Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia in the Southern Autumn of 1996
History of Freshwater ...
Less than three months after the First Fleet had sailed through the heads of Sydney Harbour on the 21st day of January in the year of 1788, Governor Arthur Phillip lead a small expedition on the 15th April 1788 around the hinterland of Manly and towards the location which would later be known as Freshwater Beach in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
For many tens of thousands of years beforehand, the great southern land of the Australian continent was populated by the native aboriginal peoples. Millions of years beforehand, the site which was to become the beaches of the large and extensive city of Sydney was in fact a northward meandering river which cut down into the sandstone cliffs before flowing out into a sea which started a greater distance eastward than it does today. As the planetary sea levels rose, the river valley became a drowned river valley (or ria) and the remnants of the sandstone cliffs between the meanders became the coastal headlands of the great multiplicity of Sydney's beautiful beaches.
One such beach - a smaller horseshoe bay just over the next headland from Many Beach - became known very early as Freshwater, owing to the presence of a small freshwater creek which flowed down from the ridges and into the sandy beach. One of the earliest land grants allocated in Sydney, and indeed Australia was made in respect of the hinterlands which surrounded Freshwater Beach. The grant was made on the 25th July 1818 to one Thomas Bruin. Thus the establishment and history of Freshwater in 1818 has a longer history than the establishment of even most of the other Australian State capital cities such as Brisbane (Queensland) in 1824, Perth (Western Australia) in 1830, and Adelaide (South Australia) in the year of 1836.
History of Freshwater Surf Club
The Australian Surf Life Saving Movement was commenced after the turn of the twentieth century, at which time the pastime of swimming, body-surfing and enjoying the great Australian beaches became popular with the locals. As more and more people in the early years of the twentieth century began to enjoy these simple pleasures, the need arose for some organisation of assistance and rescues at those times in which the surf became more treacherous than the inexperienced beach-goers would allow.
The formation of a Surf Club at Freshwater Beach was discussed by many surfers, some local and some who lived in remote areas of Sydney but who would, without fail each weekend, travel to and camp over at Freshwater Beach to wash away the cares of a heavy week's worth of work. Such it was therefore that a regular camp, called the "Boomerang Camp" [I imagine because it was constantly returned to:] was instituted in the early years of the 1900's. Impromptu meetings held at the Boomerang Camp at Freshwater Beach over time lead the regulars around towards the consideration of the formation of an established Surfing Club.
Accordingly, as history would have it, in the southern summer of 1908, probably early on the Sunday morning of the 6th of December, 1908, one George Young and another John B. Steel, carrying a soapbox, meandered to the beach at Freshwater by way of the Boomerang Camp, and called ` together a meeting for the following weekend. Others also spoke at this occasion, but history has not preserved their names or deeds.
From this time, the newly formed Freshwater Life Saving and Surf Club grew in members and in resources, and in the construction of facilities by communal effort. When Boxing Day - the day after Christmas - in the year of 1910 came around, it saw the official opening of the Freshwater Life and Surf Club.
The Dawn of SurfboardRiding in Australia:
Freshwater Beach will always remember that day in the Southern Summer of 1915 when the great aquatic Hawaiian, Duke Kahanamoku gave an amazing exhibition of wave riding with a solid surfboard modelled on the very type used by him in his native Hawaii. Over a period of time while he stayed at the Boomerang Camp at Freshwater, the Duke fashioned a solid board from the local timbers, and it was with this board that he first introduced to the Australian Surfing community the ancient craft of Hawaiian kings - the art of surfboard riding.
Out through the surf-break "The Duke" paddled, turned around and having paddled onto the face of a breaking wave, caught the wave back into the beach while standing tall on this newly carved timber surfboard. This exhibition of skill and grace captivated the imagination of all those present, and if this were not enough, the Duke selected a young lady from the local crowd - one Miss Isabel Letham - to accompany him on his surfboard. While she lay forward on this surfboard, the Duke paddled out through the surf and then returned to the beach while riding tandem.
In this event, young Isabel Letham became the first Australian to ride a surfboard in the Australian surf on this type of surfboard. Miss Letham lived on in Freshwater Beach from these early years of the twentieth century, until recently, when she passed away during the Autumn of 1995. On this occasion, there was a gathering of the local community and in particular the Freshwater BoardRiders Club and the Freshwater Surf Club.
It was fortunate that on that day the author was present at Freshwater Beach, for the ceremony of the scattering of her ashes was conducted in the midst of a circle of the board-riders (my son Daniel being one) formed out the back of the surf-break. At that time, the memories of the past and of the surfing history of Australia were rekindled and many were the surfers in attendance.
In the Days after the Duke ...
The original newspaper clippings and photographs taken from those historic days in the Southern Summer of 1915 are still preserved in the newly refurbished Freshwater Surf Club. The first man to be taught the art of surfboard riding was one Claud West of the Freshwater Surf Club who went on in later days to become the very first Australian Board Riding Champion. The surfboard fashioned by the Duke at the Boomerang Camp at Freshwater Beach was given to Claud West, and he later donated this historic board to the Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club where is still proudly displayed in the north east corner of the club.
These quite heavy timber surfboards were still very much in use through the late 1930's and until the early 1940's, but were later replaced by the hollow plywood surfboards which were to become the base designs and forerunners of the "mal's".
The custodians of the Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club have gone to a great degree of care and skillful research and presentation concerning the foundational history of the club, and have made all this history available by means of old photographs and records which have been gracefully placed around the walls of the refurbished club house at Freshwater Beach.
For those who are interested in the earliest recorded surfing era in the history of Australia a visit to the historic (and completely functional) Freshwater Surf Club is highly recommended whenever you happen to have a few hours to spare in Sydney. Much of the information presented in the above has been sourced from off the walls of the Freshwater Surf Club, and for this I am very grateful. The author personally was an active member of the Freshwater Surf Lifesaving Club during the mid 1960's, and the basic training these years have provided as an introduction to surfing has been proven invaluable time and time again.
Duke Kahanamoku ... the Father of Surfing
There are a growing number of surfing web sites which have made a tribute to the life of Duke Kahanamoku, for there is no doubt that he caught the attention of the world with his surfing prowess, and in later years in swimming and acting.
One such tribute page is to be found in the Duke's homeland of the Hawaiian Islands, with the Hawaii - This Week Travel Magazine in which an article commences with the following quote from the Duke ...
The article goes on to provide further information and photo about the life of Duke Kahanamoku.
Possibly the greatest web resource concerning the Surfing Culture of the Hawaiian people and Duke Kahanamoku is to be found at the WaterMan WebSite which is dedicated to the provision of quality resource information concerning the Our Pacific Ocean Heritage and the history of surfing. In the above reference concerning the Duke, there is quoted the following text from the book "DUKE ... The Lifestory of Duke Kahanamoku" by Joseph L. Brennan:
At Duke's funeral, Hawai'i's revered and respected Reverend Abraham Akaka spoke with tear-filled eyes and a face twisted in sorrow:
"Duke Kahanamoku represented the ali'i nobility in the highest and truest sense - concern for others, humility in victory, courage in adversity, good sportsmanship in defeat. He had a quality of life we are all challenged and inspired to emulate."
Also to be found at the WaterMan WebSite is an extremely interesting account of the History of Hawaiian Surfing which is definitely worth a browse for those surfers who would know the terrestrial roots of the sport of the Hawaiian Kings. I would like to also credit the WaterMan Site with the Photo/Image of the Duke used in this web document, one of many such quality resources to be presented there.
SURFING: SportOfKings Provides some unique literary references concerning the history of Hawaiian surfing from the previous century & behond, and is well worth the visit.
Further Surfing History Articles
If any reader is interested in sending me the e-text of any further articles relating to the history of surfing in Australia, then I would be happy to prepare this information for presentation of the web with credits where due. The E-Mail address is below.
Take Care One&All and above all ... Keep surfin' :)
Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia in the Southern Autumn of 1996