Scum Valley by Matthew Ellks

Scum Valley by Mathew Ellks

This book is about the local community of Bondi Beach before the cafe culture took over. It follows the local boardriders through a period of decadence and high times as it began losing its heritage to a relentless stream of yuppies. The story has a David and Goliath twist to it as a rich kid waltzes into town, sets up a surf shop and begins winning friends and influencing people. A staunch local named Dan has a run in with him and eventually opens a rival surf shop in direct competition with the corporate kid. And so starts a feud that divides the community and sets the scene for ongoing battles that are fought in the streets and in the water.

Buy now


Bondi Stories Vol. 1

First issue!

I would like to thank everyone who contributed material to this issue, and the many unique souls mentioned in their stories, some of whom are among the dearly departed. It is with great pride and a solemn heart that I respectfully acknowledge the many voices contained in these pages.

A huge thank you goes to the artist, Victoria Peel, whose pastel of South Bondi graces the front cover. Victoria’s great-great-great-uncle was none other than Barnett Levey, who is the subject of Bondi’s first larrikin, the last story in this issue. Vicki’s good friend, Joolee Eadie, is to be thanked for her photos of Andy Cochran, Barry Ross, Gary Moffatt, John Eccleston, Robert Fox and Wally Newell. These appear with the story by Robert Conneeley, entitled: The Hep Pit, which was actually taken from an interview by Matthew Ellks, who just happens to be his nephew.

I would also like to thank Margaret Dupré for her poem and the accompanying photos, one of which is credited to Dick Hoole, the surf film maker. In one of the photos, Margaret appears with her daughters India and Saffron sitting in front of the Pavilion. The decision to begin this first issue of Bondi Stories with a piece by Margaret Dupré is both a privilege and a tribute to one of Bondi’s classic characters.

Thanks also goes to Greg Webber, for his delightful vignette, entitled: Fuck Off, Trog!, and also for suggesting the name Bondi Stories, instead of Scum Valley, which was the original plan. Phil Leadley’s piece, entitled: The Lost Valley, bemoans the loss of community at Bondi, only to rejoice in its resurrection, through the bi-annual surfing contest and Old School Bondi Crew reunion. Thanks also goes to Mark Coleman, Richard Feyn, Michael Zaracostas, Lawrie Williams and Craig Robinson for sharing their accounts of one notorious beach inspector. Initially posted on Facebook, their comments appear within the article, entitled: The Beach Inspector. We will see if this becomes a regular feature.

A couple of blokes who have contributed immeasurably to surf culture through the medium of print, are John Witzig and Bruce Channon, both of whom documented Bondi’s surfing culture in the early seventies. John Witzig’s article, here entitled: The Beach Scene, captures the playground-like atmosphere of the urban beach. The piece by Bruce Channon, entitled Panache, is a uniquely revealing interview with some of the greatest names in Bondi’s surfing folklore: Brad Mayes, Steve Corrigan, Bruce Raymond, Ron Ford and Victor Ford.

I am especially grateful for Cheyne Horan’s contribution, entitled: The Hill, because it describes the world I entered as a kid stepping off the bus each day from Rose Bay in the mid-seventies. Ronnie Silcock gives us a taste of surf culture in the sixties, with a vignette entitled WindanSea. And his contemporary, John Sullivan, has given us an insider’s perspective on the legendary Bluey Mayes, whose life of surfing began in the 1930s. Harry Nightingale’s profile of his father, “Salty”, takes us back even further, to the very beginning of surfing in Australia. I cannot thank him enough for this contribution.

Last but not least, I would like to express my deepest appreciation to the B’nai B’rith Society for granting permission to include the article, originally entitled: Bondi’s First Jew, which was written by Bro. Dr. George F. J. Bergman and published in B’nai B’rith Bulletin, in 1955. I have taken the liberty of changing the title to: Bondi’s first larrikin, to suit the broader public. The story of Barnett Levey is uniquely relevant to this magazine, when you consider that his residence Waverley House was named after a famous novel with a social agenda. Perhaps, Bondi Stories is echoing the very same sentiment. In light of his commitment to literature as a vehicle of social development, it is an honour to carry on his legacy.

Dan Webber

Buy now!

erin –

Nobody ever tried to figure out Erin, ever.

He used to walk the Bondi Promenade from one end to the other every day and we would wait for him like jackals down by the wild south, and as he passed by we would savage him without mercy, everytime.

Erin was just a little slope shouldered guy with a pre-occupied air and who wore doublethick glasses and who had a kind of limp and whose purposeful gait and thoughtful demeanor were the antitheses to the order of things. He always had something on his mind, and we wanted it to be us. The young totalitariniasts of thought.

He was a Woody Allen kind of man.

Down there where the carpark rose above the walkway (by the skate rink now) we would look down on this peaceful little man who often times wore the beard of our spittle down the back of his shirt, and we would croon soft and intimate abuse as he raged back at us for our illegitimate insults; the founding Bondi Fascista.

And always the one of him, and always the ten of us.

He was just a little man, and how he dared fight back.

Erin would rage at our intrusion upon his freedom, this abuse of his right to walk in peace, this cowardly victimization of a man otherwise at peace, this daily terrorisation of his life, that he, without fail, had the courage to confront day after day, in the hope that one day we would go far away or be killed in a road accident, or die of alcoholism or choke in our own drug induced vomit, or be beaten to death by the Vice Squad, or at least be removed from his path by whatever dangers our arrogance exposed us.

And here, by God, spoke his prophesy of the end of more than a few of us old boys.

How their voices would be faint today, muffled by the earth.

How he shivered with indignation as he looked up at our grinning apelike faces, how he learnedly and indignantly exposed our intellectual shortcomings before he stomped away in a Holy Order of Anger and Righteous Might.

This angry little man. This righteous fellow.

Years later I learnt that he was the son of one of the two women who used to run a small delicatessen across the road from the old gym in Bondi Road, the one where we held the inaugural meeting of the South Bondi Boardriders Club. Our Alma Mater.

My wife would shop there from time to time when she needed a little European touch to a special meal, and once she mentioned over dinner that both the women who worked the counters had numbers tattooed on their arms.

Faded though in 1962, and half hidden by their long sleeved working blouses.

I went to the shop a week or two later, purely to see the faces of women who had survived the death camps, and impurely to purge myself of the sins of abusing their son Erin.


They were too busy, and all I could do was buy some fresh Parmesan and a bag of  olives.

So this will have to do.

this was bondi ~ barry mcguigan – magoo – the string magician

Storm water drains at South Bondi, ca. 1960. Photo courtesy of Waverley Library.

A typical day with Magoo:

Barry was methodical, exacting.

First he would clear a small space at the base of one of the half buried boulders that littered the southern end of the beach, and then lower himself into a full Asana or Malasana squat where he would silently contemplate an inner vision for a considerable period of time. This is 1959.

Enough time in fact for any young women sunbaking nearby to slip away to a quieter corner and for the curious youth to sidle in closer, sometimes to offer advice.

The only shows at Bondi Beach in those days was Aub Laidlaw measuring women in bikinis, Jack Mayes bailing up renegade boat crews, or Magoo inhaling string. These fellows were The Bondi Elders of the Time.

Messrs Cochran and Dillon are the subjects of a further chapter. There is much to be written.

Inner-visioning complete ^ , Barry would raise his body off the ground with a powerful arm lift and up-end himself in one smooth motion with his back to the rock now. We would marvel at his breathing control here as he worked the air through his lungs and into his lower abdomen, and then exhaled it all in one long and silent expulsion. At times he could suck his stomach back so far it outlined his spinal cord. Some young smart-arse claimed to be able to see his appendix outline.

But Magoo didn’t appear to have been born with intestines at all, and the small lumps visible where his stomach should be were either vertebrae or dried green peas. Barry wasn’t a hamburger eater then, still isn’t now. Blood has never passed his lips.

The Sutra Neti exercise though was the main event.

This chap is obviously a learner. Into the nose and out of the mouth. Note the upright position and use of both hands.

Barry, still up-ended, would introduce a piece of white cord to his left nostril and without any further assistance from his hands was able to manipulate it up that particular nostril, around the point of birfucation, and then down the other nostril, where it would emerge without any apparent discolouration – not that anyone ever examined it too closely. Though it was quite white upon exit, and dry.

What should be understood here is that in 1959 nobody jogged; nobody stretched or practiced isometrics on the railings or concrete walls of the Promenade, and there was only one gym between Bondi and Charing Cross. Pizzas were 30 years away, Milk Bars sold milkshakes and smokers fired up cork tipped Craven A’s or Turf for a smoke. An incoming ground swell was thought to be the result of five days of hard offshore westerlies and synoptics were Chapters of the Revelations, all that was to come.

The Astra was a hotel that sold cold beer and lunch was a cold coke and a cherry ripe.

There were no tits visible,  everybody but the boardriders wore sluggos, English idiot backpackers had not been invented, everybody spoke Australian except the Italians and Greeks by the binos* (head pic) and the clubbies in their surfboats regularly attempted to kill people by coming in through the crowds broadside and out of control.

The surfing manoeuvre of the day was The Death Cut, all the boards were made of balsa, and decent people didn’t settle on the southern end of the beach.

Magoo though was a contradiction, on the one hand he was a shy and modest young man, yet every weekend he stood on his head in the sand on the busiest beach in the country and sucked string up and down his nostrils. Though it was quietly known at the time that many of his colleagues appreciated the string routine if only because it kept him quiet for an hour or two. Barry liked to have a chat you see. Blow the ears off an Indian Elephant in fact. Talk underwater.

Magoo has survived the years that have accounted for so many of his friends; he remains competitive in an annual event that is named after him and remains unwell for only short periods, by all accounts he remains unchanged. He unfortunately suffered early maturity at a tender age.

The nickname Magoo, according to impeccable sources well within range of retribution, was earned one day at Bondi when several of the lads – not including Barry – were doing a spot of spearfishing a little south of the baths. There they were surprised by the sudden appearance of a large and inquisitive Blue Grouper and as they left the water a little later they suggested that Barry go down for a look-see himself, an advice he promptly followed. Always the good lad was young Baz. Where? What? Who?

Word had it that Barry, despite several valiant attempts, was unable to claim a sight of the fish despite its friendly approaches, and The Magoo (the shortsighted) was he thusly named and in perpetuity.

What is not generally known about Barry is that he shares some of the sterling characteristics of the Chinese Barefoot Doctors of the Great Leap Forward era of 1958, in that he had little medical training, no proper equipment, but a large share of enthusiasm when it came to the caring of the sick and injured.

Chinese Barefoot Doctors of the Great Leap Forward era of 1958

Like the day Mick D. suffered a misfortune, and whose full name has been withheld here or he’ll ring me.

Mick and Barry and a few others had been surfing a reasonably remote reef south of Sydney called Voodoo, and on coming ashore Mick walked on a nest of urchins, puncturing both feet over twenty times. In intense pain as the poisons exuded themselves from the broken spikes he asked Dr. Barry Magoo Barefoot McGuigan if there was something he could do to assist.

The good doctor immediately hurried to his wretched VW and returned with an impressive kit of surgical instruments, which included an old surf towel, a penknife and a fork.

– which he used to dig out every spike he could see, and some he could not but suspected were there  – all of which were exceedingly small and almost invisible to the naked eye, and at this stage of the narrative I would refer you back to the Blue Grouper incident ^ above, and though at no time do I criticize the accuracy of the teller of this particular tale, but .. , you know?

Nevertheless Mick survived both the injury and the treatment and went on to play some reasonably competitive tennis. His surfing didn’t suffer too much either, and like Magoo, he still has a head of infuriatingly full hair.

If you ever see either, or both of them, please pass on my best wishes’ and you can give Mick a sloppy, if you know him well enough.


* binoculars.

© Pete Bowes publishes a blog with numerous stories about Bondi’s past.

Back to coolites

When I was 12 and a half, I went for a surf at South Bondi. I was riding a fibreglass board for the third or fourth time after two years on a styrofoam coolite. I must have got in the way of an older, better surfer, because he told me to “fuck off you trog”. I knew I wasn’t a trog, in that I was just learning. So, I was more pissed off than shattered, even though in hindsight I came to learn that learners are effectively trogs to any local. So, I dealt with the feeling and made a snap decision that came from not wanting to surf in any area where that was the way it was, which was to go back to my coolite.

Riding a coolite

Riding a coolite.

Going back to my coolite was a step backwards in cool-ness. But, it also meant being totally free to surf all of the north end right up to centre. It was winter and there was a righthand rip sandbank just at the southern limit of the “no fibreglass zone”. It was a bank unlike any I was to see since. I went home early and found my last coolite I had been riding and replaced the flexy white plastic fin with a bigger timber fin using araldite.  I hadn’t ridden it for weeks. So, it was kind of nice to pick it up again. I felt that it had felt rejected, in that until today I had done exactly that.

It was one of those orange coolites with a deck concave, and a round nose and square tail. They snapped more easily than the firestone originals, but not as easily as a Kentucky Fried. So, the next day, when John and Mont continued bravely to deal with the aggro of the south end, I just paddled across the imaginary line that marked the edge of the no fibreglass zone, into a level of peace and freedom, which was to more than offset the performance back step I had just taken. There wasn’t even a swimmer on the bank and I rode scores of bowling waves to myself doing turns and slight slides with no one to hassle me, but also nobody to share it with. I missed that bit, but experienced something very unusual for a 12 year old, where ego and the need to be alongside your peers was sacrificed for the purity of peace.

To this day, that day rates as one of the top few experiences of my life. I even laughed a bit to myself thinking that I was even more of a kook than ever (riding a coolite in the flags) but having a different kind of fun that was just as much to do with my decision to do it, as the perfection of the waves and the absence of people.

– Greg Webber

Scum Valley

Bondi of the late 60s, 70s and even the 80s was not the prime yuppie real estate haven that it is today. All of the beach going locals of the day nicknamed the place “Scum Valley”, on account of the two storm water drain pipes that emptied onto the beach at South Bondi, just below where the skate park now stands.

Storm water drains at South Bondi, ca. 1960. Photo courtesy of Waverley Library.

Whenever it rained, the storm water from the surrounding street gutters drained into a large cesspit of debris, which would swell until it eventually burst its banks and partially empty itself into the surf. But, there would always remain a stagnant pool of water and debris.

Sewage off Bondi

A brown stain of sewage sweeps to the south and into Bondi Beach. Photo courtesy of Waverley Library.

The beach going public also had to deal with sewage, as there was no deep water outlet like we have today. Sewage was pumped directly into the sea from the base of the cliff below the golf course at North Bondi. Sometimes, during bad storms or when the sewage was backed up, they would release raw sewage. If the wind blew nor-easterly for a day, followed by a southerly change, sewage would be blown into the beach. This is where the term “Bondi cigars” originates! So, between the storm water drains down south and the sewage works up north, the place became affectionately known to the locals as “Scum Valley”.

– Dean Cook

Related links: