clubs. Those kids were hopped up on sugar and on a rampage; I was coming out of the water at the time and saw cushions come flying out of the Pacific Club, quickly followed by mattresses flying out of the clubhouse, more items flying out of the Cabbage Tree club – they destroyed all 3 clubs. Jack was pulled up before Committee and I think it was Nugget who saved him.
The other one who Jack mentioned is Ian Hasen; when Jack had a major operation, had to go into hospital to have heart surgery, Ian covered the whole thing. So I wanted to say thanks on Jack’s behalf.
I think pretty much every doctor and specialist who is also a member of the Cabbage Tree Club got to spend time with Jack, especially Doc Nolan who looked after him towards the end.
I know he wanted me to thank The Dentist, aka Mark Walsh, Life Member, Barrister. According to Jack, Mark made the best set of false teeth he ever had. When Mark moved to Law it was ‘a shame’, he couldn’t believe it. But then he found Mark excelled at his other calling and when Jack was pulled up by the Police for what was called ‘panhandling’ or selling counterfeit gear, whatever you want to call it, Mark spent much of his early career covering the courts from Wyong to Manly trying to get Jack out of numerous charges.
The other main one, and I’m not sure too many people know about this, he would definitely would have liked to thank Kerry Packer. Kerry became one of his closest mates in the long run, despite an inauspicious start. When Kerry first came here he hired the house above the pool and tried to get Jack sacked by the council for noise at 7am. They later became good friends and Jack would drive his clapped out old van to the Bellevue residence of the Packer family to teach of his children to swim. Kerry would offer to pay him in cash and a few race tips. Kerry also helped Jack on another occasion which Jack chose to keep private, but if you ask Robey, she may tell you.
Finally, and on behalf of Jack, I’d like to thank Jack’s daughter Robey; you were an absolute rock for him during that last few years, running him to hospital, getting him medicine, cooking for him, cleaning for him, and making sure his last few years were as comfortable as possible.
He would be proud to see the Carter legacy continue at the pool. Some of the largest groups I’ve seen have been down there this year and kids doing what we’ve seen for generations before, working with the Carters.
We’re going to miss Jack a lot.
Thank you Jon, you covered everything very well.
I’d just like to offer my brothers Storm and Jason’s apologies that they couldn’t be here, and that they would like to thank everyone for coming today. My two sons Blade and Clay are here, his other grandson Gage couldn’t be here as they have a baby and couldn’t travel down today.
I’m not good at public speaking, nor have I written a speech, so please bear with me.
I would like to speak about Palm Beach and how it is when I arrive here without dad. At 7am I pick up the kick-boards and carry them down thinking how lucky I am to be walking in dad’s steps – I feel like I’m doing exactly what dad did and imagine him walking beside me. I get down to the pool and get in and know exactly where he walked in the pool and I’m doing the same and it’s really special to me that I have that from my dad. To be able to teach all those children how to swim, to continue the point swims, I’m just so lucky and grateful and thankful for dad for over the last 10 years teaching me how to do it and to do it exactly the way he does it.
There’s a few things that I can’t do anymore, for instance, the watermelon fight – I’m sure there’s lots of memories for those who were part of that when that took place.
The iron man remains a great event we carry forward as started by dad. Where I teach swimming at Lake Macquarie people often say to me ‘what is it you do there?’ and I can’t explain it, I say ‘it’s the only place in the world that this takes place’.
I don’t think anywhere in the world runs a swim program like the swim program that happens at Palm Beach each Summer, and it’s been running since 1947.
The amazing thing I find about this is that you don’t book in, you just turn up, your lesson runs as long as you can stay in, you don’t sign any paperwork, there is no recording of names, nothing like that, and, if you don’t want to pay you don’t have to. It’s a really special program.
I was down here this morning talking with Jason Millett about dad’s ashes explaining I’d been up on the balcony, with dad, and was telling him I was going to put his ashes out the front here at Palm Beach. Dad said ‘no, no, no – I want them around in Pittwater.’ And we argued back and forth about this. I said ‘no, they’re going out the front here at Palm Beach, that’s where they belong.’
Eventually he said ‘yeah, alright – do whatever you want’.
I said to Jason, ‘why would he want them to be in the Pittwater?’ and Jason said ‘because he was at the RSL having a bet every afternoon.’
I said ‘well, he’s going out there.
Jason said ‘yep, put him out there because by the afternoon tide he will be around in the Pittwater anyway.’
[laughter and applause]
There’s lots of people I’d like to thank, commencing with everyone who is here today. I’d also like to thank everyone supporting me at the pool because it is difficult to run that program without dad. I’ve had the support of the club and Jeremy the President this year making the amenities available to me. I’d also like to thank the families that put me up each year as without those people and without this club I could not run that program – so thank you.
That program is the most special thing for me for the 4-5 weeks of each year I get to run it. To my dad it was also a very special thing – it kept him alive. I remember dad just staying alive until December so he could get down here and run the learn to swim program each Summer. When he couldn’t run any more lessons at Palm Beach, he didn’t ant to be alive anymore – for 12 months he kept saying ‘I just don’t want to be here’. It was the pool and giving those lessons that kept him alive. He lived until he was 90 and a half and I’m grateful for that, lots of people lose their parents earlier, so to have dad live that long was really special and provides me with happiness rather than sadness knowing he lived that long doing what he loved.
I remember calling Jon and Shane during that last 12 months and telling them, ‘this is it, dad’s not coming to make it’ and they’d race up the highway to dad’s apartment and he’d be sitting there with a bowl of prawns and a sandwich, ready for them.
I’d say ‘dad, you said you weren’t going to make it’. Then he’d go another couple of months and I’d go through the same thing.
But then the day did come when he went into hospital and never came back.
He wanted to keep going but just couldn’t; keep going without having Palm Beach and being able to teach swimming.
So I want to thank you all again for being here and let you know that my brothers thank you as well.
Robey with her dad at Palm Breach 'Johnny Carter Pool' a few Summers ago
Shane Oxenham, Life Member, and past President of Palm Beach SLSC:
I think Robey said she wasn’t much of a public speaker, well – that was a beautiful speech Robey that touched us, so thank you.
The ranking Member here today is Nugget Meares who joined the club in 1948. Nugget, it’s great to see you here.
Also ranking is Nicolina Ralston. Nicolina is allegedly Jack Carter’s first swimming pupil down at the pool and so she has known the man we’re talking about for some time. It was Nicolina’s grandfather who first named this place ‘Palm Beach’, so thank you Nicolina for what your family has done for us all and for Jack.
I think Jon has vividly painted a picture of the man we’ve all come to remember today. My job is to lay down some sort of marker as to what Jack’s legacy was to Palm Beach and to this community.
We know him more recently as an older man, not so agile, perhaps a little less fluent. Some of the youngsters gathered here today won’t have known him at all. Others will say that for 75 years he was so integral to Summers at Palm Beach we can scarcely believe he is no longer here.
To many he was Palm Beach, a Beach Inspector, a Swimming Coach, he ran classes in the surf shed, taught us about the tides and the swell, defended surfers when the council wanted to ban their Malibu’s south of Black Rock, stood up for our boaties when they ploughed through the very same boardriders, brought skiff boards to Palmy, and surf-o-planes. He rescued so many people and sometimes exercised great courage in doing so.
Palm Beach first met him as a dashing 17-year-old, when the club first employed him as a Beach Inspector, 75 Summers ago.
One November Jack took a temporary job as a Beach Inspector at Bronte before his start date at Palm Beach. The Easts rugby league immortal Dave Brown had the surf-o-plane concession there. It was the Waterside Workers Annual Picnic Day and a wharfie, on one of Brown’s surfo’s, got swept straight out to sea by the Bronte express, which is the famous rip at the south end of this beach.
Only those around when dinosaurs walked the earth will know that this reel here accommodates some 420 yards of line. On this day at Bronte, the Beach Inspector Bill Wallace, also the famous surfer and board builder, told Jack ‘get out and get him and don’t come back without him’.
Jack jumped in and swam out, chasing the bloke on the surfo. The rip that day was running hard. A second reel was called for and the lines were joined. Remarkably, a third reel was called for – Jack continued to swim.
People on the headland saw Jack finally reach the man and wave the line to be hauled in. Bill Wallace and the wharfies set to work.
Legend has it that on that day, the 20 year-old Jack Carter, had pulled a thousand metres of line behind him in this rescue; he was so far out from the beach at Bronte that he could see into Maroubra beach itself and the Malabar cliffs, some 5 kilometres away. This is simply astounding.
Jack told the seniors Waverly Beach Inspector, the infamous Aub Laidlaw, that he could stick the job up where the sun does not shine. He said ‘I’m off to Palm Beach because nothing ever happens down there’.
But a few years later Jack completed the most dramatic rescue many ever witnessed at Palm Beach. A black nor’easter was up and a surging dumping swell was running. Two boys were swept off the rocks and he dived off the point going to their aid. After nearly an hour of drifting to sea Jack and the two boys were well round the point and 800 metres out to sea.
Jack realised no help was coming his way, no club boards or skis could actually make it through the break. He was on his own.
For 30 minutes he edged the boys back towards the rocks where a bunch of anxious, but impotent members were watching. Incredibly, singlehandedly, he brought the two boys in over a rocky shelf, surfing a huge wave on his back with a terrified boy under each arm.
It was a remarkable experience, a remarkable act of bravery, for which the club nominated him for the George Medal for Bravery. Alas, the Surf Life Saving Association would not support the awarding of this because he was a professional - ‘just doing his job’ they said.
At Palm Beach Johnny is best remembered as a Swimming Coach to generations of kids, teaching them confidence in the pool and surf. He did this year after year after year for a minimal financial return. He took on all-comers.
So today we have come together to honour a generous and humble man. Who early in his life had worked out what was important and what was not. He reckoned it mattered not the size of your bank balance but whether you could be important in the life of a child. Three of his own and 10 thousand of this community are grateful for him having taught their children to swim.
To this extent, this is our community farewell for Jack, for it was the locals of the area that recognised his impact on the kids by naming the Palmy pool for him, and later, this was formalised by the council.
Then the Australian government appointed him Order of Australia for his ‘lifesaving and community work’.
Mr John Edward CARTER
Cabbage Tree Club, Ocean Road, Palm Beach NSW 2108
For service to the community of Palm Beach as a swimming teacher and lifesaver. THE QUEEN'S BIRTHDAY 2005 HONOURS The Governor-General is pleased to announce the following appointments and awards: (2005, June 13). Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. Special (National : 1977 - 2012), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article240489112
What of his relationship with this club?
Palm Beach SLSC has just two goals; surf lifesaving and the education of people to swim and surf in the water. No one has done that better in this club’s 100 year history, or for longer, than Jack Carter. And so he was elected as a Life Member.
He was elected a Life Member despite having never formally joined Palm Beach as he had breached so many club rules he was worried the committee would boot him out before he had a chance to apologise.
He never quite got the concept of his Life Membership; ‘why can’t I pass this on to Robey?’ he said.
But I would suggest I’m speaking for all of you when I say, when you are talking about the ability to deliver to kids the magic of confidence in the water he had already done this – he has transferred to Robey his skill and his legacy.
So today we say our final goodbye to Johnny Carter, may his name be long spoken in these parts since he is no less a part of this place than the rock pool that carries his name than those stoic Norfolk Island Pines and Spencey’s green surfboats that will shortly carry his ashes to the point for a final time.
The Palm Beach SLSC members and guests then proceeded over the road, slowly, happily, like Jack, to take him to where his other home is, out in front of his home at the clubhouse.
So next time you're down at Palmy and think you see Jack smiling at you out the corner of your eye, or feel like you may be able to swim to Barrenjoey headland and back, just for a bit of a water stroll, that may be because the man whose spirit gave so much to that end of Palm Beach is there still, sharing his love of the water and Summers at Palm Beach.
A fitting way to close the last weekend of Summer 2022-2023 from all of those who love him still.
More available in the 2021 John 'Jack' Carter Tribute
Peter Spence and Nugget Meares - Palm Beach SLSC Life Members
Shane Oxenham, Robey Carter, Jon Erickson