Torquay and the adjacent Bell’s Beach has now become the surfing Mecca of Australia and over the last fifty years, I have read numerous newspaper and surf magazine articles written by young surfers, who claim they were among the first to surf Bell’s Beach! Many of them weren’t born and most of the others were still being nursed by their mother’ s, when our mob first went to Bell’s Beach and much later started to ride some of its waves! Just for the record, I will give some of my memories of Bell’s Beach.
When I first went to Torquay with Vic Tantau, nobody went to Bell’s Beach to surf! In the whole of Victoria there were probably less than fifty or sixty board riders, who all rode long hollow ply-wood surf boards. As well there were a dozen or so surfers who paddled plywood surf skis. The skis were handy because we could use them when skin-diving for crayfish around the reefs. The beach at Bell’s was completely isolated from Torquay, and the only access was by a very rough bush track which a few fishermen had made, so they could fish from the rocky point at Bell’s. This track led off from the Anglesea to Geelong Road and was about ten miles from Torquay. Vic Tantau, George Packham and I often used to wander towards Bell’s whilst we were out shooting rabbits in the grassy paddocks where Jan Juc is now, and we found the track made by the fisherman. One day in 1949 a couple of car loads of us headed out on the main road to Anglesea, looking for where the track started and found it. In low-gear, we drove carefully along it to where it finished just above the southern headland of Bell’s. There was no track to the beach, but we followed a narrow track through the scrub, to where fisherman were fishing from the rocks, and then we had to clamber back across the rocks to the sandy beach. The beach was piled high with driftwood, which had been accumulating there untouched.
Through the months of winter, we made a couple more trips to Bell’s and taking axes and tomahawks with us, parked our cars at the end of the fishermen’s track, and then cut a short track through the tangled scrub straight to the beach. Once we had easier access to the beach, we would bring our skin-diving gear with us and swim out to a small reef just off the beach, which was crammed with crayfish, and get enough for a party that night back at Torquay. Our small group kept our “secret crayfish spot” to ourselves. Often Eric Knight and I would paddle surf-skis around there and catch a wave into the beach, and then don our skin-diving gear and get some crays, before paddling home to Torquay. But none of us ever went there at that time to catch any waves, because if there was good surf we stayed and surfed at Torquay. Every time our small group visited Bell’s there was no sign of anyone else knew about the place, except the few fishermen!
Once we had made the small track, we started taking Noela and the other girl’s around with us,for picnics. The men would heap up some of the driftwood and build a fire for a barbecue and the girls would sit around it, while we dived for some crays, then afterwards we would have a bit of a party around the fire. Our 16 foot long boards were starting to be replaced by the shorter and more manoeuvrable Malibu boards and one day we thought there could be a good wave around at Bell’s and a small group of us paddled all the way from Torquay around to Bell’s. We rode a few waves there and they were better than they were back at “The Quay” that day, so after that occasion, we started to check out the surf there more often. When Torquay wasn’t “working”, there would often be a nice shaped wave at Bell’s, and slowly more of the surfers from Torquay started to surf there and we thought it was crowded if more than a half a dozen were there riding the waves! Some of those I remember as being among the first to surf at Bell’s were, Kevin Walker, Vic Tantau, George Packham, Owen Yateman, Brian Beck, “China” Gilbert, Geoff Emerson, Bill Clymer, Keith Wadling and “Ming” Smith. Many of the older club members like Phil Bennett, Ron Hussey, Sam Henson and Don Nichols would row our old surf boat around to Bell’s. Then catch a wave into the beach and join the rest of us for a few drinks at the beach barbecue, before rowing home again. What ruined Bell’s for us, was when some of the newer and younger surfers, employed a bloke with a machine to make a track along the cliff top from Jan Juc to Bell’s. This happened in the fifties and then Bell’s became known to all and sundry and to the “old-timers” it had lost its exclusivity and charm. To those who claim, “I was one of the first to surf Bell’s”! If you were only a child back in the very early fifties, or still just a twinkle in your father’s eyes, I’m sorry, but you are far too young to make such a claim.
Listen to Joe Sweeney tell the story of employing the ‘bloke with a machine”