pods for primates : a catatogue of surfboards in australia since 1900
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Russell : Lone Hand, 1910 
Egbert T. Russell  : Australia's Amphibians, June 1910.

Extract from
Russell, Egbert T.: Australia's Amphibians.
The Lone Hand
214 George Street Sydney Australia
1st January 1910, pages 252 to 265.

While some sections article tend to be overly flamboyant, there is an excellent selection of photographic images by Hall and Co. and T.D. Cleary, which unfortunately are not reproduced here at present.
Several historical claims by the author are highly contentious.
The attempts at sociological analysis of beach culture, particularly  towards the end of the piece, maybe of interest to some historians.

Also note the following comment may refer to the visit of Alexander Hume Ford in 1908:
"Similarly, another American traveller went to Manly, and innocently innocently following the customs of his own land, seated himself on the sand, only to have his name taken by a policeman." -page 265.
1908 Alexander Hume Ford : Beach Culture in Sydney, Australia.
Extract from The Red Funnel, Dunedin, New Zealand.Volume VI, Number 5, June 1908, pages 466 to 470.

Page 252

Long before the days of De Quiros and Tasman, Australia's beaches were the same beautiful harmonies of blue and white and brown as they are to-day; but it was only recently that it occurred to the Australian to utilise them as the pleasantest and healthiest of national playgrounds.
It was only during the past half-dozen years that some anonymous pioneer dared to respond to the seductive song of the breakers and meet their embrace.
How his fellows followed with gadarene avidity is apparent to anybody who cares to glance along any part of the settled coastline.
The surf shooter, born in Sydney, has spread around the whole map of Australia; and in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia has become an institution as important to Australia as standing armies, established churches, music halls and sturdy beggars are in older civilisations.

It was to Manly- that quaint, eclectic, old-fashioned suburb of Sydney which is still officially designated a village, and is ...

Page 253

... proud of the title- that surf-bathing as an Australian pastime owes its origin.
But even Manly, proud as it is of itself, has failed to record the name of the original proto-surfer who discovered, six or seven years back, that the sea might be put to new uses.
There is a tradition there-abouts to the effect that a body of local youths, rebellious, unconventional and defiant of constituted authority, conspired to appear one morning on the ocean beach in bathing costume; and, contemptuous of the law forbidding bathing on public beaches, dashed into the
breakers and made merry.
In their desire thus deliberately to popularise a new pastime, they builded their hopes better than they knew.
Authority in the form of the police or the Crown Law Department took no action and from that date the law forbidding bathing on public beaches became a dead letter.

Other suburbs followed suit.
The ocean beaches began to be dotted with the figures of surf-bathers; and the Iocal councils, which at the noutset were inclined to look askance on surf-bathing, found that so many visitors came to participate that the rateable values of local property were astonishingly enhanced.
The objections of the shocked alderman vanished; and hasty provision was made ...

Page 254

... for the bather's accommodation.
The Puritanism which might have proved a check was caught napping; and before it could pass any resolution viewing the situation with grave alarm, the surf-man and the surf-girl (for she had quickly
followed in the aerated wake of her brother) were such common objects of the seashore that they presented an obstaclc beyond the shifting power of even the Puritanical screwjack.

Certainly Puriranism, at intervals, has raised some objections on the score of costuming, and at times has met with encouragement from different municipalities.
Manly, for instance, made skirts mandatory for lady bathers; and, despite the dangers made manifest through numbers of skirted bathers being carried out in the undertow, the Mayors of Manly, Bondi and Randwick subsequently recommended for both sexes a costume consisting of a pair of long knickerbockers and a long sleeved jumper reaching to the knees.
The ridicule  excited by this suggestion had the effect of killing all movements for the complusory wearing of bizarrre and cumbrous costumes: and the question
has since been settled by the adoption of an ordinance leaving the matter to the will of the bather, provjded the garb satisfies the local police as to its propriety.

As a general rule, the male bathers wear a full swimming costume with a pair of trunks, popularly known as V's over it; while the women have almost universally adopted the Canadian costume, consisting of knickerbockers and tunic.
The Canadian costume, when made of wool, seems to be specially designed by Providence to meet the requirements of female bathers.
The average girl, when she commences surf-bathing, shrinks from notice, and choses a costume of amplitude.
After a few weeks experience, she no longer shrinks; but the costume does; and as she gradually grows indifferent to public gaze, the Canadian costume gradually assumes proportions at once usefule and picturesque, but porportions which, when she started bathing, she would have regarded as woefully inadequate.

As far as history goes back, the South ...

Page 255

... Sea Sea Islander has revelled in the surf, and has been accustomed to shoot the breaker on a canoe or piece of wood.
But as history fails to record the fact that any person was in the habit of shooting the breaker without assistance, Manly is entitled to claim to have invented surf-shooting for human beings.
Today the surf-bather who cannot shoot a breaker is onIy half a surf-bather.
He is despised by his fellows; the girls beside him disdain his assi!ttance; while the spectators fail to observe his presence, so intent are they on watching the evolutions of the Great Masters, who come sailing in on the crest of the rollers, turning off their hundred yards in time approaching that of the professional sprinter.

To shoot a breaker looks the simplest thing on the waters under the earth.
All you have to do is to wade out to the place where the waves are rising, and as the crests topple over, throw yourself forward and let the wave carry you.
That is the theory; the practice is a triffle more difficult.
In fact, it is seldom that a fairly good athlete can make himself into an average breaker-shooter in one season.
Only two things are necessary.
One is to hold your body the right way; the other is to judge precisely when the wave is going to break.
And to master those two things  takes what is technically known as "a bit of doing".
It must be admitted, however, that the waves give you encouragement.

For every half-dozen utter failures made by the beginner he catches one wave sufficiently well to carry him along three or four feet.
That, at any rate is sufficient to inspire him to further efforts.
Then there are the flukes to give the beginner an idea of the thrill that awaits on success.
Sometimes, perhaps as often as once a week, if he is a daily bather, a wave will catch him, by some strange combination of good luck and good management.
He will find himself lifted-high, so high that he seems to be looking down on the roofs of distant houses and sees bald, undreamed-of patches on the heads of fellow bathers.
His heart in his mouth; and, just as he fears something dreadful is about to happen, he finds himself plunging down an endless hill of water that sends him skimming along like ...

Page 256

... a human torpedo.
If he is especially lucky he "beaches" - that is, travels onwards until his chest brings up against the sad in a depth of five or six inches of water.
Then he gets up and walks back to the deep water, with the air of doing little things like that whenever he feels inclined.

The regular bathers on the New South Wales coast are all shooters or apprentices;. but the really expert shooter is rare.
The men or women who can take beach every time on a favorable breaker, or get shoots from breakers in choppy weather, can be c(ounted almost on the fingers and toes.
Devoted as they are to the surf, women generally haved failed badly as breaker-shooters; and there are only two girls- both of Manly - who are capable of holding their own with the best of the men.

The best beach for breaker-shooting is one that shelves gradually, and has neither holes nor adjacent rocks to create cross currents.
The further the bather is able to wade before he reaches the point where the waves break, the longer will be his shoot and the safer.
Where the beach dips suddenIy, and a bather is out of his depth at a few yards from the water's edge, shooting is neither good or safe.
Under such conditIons, waves have a way of dumping a bather vertically instead of horizontally.
The result is that the inexperienced or foolhardy bather who tries to take such waves is lifted high, and then suddenly cast head foremost into water perhaps only six inches deep.
Fractured and dislocated shoulders from this cause are comparativery common; and it is only due to good luck that there have been so far no broken or dislocated necks.
Before ~attempting to shoot a breaker it is as well to watch the depth in its trough, for there is always a sudden sucking-up of the watcr in front of a wavee just prior to the moment of breaking.

A beach that fulfils the conditions for good shooting is the one that presents fewest dangers.
Where it is possible to wade far out, and the surf falls in one long, unbroken line, the shooter finds his paradise; and the novice may venture close up to the firing-line without fear of the undertow sweeping him out.
In every beach graduations of expertness may be ...

Page 257

... identified by position.
Nearest in shore the children paddle; beyond them are their mothers and the more timid of the women.
Then come the mediocre shooters, who have got the knack of catching a wave ar the right moment, but are still dependent on a spring of their toes to do so.

Out beyond these is the firing-line, where the Masters of the Art await waves commensurate with their greatness.
The smaller waves, which break further in-shore, are left to the B-graders.
The Masters disdain them, swimming and wading alternately as the depth varies, until at last the word goes up that some keen-eyed enthusiast has discerned on the far horizon a wave of dimensions becoming to their dignity.
The Masters spread out, glance shorewards for a clear run, and hold themselves in readiness.
The wave sweeps closer and higher.
They float until it rises above them- till th einexperienced onlooker imagines that they had missed their chance- when there are two or three quick strokes, their arms shut by their sides, and a ctaract that is half human and half the froth of all the champagne bottles in the world dashes towards the land.

If the inexperienced bather has been impelled by curiosity to approach within ten or twenty yards of the firing-line, he had better look to his own safety.
A twelve-stone surf-bather, all muscle, coming at you in even time, is a projectile that it is not well to obstruct.
The hard skull of a surf-shooter striking you in the middle of the back is calculated to destroy your interest in surfing matters for some time, and to convince you that the pastime is hopelessly overrated and deserving of suppression, togethre with bull fights, bearbaiting and other brutal sports of the Dark Ages.
One of the mysteries of surf-bathing is that so few serious accidents have resulted from collisions in the water.
The dangers of the undertow are rare, and to careful bathers almost negligible; but those of collision and dumping are ever present, and none but the most wary are exempt.

Beyond the firing-line there may occasionally be observed a few little black dots appearing and disappearing as the waves pass.
These are the "shark-baiters,'" the experts whose vanity impels them to run useless risks, often involving others, "that men may call them brave."
The "shark-baiter" always takes the chance of having a leg or arm lopped off by a hungry blue-pointer.
Again, he is induced to over-estimate his strength; and, when he feels himself tiring and wishes to return to the shore, sometimes finds himself unable to do more than signal for assistance.
Somebody once described surf-bathing as a splendid institution for weeding-out the fools; and it is safe to say that the dangers to people who take as much care of themselves as they do, say, in crossing street traffic, are extremely remote.

Those who are swept out in the undertow are generally strangers to the surf, and careless strangers at that.
The regular surf-bather recognises the undertow when he sees it; for it always makes known its presence by an interruption in ...

Page 258

... the line of breakers.
Except during, or immediately following, stormy conditions, it is rare that any undertow is to be found.
There is nothing mysterious about the undertow.
It is nothing more or less than a rut in the bed of the ocean formed by rough seas.
The existence of such a rut causes the receding water to flow through it at a greater velocity than over the surrounding flat surface of sand.
The result is that the unfortu.nate , who happens to step into the rut finds the current pulling him
violently seawards.
If he is experienced, he will do everything possible to keep his foothold; for, while it is often possible to wade against the undertow, it is impossible to swim against it.
It is so strong as to carry you off your feet, the best course, if you are a good swimmer, is to swim, not against the current, but across it, so as to reach the water running shorewards.
If you are a bad swimmer, lie on your back and float until you are rescued.

Even those who are so unskilled as not to recognise the undertow when they see it need have little fear, if they will only keep their eyes open.
All the beaches close to Sydney have surf clubs, which look after the safety of swimmers generally,
and plant danger boards at points' where bathing is best Ieft alone.
Stll, it is a common thing to see these boards utterly disregarded.
The principal offenders are women, and especially women new to the surf.
Being diffident about appearing in scanty costume, these generally keep away from the safe spots, where the mass of the bathers are congregated, and seek a part of the beach where no others are found.
They are ignorant of the fact that no others are found there because the spot is a death-trap; and, boldly entering the water, have to be rescued from the undertow few minutes later, and resuscitated on the beach in the presence of several hundreds .of interested spectators.
The golden rule for the surf novice is to foliow the crowod, keeping in the centre, ...

Page 259

... not on the flanks, of those already in the water.

The development of the life-savers is one of the most admirable features of surf-bathing in New South Wales.
With the exception of Manly, which employs a professional, the whole of the work of life-saving is carried out by amateur enthusiasts, who spend much time and trouble, and get, as a rule, few thanks, even from those who owe their lives to them.
Most of the clubs impose severe tests upon the men who would beome members; and, after election, it is generally the rule that the member must pass more advanced examinations in first-aid and kindred subjects within a fixed period.
Failure to do so means enforced resignation.

The priviledges gained from membership are largely visionary.
In fact, beyond the honor of being a life-saver, wearing a special badge and having certain authority over the conduct of the beach, there is nothing in return for all the hard work and lost time and risk.
The life-saver ...

Page 260

... has to take his turn at the reel, which means that, while others are enjoying themselves in the water, he must spend half the day standing by the life-line, scrutinising the beach lest some ultra-modest debutante of the surf loses her foothold, or some shark-baiter shows signs of fatigue.
When the expected happens, he has to dash out to sea, make his way to the first line of breakers, and swim for the victim.
Having reached the drowning person, he supports him while another member of the brigade, who has also been on duty, is swimming out to their assistance with a lifebelt attached to a line, which other members of the brigade hold above the water that the strain may be eased to the swimmer.
When the man with the belt reaches the victim they are all hauled to shore together; and the efforts of the brigade are generally devoted here to fighting the casual surf-bathers, all of whom would, if allowed, put such a strain on the line as to break it or drown those hanging to it.
In one instance, a boy, safely rescued and taken to the line, was drowned while dragged ashore owing to the mistaken efforts of the crowd.

As soon as one rescue is effected, the brigade has to be ready for another.
There is no telling when somebody will be in danger, especially on a hot day after bad weather, when fools are plentiful and currents are treacherous
"Appy" Ayre and Purcell, the professional life-savers pf Manly, brought ashore no fewer than twenty-two people in one Sunday during the season of 1908-9; while the members of the three Bondi clubs rescued eighteen persons in one morning in the same season.
At one moment the whole of their apparatus was in action, necessitating the joining of hands to bring in an additional victim who had walked straight into the rut whence another bather had just been taken.

Few of the bathers themselves know what remarkable work the life-saving clubs have accomplished during the past two or three years.
The majority of rescues are, of course, effected without any particular risk to the members; still, scarcely a week passes without some rescue being accomplished that would be styled heroic in any place but those where heroism is so common as to be bereft of its romantic attributes.
Since the life-savers have been established features of the New South Wales beaches, surf fatalities have been reduced to a minimum.
At Manly the numbers have fallen by two-thirds; while at Bondi and Coogee, once reckoned dangerous beaches, not a life has been lost for two years.
Considering that, on hot Sundays, fully 30,000 people must bathe between dawn and dusk at each of these beaches, the risk in surf bathing cannot be much greater than the risk of travelling by train, and infinitely less than going to sea- or to bed.

Through the perfectionof organisation responsible for the reduction of the death rate at manly, Bondi and Coogee is admittedly noy attained by clubs outside those centres, there are organisations doing excellent work on every beach along our shores; and it is only a matter of time before bathing at each and all is as safe as it is at Coogee to-day.
If sur-bathing is to be judged by its fruits, there should be no complaints about it.
Probably no place in the world (certainly no place in Australia) shows such a remarkable collection of athletes as are to be found on any of the Sydney beaches any Saturday or Sunday.
The men, as a rule, seemed trained to a hair, and fit for anything that muscle and sinew can accomplish.
And their appearance does not belie them.
The majority of the leading athletes of new south wales are surf-bathers.
In their ranks are amateur champions of Australasia in ...

Page 261

... boxing, wrestling and swimming, and several who are ready to dispute those titles when occasion offers.
They include many first-grade footballers and a sprinkling of professional athletes whose fame has spread beyond their own state.

The women are not so uniformly attractive, because, contary to the belief general among those who don't know, the feminine surf-bather is not often a roguish ...

Page 262

... damsel of the type pictured on illustrated postcards; but a sedate, and frequently middle-aged, married woman, who is usually accompanied by her offspring.
That she seeks the water for its own sake, and cares nothing for her appearance, is shown too often by her carelessness of costume, which in some cases would make the Venus of Milo look unattractive.
But all the women who take part in the pleasures of the surf are not married or middle-aged; and a sufficiently are attractive enough to excite the admiration of the hardened male surf-bather, who speedily grows so callous to scantily-garbed feminity that he doesn't trouble to look twice unless it is particually nice.

One of the strangest features of Sydney surf-bathing to the stranger who hails from Presbyterian Victoria, or other spots where they have an expurgated ocean for the use of schools and families, is the casualness of the sexes on the beaches.
Thewy are partially naked, but so unashamed as to not notice the fact.
It seems inconsistent that the young lady attired as a pantomime principal boy, mius the tights, should be as decorous and circumspect as the same girl in a tailor-made costume.
And the stranger marvels at the speed with which he himself becomes accustomed to the new position, and no more thinks of calling by her Christian name the shapely little Venus whose legs adorn the sand beside him than he would the girl he had just been introduced to at a mission meeting.

There is only one thing that jars the harmony of the beaches- that is the advent of a newcomer, whose horrible white arms and legs seem to indicate that he is first brother to the grusome insects found when you turn over a stone.
The average healthy man or woman looks horribly unhealthy and degenerate when their white limbs appear side by side with those which have acquired the rich brown tint of the sun.
In fact, they seem more than unhealthy; they seem indecent, and it would appear that it is part of Nature's scheme to provide an adequate garb for human beings in the sunburn they acquire when they lead natural lives.
The surf is a glorious democracy- or, rather; it represents a readjustment of all the classifications that histiry and politics and social conditions ever brought about.
Wealth has no place here; nor rank, nor Norman blood, nor scholarship.
Plain primitive manhood and womanhood are the only tests the surf-bather applies to distinguish one from another.
Nobody but a surf-bather knows the overwhelming importance and the utter unimportance of clothes.
All the arguments on the subject from "Sator Resartus" to "The Storm of London" are confirmed and upset by the experience of the beaches.

The beauty actor who seemed both ...

Page 263

... behind the footlights  and in his more serious histronic efforts in social circles, to be the nearest approach to Nietzsche's superman that ever happened, becomes a mere human by-product when he wears only the thin blue garment in the fierce light that beats upon our beaches; while the youth who daily awakens us with his cries of "rabbit-oh!" reveals beauties of manly grace thst were unguessed during the many occasions when he bargained with us at our back gate, clad in a greasy suit and dirty red comforter.
Similarly, the Society charmer whose form seemed to put Phidias and Praxiteles in the novice class, as she spun along in the tonneau of her motor-car, fails to awaken a thrill in our heart when she changes  her directoire confection for the less voluminous garb of the surf; while life never seems to have held anything more lovely than the form of the damsel we later recognise as the cook and laundress next door.

The social distinctions of the beaches which prevailed in the days before history was written, and when man was still able to hold on tight with his big toe.
The life-savers represent the very highest class.
They are the Samurais, the oligarchs, the elite.
They strut the beaches with superiority that is insolent, yet, at the same time, tolerant of the shortcomings of lesser breeds- a gladiator caste, envied by all the men, adored by all the women.
The rest of the little cosmos of the beach is divided by class distinctions as rigid as those of ante-revolutionary France.
The shooter represents the aristicracy; but if he cannot shoot, a bather may at least rise to full heights of citizenship by lying in the sun until he acquires the necessary brown tint.

The white man represents the priah class, despised by all; and if he would survive it is for him to adopy Nature's protective provision of taking on the colour of his surroundings as soon as possible.
The regular bather may endure the white legs of a girl bather if they are otherwise very nice; but the man, be he mighty as Hackenschmidt himself, will be treated with contumely and scorn if he omits within reasonable time to put on the coat of tan that bespeaks experience.
As for the genuine, bona fide, duly qualified surf-girl, the girl who is shapely and unconscious and can take breakers with the best of them, she is like Kipling's Young Queen, "beautiful, bold and brown;" but there is a devotion to her breaker-shooting and sun hatching that has no use for the arts of coquetry; and the shades of John Knox and Calvin them ...

Page 264

... themselves would regard her brown legs with a tolerant eye did they remain long enough to observe her.

The frisky damsel who is supposed by strangers to make the surf beaches her habitat mis a minus quality, as the strangers find to their disappointment.
One of the reasons is that there is little ...

Page 265.

... encouragement given her; and, when she does venture there, she has to modify her friskiness to such an extent as to make her indistiguishable from the rest.
In addition to saving lives and studying first-aid o' nights, the members of the surf clubs are entrusted with the task of maintaining order on the beaches; and the word "order' is interpreted in so drastic a manner as to suprise people used to similar resorts in Europe and America.
When he was here last Christmas, Lack London was astounded to see two youths, in the act of dragging a third by his heels into the water, ordered to desist by a life-saver.
Later he received a further shock when a life-saver sternly ordered a girl to cease diving from the shoulders of her male escort.
Similarly, another American traveller went to Manly, and innocently innocently following the customs of his own land, seated himself on the sand, only to have his name taken by a policeman.
The surf life-savers and police are "whales" on order, and it is rare, indeed, that anybody hears of an incident which might not receive the hearty endorsement of the whole Council of Churches.

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home catalogue history references appendix

Geoff Cater (2008) : Egbert T. Russell : Australian's Amphibians, 1910.