- 1940 - Bruce Fleming's memoir about mates on Maroubra Beach

The Cadets - memoir

by Bruce Fleming

"Betcha the waves're better 'n the Corner," challenged Johnno. "Garn Blue, I betcha. Garn I betcha. Come on Blue. Just for fun."

Blue had no desire to bet Johnno, it was his well considered opinion that the waves would be better in the Corner. They mostly were.

"Okay Johnno, I'll bet ya. Just for fun though. No money." He felt for his hanky in the pocket of his khaki shorts. His fewpennies echoed reassurance through the pressure of his fingers.

The two twelve year olds were sitting on the Post Office steps, waiting for their tram. Johnno was the taller, dark haired, never still. He chattered happily to his pal, his head in constant motion following his eyes,his attention everywhere. Blue was shorter, squarer and copper topped, face and arms profusely freckled, unlike Johhno's golden tan. They sat together, noses hidden beneath a coating of Zinc cream, chattering, watching the passing parade.

"Clang".

They looked across the street corner.

"Here's our tram Johnno. Get ready."

With a rattling and a banging the Beach tram rounded the corner then began slowly to climb the hill. Their opportunity was now.

"C'm on," said Johnno.

They jumped to their feet, snapped a quickglance both left and right, then made a quick dart across the road. With a few steps alongside the tram they leapt aboard. After moving to the back, they perched in a crouch,hopefully hidden from the conductor's view. Scaling the tram was their usual method of transport to the beach. They saved the fare, a penny, and this was, an extra half dozen lollies for their prize.

"Did'ja see where the connie was Blue?"

"Yeah, he's up the front. We'll be allright here."

They were allright and ten minutes later they legged off the tram, ran quickly to the footpath to saunter the last hundred yards to the beach.

The sun was beaming a warm welcome as they came over the promenade. Before them golden sand and blue ocean beckoned. They did not rush onto the beach, this was decision making time. Where were the best waves? A hard choice today, good surfing waves were running all along the beach.

"There's a mob up in the Corner," said Blue.

"Yeah, 'n a bigger mob in the middle. Hey! How's about off the wreck. Look Blue. Reckon that'll do us."

"Yeah! I reckon the wreck's the go. C'mon. Let's go."

With whoops of joy the two 'gun' surfers from the promenade to the sand, then went tearing over to some rocks close to the waters edge. They undressed, taking care to bundle their shirts, shorts and sandals in their towels.

"C'mon Blue. Betcha I get the first wave."

"Betcher yer don't."

In their hands they each carried a small ply wood hand-board, their only surfing aid. They reached the water, ran on, into it, with a crazy high stepping run, a couple of skips, a hop, then a looping dive and they were swimming out towards the wreck. A sailing ship had been wrecked at the beach in the early 1900's, the barnacle encrusted mast poking from the sand gave the only visible reminder of that far back tragedy. As the boys swam to the line of the breaking waves, they could see the familiar silhouette outlined eerily in the transparency of a rising breaker.

"Looks like a bloody shark, eh, Johnno?"

"Yeah."

Then they dived under as a wave broke over them and rolled toward the beach.

"Out the back! Out the back! C'mon Blue. A boomer. D'ya see it?"

"Yeah."

Together they splashed a swift course to catch the boomer. They paused, treading water as they checked their position. They rose and fell with swells, waiting, legs and arms swirling; below the surface, holding their position, they were ready.

"Grab an alley. Here she comes."

"It's a boomer all right."

They turned toward the beach, their heads twisting to back over their shoulders as the boomer shaped up.

"Here's a go."

With arms and legs flailing, they made a sharp sprint, took a gulp of air, heads down, arms out front. Then the power of the wave. A burst of acceleration, then heads up, hands outstretched on their handboards, they thrilled down the wave front. What exhilaration. All too soon, they were on the shore.

"What a beauty."

"Yeah. C'mon, let's go 'n' get 'n otherie."

Skipping and hopping through the shallows, diving under and over the smaller broken and

"Hey, there's Chicka and Flash. C'mon Johnno race yer over."

"How yer goin'? Yer been here long?"

"Geez; wasn't that last'n a beauty?"

"Yeah. Seen yers crack it. We been here half'n hour. Geez they're good waves t'day."

"'s good here. None 'f them surf club lairs. They take over all the alleys."

"Yeah. Hey Johnno, where's yer big bra 'n' his mob?"

"Bet they're up the corner. Let's go up there and crack a few boomers after."

"Righto."

Another boomer loomed, the quartet turned, lining up as though for a race, picking their alleys. The next minute they were lying at the waters edge, laughing at the thrill of cracking the boomer.

"What a beauty."

"Yeah. C'mon, let's have a sunbake, then we c'n have a crack at 'em in the corner."

"Suits me."

They lay together on the sand, warm, gathering their strength to try the waves in the corner. The waves in the corner were larger than the waves that were breaking near the wreck were the boys had been. They lay there watching the surf, with the waves rising, breaking, washing their course to the beach. Also their eyes toured the beach. Their chatter was unceasing.

"Look 't the skinny legs on that sheila in the red cossie."

"Strike me roan," said Johnno, a devoted leg man.

"Yeah. Hey, cop the waves shap'n up out the point."

"Struth! I'm off down the corner. They'll be runnin' there soon. C'mon you guys."

They leapt to their feet, with a shower of sand, threw their towels over the pile of clothes, then raced along the waters edge towards the corner. The waves at the corner were begging to be ridden. None of them realised that the tide had turned. In their enthusiasm to crack the waves at the corner, usually keen eyes had missed the tell tale warning of the swollen channel's swift rush out to sea, out past the rocky shore of the corner. They reached the corner and plunged in, the water was cool and refreshing after their sprint along the beach.

"Strike me roan," yelled Johnno. "It's beaut in."

"Yeah it's beaut allright." Chicka laughed, then stroking ahead, called back "C'mon, last one out the back's lousy."

Their usual caution had been lost, they did not realise they were in the rip. They were being swept out past the point. Almost together they stopped swimming, they expected to be a hundred yards off shore. They were shattered, they were two hundred yards off shore and drifting still further out to sea.

"Shit!!" yelled Blue. "We've been swept out. The bloody tide must be goin' out."

"Don't panic." There was a tinge of panic in Johnno's voice. "Swim towards the middle of the beach. We can make it across. That is what me big bra does." There was reassurance here for the young quartet, they all knew Johnno's big bra was about the best surfer in Sydney. They swam towards the middle.

"Gawd!!" It was Flash. "We're still headin' out."

Blue yelled, "Hold it fellers, don't panic or try to fight it. We'll never make it that way. Tread water and put yer arm up, they'll send the surf boat out."

They stopped swimming, trod water, then, following Blue's example, put up their arms.

"Geez. I hope they see us."

"They'll see us. Don't worry."

Still they drifted seaward. They were three hundred yards out, the current was slowing.

"They look like ants back on the beach. They'll never see us." Johnno was near to tears.

"Yes they have. I can see two blokes running down the beach with belts on. Look, there. The other guys're feedin' out the line."

"Gawd. I never thought I'd be pleased to see those surf club lairs."

"Yeah, well let's hope they can catch us. It's a good thing this current's almost stopped."

"Yeah mate. We'd finish in New Zealand otherwise."

They were all treading water, bobbing in the chop. With the rise and fall they watched the beltmen approach.

"They're strong swimmers" observed Flash.

"Sure are." Johnno too was impressed.

Behind them came a splash.

"What's 'at? A shark?"

Together they span in alarm to face the danger.

"No it's not. Y' stupid bugger."

They all laughed. It was Georgie Bishop on his surf ski. George was a far more welcome sight than the Grey Nurse shark they had all been expecting. George was another school mate. George's long suit was his surf/ski, on which he held a surf club branch title.

"I've been off the point catching swells. Saw yer hands go up, so I came over. Yer can hang on to the edge of the ski."

The four happier youths grabbed the gunwhale of the surf ski, they looked at George with gratitude.

"Thanks mate," said Blue, "sure glad you spotted us."

"Yeah you'll be jake in a minute. The beltmen are nearly here. Y're lucky too, it's Stan and Joe. Yer'll be in good shape with them on the job."

George was right, the beltmen soon arrived. The four 'gun' surfers felt a wave of relief wash over them.

"Well now, what's the trouble out here?" Stan asked.

"The trouble is, we got caught in the rip. That's what."

"Righto. You've done the right thing. No one cramped?" he looked around the boys' faces.

"No that's good. Now here's what we're gonna do." Nodding towards Flash and Chicka, "You two grab Joe's line 'n' you two grab mine. When I signal the beach, we'll all swim side stroke. That way we get ourselves a nice tow in."

As soon as they were all set, Joe and Stan raised their arms in signal for the men on the beach to haul in the line.

"This beats walkin'." The tension had gone from Johnno. They were all more relaxed. "We're sorry fellers to get yers to come out."

"She's right son. It was getting bloody hot on the beach. I was dying for a swim. How about you Joe?"

"Yeah me too. You guys want to be more careful next time. Swim between the flags."

"Sure Joe, sure." They chorused.

"Hey, you're Tommy Coughlan's young bra, aren't ya?" Joe asked Johnno.

"Yeah."

"Well you'll cop a lug full when I tell him about this lot."

They all knew they would cop an earful, when Tommy heard about their escapade. They were all protege's of Tommy. He had told them how to handle rips. In their eagerness they had been careless, they could expect a tongue bashing, they deserved it.

They were in broken water now, the waves fuller in the changing tide.

"Duck under the broken ones you guys. Wont be long now."

Within moments they were being pulled across the channel, fronting the corner. Then into shallow water and up onto the beach. How good it felt. The sand squelched between their toes. Stan looked them over.

"Okay you were lucky this time. So watch it in the future."

"Sure, Stan. Gee, thanks again." They almost sang in their relief. Then with heads down, their lips wreathed in smiles of the joy of life, they made their way along the beach to their clothing.

"My god. This sand sure feels good." Flash sprawled akimbo on the warm golden beach. It sure did feel good. They were safe. The quick action of the life savers had saved the boys from a watery grave. They had all plonked down and lay, soaking up the warmth from the sand. It felt to them like new life flowing into their bodies.

"You know," said Chicka, "those surf club lairs, ain't lairs at all. We'd all be fish food now if they hadn't seen our signal."

"Yair'n they can handle those belts good. It'd be hard yakker swimmin' in that gear an' draggin' all that rope." Johnno was quick to support Chicka. "Them other blokes on the reel 'n' payin' out the line. They're good too."

"They do have some fun too. I reckon it'd be beaut on one of them surf skis."

"You know the ski that Georgies got? Well that belongs to the club."

"Yeah. 'n then their got the surf boats too. The crew're always out in it."

"I know a couple of them jokers 'n they're all right."

They were all warming to the surf club in their new found admiration and gratitude. Flash, who was slightly older and more worldly than the others, mused "They have a dance on Sat'dy nights. There's mobs er shei..."

"Oh. Shut up Flash. All you think about is sheilas." Blue had other thoughts. "I reckon we oughta join the cadets."

"Yeah." agreed Johnno, we could learn all that stuff, R and R and go for our Bronze Medallions."

"Yair, why not," chimed in Chicka, "I'm game. What about you Flash?"

"Count me in. One in, all in."

"Last one there's lousy," shouted Johhno. They jumped to their feet,and with sand spraying every direction they sprinted for the club house.