That is what mates are for…..

I settled back into living at home again and started to plan on winning a state title in the surf, then going back to Queensland. I went back to Torquay in the week-ends and began surfing. When home, I spent all my spare time at swimming training and playing Water Polo with my old team Richmond.

While I had been away in Queensland, the Geelong surfers, Kevin Walker, Aub Cherry, Clinton “Shacks” Shiells, Geoff Harrison and Brian Beck had set up a new camp site on the banks of Torquay Creek. Boasting a little, they had erected a wooden sign outside the entrance proclaiming it was-“STAR’S HAVEN”! The proud owners considered their area was very exclusive, but lowered their standards a bit and invited me to stay with them, because I had won a few belt and surf races and added a bit of authenticity to the claim that the camp was a haven for the “Stars”! But I had to accept that I would be the lowest member on the camp totem-pole and pay a goodly share of their costs. I grovelled and accepted their kind offer, as it was close to the Kiosk and the surf club! Out of habit, I hitch hiked to the Quay a couple of times after I had first arrived home, but then got lifts down there with Vic, Russ, George Packham, and Barry Patten. Russ came into a bit of money and bought a rare four seater ‘Y’ type MG tourer and once he got that I preferred travelling with him. Vic and George could only offer me a ride on the pillion seat of their motor bikes.

The first day of 1950 was an hour old, when I wrote in my Log Book, “Sitting in my tent at Torquay- Kev and Aub Cherry in Geelong Hospital for the night”. On their way back from New Year celebrations at the Airey Inlet pub, they had rolled their Morris 8/40 sports car, similar to the one I had owned and were lucky to escape with only a few cuts and bruises and the car half-wrecked!

Things were going to plan and by the middle of January, I had competed in four Surf Carnivals and won the Surf Race and the Belt Race at each carnival. My mates at Surfers had been right in their predictions for me. Roll on the state championships and I would be heading north again with a Championship pennant to show them and the girls at Surfers! My discharge papers from the MV Weston helped me get work as a seaman with the Melbourne Harbour trust, working on their Mud Hoppers and Dredges out of their base at Williamstown.  It was a long trip over there via the Williamstown Ferry on the Yarra River and I urgently needed to get some transport. With the help of a sailing friend Alex Milledge, whose father owned a motor-cycle business in the city, I bought an Ex-Army Harley Davidson motor bike, with big windshield and polished leather pannier bags. After my small bike in Queensland, the Harley-Davidson seemed huge, and I would proudly ride it to work, then to Torquay in the weekends.

The ANA long weekend came, and I rode my Harley Davidson down to Torquay, and then went in Russell’s MG, to Surf Carnivals at Portland, Port Fairy, and Warrnambool. Torquay Club members came home with a feast of winner’s pennants, which were put on display in the local milk bar run by Nat Ward. Vic Tantau won the surfboard race at each carnival, Brian Beck won the three surf-ski races and I had six pennants for winning the Surf Race, and the Belt race at each venue! The Star’s Haven hierarchy talked about inviting Vic to come and join us. I was all for it, as it would have moved me up from the bottom of the pole, but Vic declined their offer!

1953 Michael O'Donnell holding the Victorian flag and son of Brian Davidson, North Bondi Beach Inspector
1953 Michael O’Donnell holding the Victorian flag and son of Brian Davidson, North Bondi Beach Inspector

The following Sunday the Torquay Club were to hold the Club Belt Championship and the day dawned with a huge surf rolling in on the beach. The surf boat had to battle to get out and lay the buoys for the race. At that time, Geoff Emerson, Brian Whiting and I were considered the three top surf swimmers in the state, and were all in the Torquay Club. The three of us lined up with our teams and reels on the beach and when the gun sounded we raced down the beach, donning our belts for what should have been a five minute swim to the buoys. When I finally reached my buoy and clung to it exhausted, my shoulders and chest were bleeding where the belt had worn the skin away! The others never made it out to the buoys and I had won the Torquay Belt Championship. Vic Tantau was one of my team, and it took them about ten minutes to haul me back ashore. When I got there I found they were just as worn out as me, because they had paid out and hauled in again almost TWO FULL REELS OF LINE to help me reach my buoy, so it had been a real team effort! This race was talked about in the club, for the rest of my time there, and more than any other race in which I competed, was the one that won me a place in the history of the Torquay Club. Years later, people who had been watching from the sand dunes and surf club that day, would remind me of my win and I always tried to remember that without Vic and the rest of the team, I would not have succeeded!

Two weeks later the club held the Surf Race Championship.  Conditions were normal this time but I won again, with Geoff Emerson second and Brian Whiting third.  Every weekend there were carnivals around the ocean beaches and Vic Tantau or China Gilbert had won all the Surf Board races and Brian Beck the Ski Races. Geoff Emerson, Brian Whiting and me, had shared the wins in most of the surf and belt races. Now we were looking forward to the Victorian Championships in March, when it was hoped the club would also win most of the major events. All I wanted was either the State Belt or Surf title and I would be saying goodbye to family and friends once more before heading back to Queensland.

I stepped up my training and was now swimming two miles a day in the surf at Torquay. When I was home, Vic Tantau would paddle his surf board back and forth past me, while I would swim from the Brighton Pier down to the North Road pier and back again, wearing an old life-saving belt and towing a small dinghy behind me.  Sharks never worried us, nor did we them! Vic always loved a joke and I would suddenly feel the dinghy get very heavy to tow and I would look behind to see Vic sitting up in the dinghy with a smile on his face and towing his surfboard behind the dinghy. He would let me work hard for a few minutes before climbing back on the board again to do a bit more training himself.  It was only two weeks to the state championships, when win or lose, I intended packing my bags again and heading back to the Sunshine State.

 

 

 

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