Phillip Island, 1975
We’ve got history, cars and I, beginning with a gun-metal grey EH panel van, affectionately known as The Turd. My brother decided it was time to “move it on” after he’d left the road and taken out 50 foot of farm fencing, before rediscovering the bitumen and heading right on home. The Turd bore the scars of more than one such battle, but the barbed wire had been particularly cruel, strafing her with deep gouges, her crown of thorns.
My brother wanted $75 for her but I bartered him down to $50. It didn’t seem to worry him that the last 10 was in coins. Nor was he too concerned about how I’d meet the running costs with petrol at 57c a litre.
‘You’re killin’ me,’ he moaned as he handed over the keys, hardly able to believe his luck. There wasn’t a straight panel on the Turd, the tyres were down to the canvas and the column shift needed the assistance of an occy-strap – attached to the chassis through a hole in the floor – just to stay in third.
But she was mine. And say what you like, the 179 was the best motor the General ever produced. Lean to the point of looking as though something was missing, what you saw was what you got – an engine so basic a blind man could pull it apart over the weekend, replace a head gasket and have it ready to drive to work on Monday morning. If he could drive.
The Turd was my escape vehicle. No more catching the train out to Kensington on Friday afternoon. No standing on the corner by the saleyards, board under my arm, wetsuit and sleeping bag in my pack, hitching a lift to the west coast, but more-often-than-not left stranded in Geelong or travelling wide eyed and shit scared in the company of some bloke determined to make a dent on the slab that sat between us.
‘Have a drink,’ he’d say and I’d try to keep pace with him, with the sole intention of keeping him somewhere south of point one zero.
No more, though. Not with the Turd fitted out with a double mattress and curtains. Now my week had an insurance policy attached, guaranteed transport to the Island. Phillip Island, that misshaped dolphin tucked into the belly of South Gippsland. All week we’d pore over the weather maps in the Herald, looking for the hard-packed isobars around a low in the Southern Ocean that promised swell. The Island had the massive advantage of working on just about any wind. On top of that, I’d lost my virginity and stood up on a surfboard for the first time at the same beach, on the same weekend, so it held a special place in my heart. And in my pants.
Surfers don’t overthink names: Right Point, Left Point, Surfies Point and Express. But sometimes the old names held true: Woolamai, Kitty Miller Bay, Flynn’s Reef and Forrest Caves. We knew exactly where to head on what wind.
Friday nights saw our convoy depart the bayside suburbs, wind its way through the back of Braeside out to Cranbourne and onto the South Gippie, until the Bass Highway veered off towards the Island. The 179 thrumming away under the bonnet, the occy strap holding strong and the latest mix tape blaring through home-made box speakers. There’s a straight stretch on the Bass as you come down out of the Gurdies and the farmland opens up in front you. On a moonlit night we’d kill the headlights and sweep down onto the flats.
Come with me.
Four years earlier, 1971, Albe Falzon had released the film Morning Of The Earth, travelling the world to find the best and most secluded waves – and in so doing he turned a pastime into a lifestyle. We had no time for gurus, there were waves to be had, but Albe came close. He’d captured a feeling, a hard thing to do. A feeling that inducted us into the cult of salt-crusted hair and chapped lips that always seemed to involve long car trips – and Albe provided the soundtrack.
I sold the Turd to the wreckers for a hundred bucks – she gave 12 months good service and I walked away with a profit. But nothing that came after her, not the EH wagon, the boxy old Datsun Bluebird or the Wolseley 24/80 (yeah, I know, a Wolseley), ever caught that feeling coming down out of the Gurdies in quite the same way, the week behind me and the promise of the Island ahead.